2003 Mazda B3000 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
More power, with neat looks on road and off.
Based on the Ford Ranger, Mazda's pickup trucks are solidly engineered and sophisticated. They offer the most powerful engine in the compact-truck class.
If you need attitude, opt for the Dual Sport 4x2 pre-runner truck. Or consider the new 4x4 Off-Road package, with bed rail caps, tubular step plates, all-terrain tires, a compass, and other important wilderness accessories. like a stereo that plays CDs and MP3s.
Incidentally, don't refer to the Mazda pickups as the B-Series any more. They are now simply called Mazda Trucks.
That said, Mazda still offers its Truck in three trim levels designated B2300, B3000, and B4000.
B2300 is the price-leading, 2WD base model, at $12,840. Power is provided by a 2.3-liter dohc four-cylinder engine that debuted last January (2001). B2300 comes only with the Regular Cab, and on the standard wheelbase of 112 inches. A five-speed manual transmission, four-wheel anti-lock brake (ABS), tachometer, variable intermittent wipers and a sliding rear window are all standard, as are dual de-powered air bags (with a key-operated passenger-side deactivation switch), anti-theft immobilizer, and a spare-tire lock. A $1,595 package called SE-5 upgrades the B2300 with air conditioning, cloth seats, full carpeting, carpeted floor mats, a CD player and styled steel wheels. Air conditioning alone costs $805.
Next up in the 2WD line is the B3000 Dual Sport, powered by a 3.0-liter overhead-valve V6, and riding higher on its pre-runner style suspension. Additional amenities range from air conditioning to an upgraded stereo to two front tow hooks. Color-matched (rather than black) bumpers provide instant identification. At this level you can choose a Regular Cab ($15,470) or a two-door extended Cab Plus ($17,890), the latter on a wheelbase of 125 inches.
The top level in 2WD is the B4000 Dual Sport ($19,685), available only with a four-door Cab Plus cabin. B4000 is powered by a 4.0-liter sohc V6 introduced last year (2001). This husky overhead-cam engine ripples with 207 horsepower. No other compact truck can quite match its muscle (except the Ford Ranger, which shares the same engine). The big V6 puts power under the driver's toes for hauling a load or powering up steep grades. The same goes for the B4000's trailer-towing capacity of 5900 pounds, which comes close to the top of its class. A limited-slip differential, larger fuel tank, and Class III trailer hitch are all standard.
Four-wheel drive is offered only on B3000 two-door Cab Plus ($20,375) and B4000 four-door Cab Plus ($22,430). B4000 has skid plates for its fuel tank and transfer case.
Any Mazda Truck can be dressed up with the $695 Convenience Package, which includes a bed liner, bed extender, cruise control, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel on a tilt steering column. The Power Package ($795) includes power windows, locks and mirrors plus remote keyless entry.
The new Off-Road Package ($1,350), available only on B4000 4x4s, adds 31x10.5R15 white-outline tires, side step tubes and bed rail caps, plus bucket seats, a center console, CD and MP3 player, automatic-dimming mirror with compass, and a unique Platinum Frost paint color.
A five-speed automatic transmission (an unusual touch of sophistication for a compact truck) costs $1,000. Stand-alone truck trimmings include a bed liner ($235), tonneau cover ($330), box rail covers ($140), flip-out cargo bed extender ($295), and side step tubes ($370).
Restyled last year, the Mazda Truck has a look all its own: windswept, but still brawny, more like a miniature Ford F-150 than, say, a Toyota Tacoma; and certainly more restrained than the posturing macho of the Nissan Frontier. The new Mazda is smooth all over, while retaining the square, glassy greenhouse that has become a Mazda pickup hallmark.
The little-Ford look is more than coincidence: The Mazda Truck is engineered by Ford, and shares mechanical components with the Ford Ranger. The Mazda does offer its own interior and exterior styling and equipment packages.
The Mazda's strong prow sparkles with multi-beam reflector lamps flanking the prominent grille and its bold Mazda emblem. Gentle shoulders roll down into relatively flat side panels, interrupted by a powerful horizontal character line at about knee level. Muscular bulges around the rear wheelwells suggest sporty step-side styling. With the Cab Plus extension, a tall and narrow side window mounts in the panel behind each door window.
