Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
More power, fresh styling.
Mazda has redesigned its pickups for 2001. This year they sport freshened styling, new and revised engines, and a new model. Power has been increased for all three available engines. New 4x2 raised suspension Dual Sport models bring the pre-runner concept to the Mazda line.
Mazda's B-Series compact trucks appear in two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive models spread across two wheelbase lengths, three trim designations (SX, SE and Dual Sport), and either regular or extended cab design with options for two or three or four doors.
B2300 Regular Cab SX is the price-leading base model and comes with a new 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, a manual five-speed transmission, and rear-wheel drive. B2300 replaced the previous B2500 model in January 2001.
B3000 gets an overhead-valve 3.0-liter V6 engine and three cabin styles: two-door Regular Cab, three-door Cab Plus and four-door Cab Plus 4. In SE trim the B3000 MSRP tab ranges from $14,720 to $19,920.
Dual Sport trim is available for B3000 and B4000 models. The 4x2 Dual Sport looks like a rugged off-road truck, but eases the bottom line by avoiding a four-wheel-drive mechanism. B3000 Dual Sport models list for $14,755 with the Regular Cab and $17,175 for Cab Plus.
B4000 is the top model and has the four-door Cab Plus 4 cabin. It comes with a new 4.0-liter V6, with choices of two-wheel-drive Dual Sport ($19,375) and four-wheel-drive SE ($22,220). B4000's husky overhead-cam V6 engine ripples with 207 horsepower. No other compact truck comes close to matching that muscle (except for the Ford Ranger), and it bumps up the B4000's trailer-towing ability to 5900 pounds. It also puts strength in the driver's hands for hauling a load or powering up steep grades.
All Mazda B-Series models come with four-wheel anti-lock brakes, tachometer, anti-theft immobilizer, spare tire lock and dual de-powered air bags (with a key-operated passenger-side airbag deactivation switch).
Equipment options include a new five-speed automatic transmission ($1,000), Cab Plus packaged equipment for convenience ($560) and power controls ($405), and truck trimmings like a bed liner ($235), soft-top cargo box cover ($330), box rail covers ($140), flip-out cargo bed extender ($210), and door side step tubes ($370).
Mazda's 2001 pickup is distinguished from last year by its revamped front styling, a notched hood and aggressive fender flares. Designers streamlined the overall package and strengthened all visual cues. As a result, all B-Series trucks wear smooth new sheetmetal with a definitive new face in front, and wheel blisters on the fenders.
The strong prow sparkles from new multi-beam reflector lamps flanking a wide grille in bright chrome underlined by a thick bumper with fog lamps tucked below a wavy strip of chrome. Sides show rolled shoulders and flat panels interrupted by etched horizontal character lines and ripples around front and rear wheelwells. With the Cab Plus extension, a tall and narrow side window mounts in the panel behind each door's window.
The cargo bed stretches six feet in a space with cargo hooks on the floor. Indentations in the box support partitions to segment cargo. The tailgate detaches quickly without requiring special tools. Optional exterior equipment includes protective bed rails. Also, a modular U-shaped bed extender in tubular stainless steel flips out from side pivot points to rest on the tailgate; folded flat, it serves as a bed-extending brace for longer loads of cargo, though it won't hold back dirt and other loose items.
New Dual Sport models use a monochromatic treatment with body-colored bumpers, flared fenders and lower front fascia. The name is derived from a motorcycle suited for pavement or dirt. Mazda's Dual Sport has the elevated stance of a four-wheel-drive truck because the hiked suspension of the 4x4 is aboard. It's a two-wheel-drive truck, however, like the pre-runner trucks used to check out an off-road course before a big desert race.
Mazda's B-Series pickups are engineered by Ford and share their basic structure and components with the Ford Ranger. They offer unique styling and unique interiors, however.
The cab of Mazda's truck has been revised for 2001 with added features. The most noteworthy improvement -- a new quality of quietness -- cannot be seen because the additional baffles and insulation that surround the passenger compartment are concealed in the structure.
