Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
The sports truck of sports trucks.
It's sort of like those 'Tastes great' versus 'Less filling' beer commercials that have been running for years: If you're partial to a sporty look you probably prefer the Mazda B-Series trucks over their cousins the Ford Rangers. Beyond trim and other treatments that give the Mazda pickup line its own distinctive identity, they are two trucks in a pod, so to speak. Both are solidly built ('Ford tough', in this case, equals 'Mazda tough'), dependable, and fun to drive.
There is now another distinction between Ford-labeled Rangers and some of the Mazda B3000 and B4000 models. Where Ford has (or had) Eddie Bauer, Mazda has enlisted the services of noted graphic designer Troy Lee. Well known for his designer line of racing helmets, Lee specializes in extreme sports apparel and equipment. Mazda introduced the Troy Lee Edition B-Series truck as a production model in 1998. With its flashy looks, graphite-looking trim, any extreme-sports enthusiast would feel right at home in a Troy Lee-branded B-truck.
Mazda makes it easy to understand the B-series line-up: B2500 trucks feature a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine. The B3000 uses a 3.0-liter V6, and the B4000 is powered by a 4.0-liter V6. The two V6s are available in 4x4 and 4X2.
Three cab configurations are available: regular cab, two-door extended Cab Plus, and 4-door extended Cab Plus 4.
In addition, there are three trim levels: the basic SX, the upscale SE, and the extreme Troy Lee Edition. (The Troy Lee Edition is only available as a B3000 4X2 or B4000 4X4.) All told, with various combinations of drivetrain, layout cab configuration, and trim level, there are 13 different B-series models to choose from in the 2000 model line-up.
Mazda likes to say that a Troy Lee-branded B-truck has a 'No holds barred, take no prisoners' look. That's really not too much of an exaggeration. The Troy Lee Edition 4X2 B3000 and 4X4 B4000 both feature fog lights, fender flares and 16-inch all-terrain tires mounted on custom alloy wheels designed by Troy Lee. The sides of the TL trucks are emblazoned with a reflective flame graphic, though you can knock $200 off the sticker if you forgo the flames. The 4X2 TL Edition comes with a raised suspension that gives it the look and ground clearance of a 4X4, an effect reinforced by its 16-inch tires.
The Troy Lee interior features gray, two-tone seats; graphite-looking trim panels; leather-wrapped steering wheel; and a Troy Lee Designs logo monogrammed in the door panels. Most important, Troy Lee trucks are Cab Plus 4 configurations, giving them four doors.
The four-door extended cab design is much more convenient than the two-door extended cab. If you have ever tried to wrestle anything (including your own body) out of the rear cab of a two-door, extended-cab truck, you know the clearances are tight.
As for power plants, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine in the B2500 puts out 119 horsepower. That's really marginal for a vehicle with a gross weight of about 3000 pounds. (For comparison, Toyota Tacoma's 2.4-liter 4-cylinder puts out 142-horsepower, and weighs 200 pounds less than a comparable Mazda B2500. On the upside, the B2500 qualifies as a low-emission vehicle when equipped with a returnless fuel system and an automatic transmission.
Speaking of fuel, the B3000 V6 is a flexible fuel vehicle that can run on either regular unleaded gasoline or E85 (a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline). Powerwise, it's obviously a better choice than the 4-cylinder: It turns out 143 horsepower and 180 foot-pounds of torque at 3750 rpm.
But if you want to cruise around everything on the road, uphill and down, loaded and unloaded, invest in the B4000 with the 4.0-liter V6. With an output of 160 horsepower and 220 foot-pounds of torque, it will power any version of a B-truck over and around anything with ease.
As far as transmissions go, Mazda offers three: a 5-speed manual, a 4-speed auto, and a 5-speed auto. The 5-speed automatic is standard on the B4000, optional on the B3000.
B-series Mazda 4X4s feature Ford's pulse-vacuum hub-lock system. Introduced in 1999, the system allows nearly instantaneous shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive at any speed. Another plus is that, when the system is disengaged, the front drive train is disconnected at the wheels. As a result, the trucks get better fuel economy, better ride (less vibration), and lower noise levels.