The cargo bed stretches six feet and provides convenient hooks on the floor. Indentations in the box support partitions to segment cargo. The tailgate detaches quickly without special tools. The optional U-shaped bed extender, made from stainless steel tubing, flips out to rest on the tailgate. It can be useful for hauling large, bulky cargo although it won't hold back dirt and other loose items.
Dual Sport models rely on 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 it rides on the same the hiked-up suspension as the 4x4. But Dual Sport is a two-wheel-drive machine, just like the pre-runner trucks that off-road race teams use to survey a desert race course.
Four-wheel-drive Mazdas drop the Dual Sport name but keep the same monochromatic look.
Previous versions of the Mazda Truck consistently set the standard among Japanese-brand pickups for spacious, comfortable accommodations and convenient features. Last year, Mazda re-engineered the cab for even quieter cruising. Also new were seat designs clad in new fabrics, a revised instrument panel with a tachometer, and a revamped center pod for climate and audio systems, with large, easy-to-use rotary dials.
For 2002, the Regular Cab still supplies a bench-style seat that can just fit three across.
The Cab Plus adds an interior storage bay behind the front seat. Two small side-facing jump seats fold down from the back wall. Rear-hinged doors on the four-door Cab Plus permit easy access to rear quarters.
The seats in our B4000 Cab Plus 4x4 were high-back buckets covered in premium cloth fabric. Firmly padded in the bolsters and bottom, they felt luxurious.
B4000's 4.0-liter, single-overhead-cam V6, built by Ford in Germany, quickens acceleration and strengthens the Mazda's trailer-towing ability. Its 207 horsepower enables the B4000 to leap off the line and run quickly to speed. The new V6 musters more torque for off-road work when paired with optional four-wheel-drive.
The 4.0-liter V6 teams with either a heavy-duty five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed electronic automatic with adaptive shift logic. Having five gears means 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.
With the best power rating in its class, the B4000 delivers no-fear passing, even on steep mountain grades. Having so much muscle on tap makes even tough truck chores easy, like hauling loads or pulling a heavy trailer.
With its 10-inch ground clearance and generous front suspension articulation, the B4000 Cab Plus 4x4, scampers over obstacles. And when it runs out of clearance, skid plates shield 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 running at highway speed. The planetary transfer case, also from Ford, operates from a rotary dial on the dashboard for seamless switching from rear-wheel to four-wheel high, or further down to four-wheel low for off-road maneuvers.
Whether on lumpy trails or paved roads, the Mazda takes bumps and turns with confident dexterity. Its rigid ladder-like chassis, with full box bracing of the front section, combines with an independent wishbone front suspension to smooth out the ride.
4x2 models ride on cushy coil springs in front with two-stage leaf springs in the rear.
4x4 versions ride on torsion bars up front and add heavy-duty shocks in the rear for firmer dampening.
All Mazda Trucks get a front stabilizer (anti-roll) bar to reduce body lean in corners; 3.0 and 4.0-liter models have a rear stabilizer bar as well.
Speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering, rarely used on a pickup, further increases the Mazda's agility, making it more enjoyable to drive on winding roads.
Mazda's truck benefits from Ford's engineering, but adds its own style. Its 207-horsepower V6 engine propels it to the top of the import class.
Dual Sport trim emulates the tough look a racer's pre-runner, while a trick new Off-Road package makes the Mazda more desirable for off-roading in 2002.
2WD: B2300 Regular Cab ($12,840), B3000 Dual Sport Regular Cab ($15,470), B3000 Dual Sport two-door Cab Plus ($17,890), B4000 Dual Sport four-door Cab Plus ($19,685); 4WD: B3000 two-door Cab Plus ($20,375), B4000 four-door Cab Plus ($22,430).
Twin Cities, Minnesota; Edison, New Jersey.
Options As Tested
(4x4) Off-Road Package ($1,350) includes 31x10.5R15 white outline tires, side step tubes and bed rail caps, bucket seats, center console, CD and MP3 player, automatic-dimming mirror with compass; Convenience Package ($695) includes leather-wrapped steering wheel with tilt column, cruise control, bed liner, bed extender; Power Package ($795) includes power windows, locks and mirrors, remote keyless entry.
B4000 four-door Cab Plus 4x4 ($22,430).
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