Previous versions consistently set the standard among Japanese-brand trucks for spacious, comfortable accommodations and convenient features. 2001 models build on that foundation with new seat designs clad in new fabrics, a revised instrument panel with tachometer supplied to all trims, and a revamped center pod for climate and audio systems with large easy-to-use rotary dials.
The Regular Cab uses a bench-style seat that can squeeze three aboard. The Cab Plus offers an interior storage bay behind the front seat. Two small side-facing jump seats are supplied in the bay; each folds down from the back wall. Optional left and right rear-hinged doors for the Cab Plus 4 permit easy access to rear quarters.
Seats in our Cab Plus 4 SE truck were high-back buckets covered in premium cloth fabric. The buckets were firm in bolsters and seat, but felt luxurious. Air conditioning, and power windows, locks and mirrors are standard.
A 4.0-liter single overhead-cam V6 engine built by Ford in Germany caps the power chart for Mazda's truck lineup. This new engine in the B4000 quickens acceleration performance and strengthens the truck's trailer-towing ability. Its 207 horsepower amounts to an increase of 45 horsepower over last year's overhead-valve V6, and enables the B4000 to leap off the line and run quickly to speed. Also, it musters strong torque for off-road work when paired with optional four-wheel-drive.
The new V6 teams with either a heavy-duty five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic transmission with adaptive shift logic through electronic controls. In effect, the automatic adds another gear between first and second gears in a four-speed automatic. This produces closer gear ratios for better throttle response when accelerating, towing a trailer or driving off pavement. A high-gear lockout switch on the tip of the shift lever lets the driver kick up or down a gear with the tap of a finger.
We steered a B4000 Cab Plus 4 4x4 with the 4.0-liter V6 and five-speed manual transmission over pavement and dirt trails through foothills of the Cascade Range of Washington state.
With the best power rating in its class, the B4000 delivered no-fear passing even on steep mountain grades. Having so much muscle on tap makes even tough truck chores like hauling loads or pulling a heavy trailer seem easy.
For off-road scrambles, such as a two-rut trail littered with logs that we tackled in the Cascades, the 4x4's 10-inch ground clearance and generous front suspension articulation helped it scamper over obstacles. When it ran out of clearance, skid plates shielded the transfer case and fuel tank from damage.
Ford's pulse vacuum hub-lock device sets the front hubs quickly for push-button shifting into four-wheel-drive mode, and it engages while moving at highway speed. The part-time four-wheel-drive system from Ford also adds a rotary dial on the dashboard for seamless switching from rear two-wheel to four-wheel high gear or further down to four-wheel low for off-road maneuvers.
Whether on lumpy trails or paved roads, the truck takes bumps and turns with confident dexterity. Its rigid ladder-like chassis, with full box bracing of the front section to stiffen it further, combines with an independent front wishbone suspension system to produce a smooth ride. Cushy coil springs come on 4x2 models with a semi-floating live rear axle and two-stage leaf springs to deliver a smoother ride quality. The 4x4 models use torsion bars in front to permit more vertical wheel travel and heavy-duty shocks in the rear for firmer dampening. All get a front stabilizer in front to reduce body lean in corners, and 4x4 models get a rear stabilizer bar as well.
Quick rack-and-pinion steering, rarely used on a pickup, further increases the agility of Mazda's trucks, making them more enjoyable to drive on winding roads.
Fresh styling and clever equipment options make Mazda's popular B-Series pickups even more attractive and practical for 2001. The option of a new 207-horsepower V6 engine upgrade propels the B4000 ahead of all import competitors.
New Dual Sport brings a sporty trim variation in monochromatic treatment with the raised suspension of a rugged 4x4 truck.
B2300 (NA); B3000 ($14,755); B4000 ($19,375).
Twin Cities, Minnesota; Edison, New Jersey.
Options As Tested
B4000 SE Cab Plus 4 4x4 ($22,220).
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