This is a well-designed, comfortable truck. The instruments are positioned so that they are nicely framed by the steering wheel. The seats are plush and comfortable (at least they were on our B3000 Troy Lee Edition test vehicle). All the controls are thoughtfully and intuitively placed.
One of the best inside features is the cruise controls. Mazda's controls are mounted on the steering wheel and are illuminated, so you won't find yourself hitting the wrong button in the dark because you can't remember where Set leaves off and Resume resumes. Interestingly, the Ford Ranger we tested a few weeks later didn't have lighted cruise control controls.
The extended-cab versions come with rear jump seats. Unless your passenger is a child or a circus performer, don't take these inward-facing perches too seriously. That space is better suited for carrying groceries (or helmets or chaps in the Troy Lee Editions) than people.
We drove our Mazda Troy Lee B3000 on Southern California freeways and on some dirt tracks at the base of the Eastern Sierra Nevadas in Northern California. It handled well on freeways - surprisingly well, considering it boasts a serious off-road suspension between the tires and the body. While there was a bit of a bounce at freeway speeds, it wasn't bad. The truck might look like a 4X4 (which is wasn't), but it certainly didn't ride like one.
There was also a surprising amount of wind noise for such a solidly built truck. We tracked much of it down to the sliding rear window. A camper shell would certainly take care of the problem.
While the B3000 Troy Lee might look like a 4X4, it pays to remember that it isn't. We found ourselves fishtailing on dirt roads. And we came close to getting stuck in some mud on the shore of Lake Crowley. The big 16-inch tires and some careful rocking got us out of trouble.
If you have to stomp on the brakes the rear ABS keeps the truck in a nice, straight line, even on dirt. Going over bumps (say your average speed bump), it had the rear end bounce of an unloaded pickup. The off-road suspension helps on this point, but the bounce is still pronounced. Aside from the occasional fishtail, the truck was as much fun to drive off highway as it was on. Okay, it was more fun to drive off road.
Besides being solid, well-built, and fun to drive, one of the best things about driving a Troy Lee-branded Mazda is the stares it gets. People don't seem to be able to take their eyes off the truck, particularly the flames on the side. While it might just be our imagination, it seemed that we got quicker service than normal when we pulled into the yard at our local lumber store from the young, might-be-a-dirt-biker yard worker who hustled out to help us. In other words, people do notice the distinctive look of this truck. That's no mean feat when you consider the Ford Ranger is ubiquitous.
Mazda is going after the motocross, snowboarding, extreme sports crowd with the edgy Troy Lee editions. The rest of the B-series line should appeal to the less radical but sporty crowd. All the Mazda trucks look good and have a solid pedigree.
The B-Series trucks are fun to drive, and comfortable enough to sooth aching bones at the end of an extreme day. In short, we found that the Mazda B3000 Troy Lee tasted great and was less filling than the regular trucks.
B2500 SX 4X2 Regular Cab ($11,495); B3000 SX 4X2 Regular Cab ($11,890); B2500 SE 4X2 Regular Cab ($13,805); B3000 SE 4X2 Regular Cab ($14,200); B2500 SE 4X2 Cab Plus ($15,995); B3000 SE 4X2 Cab Plus ($16,465); B3000 SE 4X2 Cab Plus 4 ($17,205); B3000 TL 4X2 Cab Plus 4 ($18,610); B4000 SE 4X2 Cab Plus 4 ($20,603); B3000 SE 4X4 Regular Cab ($17,725); B3000 SE 4X4 Cab Plus 4 ($20,210); B4000 SE 4X4 Cab Plus 4 ($22,540); B4000 TL 4X4 Cab Plus 4 ($23,640).
Edison, New Jersey.
Options As Tested
automatic transmission ($1095); trailer hitch ($140); Convenience package ($700) includes bedliner, sliding rear window, opening rear quarter window, tilt steering wheel, cruise control with steering-wheel-mounted controls, floor mats; Power Package ($535) includes power mirrors, power windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry with two transmitters.
B3000 Troy-Lee Edition 4X2 ($18,445).
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