1994 Mazda Pickup

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Orlando Sentinel

Like the 1972 Ford Courier, the 1994 Mazda B4000 pickup is mostly the result of two constantly shifting factors: quality and economics.

In 1972, Ford began selling the compact Courier pickup built by Mazda of Japan.

The Courier was one of the first foreign-made vehicles on which an American automaker put its nameplate. And in those days, Mazda could build a small pickup better and cheaper than Ford.

Now the 1994 model year is here and Mazda has begun selling the compact B4000 pickup, built by Ford. These days, Ford can build a small pickup better and cheaper than Mazda.

World economics, government-imposed tariffs on imports and major gains in quality by U.S. automakers are the major reasons that an American-made vehicle is now good enough to wear a Japanese nameplate. You can look at the B4000 as another indication that American automakers once again are building some of the world's finest vehicles.

PERFORMANCE

Mazda offers buyers its B-series pickups with a choice of three engines.

Base models in the B2300 line are equipped with a peppy and rugged 98-horsepower, 2.3-liter four-cylinder. Next up are the B3000 models, which come with a 3.0-liter V-6 that makes 140-horsepower. Our four-wheel-drive test vehicle came with the biggest engine available - a 4.0-liter V-6 that cranks out 160 exceptionally smooth and quiet horsepower - and a computer-controlled four-speed automatic transmission.

Performance is equal to what you would experience in a midsize sedan. The B4000 can easily overtake slower traffic or haul a heavy load.

The transmission is excellent, though the shifts are not quite as smooth when the accelerator is floored. In four-wheel mode, the B4000 remains quiet and performance is not affected much.

Overall, the Ford-built 4.0-liter engine and automatic provide pleasing performance in city driving and when used off-road. It's a versatile and powerful drivetrain that is nicely matched tothe B4000's suspension system.

HANDLING

The B4000's road manners are a perfect example of a very hot trend in trucks these days.

The pickup offers a nimble, quiet, athletic and agile carlike ride. The heavy-duty suspension system -twin I-beams up front and a live axle in the rear - has been tuned to provide a sedan-like ride over smooth pavement and small bumps.

But when you take it off-road or encounter the rough stuff, the suspension system firms up to let you remain easily in control.

Several times I climbed up a steep grass-covered hill in Mount Dora and went over several bad dirt roads. I found the B4000 not only easy to drive, but fun to take off-road.

The power-assisted steering has a nice, responsive feel. The brakes, discs in the front and drums in the rear, are powerful. An anti-lock system is standard on the rear brakes on all models.

FIT AND FINISH

Our test truck was packed with standard features. Some of the big ones included chrome bumpers, bed liner, premium stereo, cruise control, tilt wheel, power door locks, windows and mirrors and inflatable lumbar supports for the seats.

The body-hugging front bucket seats really stood out. The driver and passenger seats were covered with a stylish gray cloth. As far as comfort and support go, they were nothing short of excellent. I felt no fatigue after two three-hour trips.

The extended cab version comes with two facing fold-away jump seats for occasional rear passengers. These are small seats that can only provide temporary comfort. The room behind the rear seats can be put to use better by storing things back there.

The B4000 sports a stylish set of analog gauges. The switches and controls are clearly labeled and easy to operate, especially those for the cruise control, which are mounted on the steering wheel.

A console between the front seats can hold tapes or CDs and it features a built-in cupholder.

All in all, th B4000 is a terrific truck.

Truett's tip: Sporty, tough and good-looking, Mazda's new B400 0 pickup is a world-class vehicle that delivers excellent comfort and ample performance.

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