1999 Mazda Pickup

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Orlando Sentinel

There are some vehicles that are excellent by any standard of measure that just don't get noticed.

The Mazda B3000 4-Door is one of them.

This isn't a very flashy-looking truck. It doesn't catch your eye the way the stylish Dodge Dakota does.

But if you drive one, you'll be impressed with the smooth and quiet demeanor of its drivetrain, the comfort of its seats, the sensible interior and the quality of its workmanship. Depending on the options, it also can be a good value.

If Mazda could get potential buyers to just test-drive the truck, sales likely would pick up nicely.

The B3000, made by Ford for Mazda, is based on the Ford Ranger. As with similar Ford products, the B-series trucks come with either a 2.5-liter overhead cam four-cylinder, a 3.0-liter V-6 or a 4.0-liter V-6. Horsepower ranges from 119 in the 2.5-liter model to 160 in the 4.0.

Our gold test truck was outfitted with the 3.0-liter V-6 engine, rated at 150 horsepower, and a five-speed manual transmission. A four-speed automatic is optional, but that punches the price up about $600. I found that the clutch pedal doesn't take much effort, and the shifter moves easily through the gears. Driving in heavy traffic is not tiring.

The V-6 makes a pleasing sound as it revs. Power is adequate though not overwhelming. If you floor the accelerator, the rear tires don't lose traction as they do on other trucks. The four-door cab configuration puts a bit more weight over the rear wheels, which helps the tires dig in.

Because our tester was a two-wheel drive model, I didn't venture far off road, but I did learn that the B3000 can take a decent pounding on rough dirt roads.

The suspension system is firm but supple. Most small bumps are not even felt at the helm. Bigger ones cause the B3000 to bounce a bit, but the truck is easy to control.

For 18 grand and change, anti-lock brakes should be standard front and rear. Instead, the system works only on the rear brakes, which is to say not well at all. I couldn't tell the anti-lock system was even there. The front disc/rear drum brakes, however, do stop the B3000 quickly and predictably.

FIT AND FINISH

The cabin of the B3000 is comfortable, well-designed and user-friendly.

Because the truck has two rear doors, it is easy to put small items behind the seat. There is enough room there for at least five grocery bags, or a golf bag, or several small boxes.

The room behind the seats erases one of the biggest drawbacks to owning a truck: The lack of interior storage space usually means you have to store cargo in the bed and leave it vulnerable to thieves or bad weather.

Two fold-down seats are just big enough for kids or for adults for short trips. The seat belts attach to the rear doors and don't block the way to the seats. I wonder why the same design isn't used on the F-150.

Up front there's a 60/40 bench seat with a fold-down armrest and console. The cloth-covered seat looks plain, even spar tan. But it proved quite comfortable in more than 400 miles of driving around Central Florida.

The dash is fairly simple. Aside from the rotary knobs for the air conditioner, the radio and the light switch on the left side of the steering wheel, there's not much else to learn to use.

Our test truck had cruise control; the switches are located on the steering wheel. The system proved easy to use. Mazda won't win any awards for the analog gauges: They're somewhat plain but easy to read.

Although our truck had old-fashioned wind-up windows, manual outside mirrors and nonelectric door locks, these things weren't bothersome. Opting for power on these items likely would bump the price into the $20,000 range, and that would be too much for a small truck.

Among import-brand trucks, the B3000 stands out as the only four-door model available. That changes next spring when the Toyota Tundra is introduced.

1999 Mazda B3000 4-Door Pickup

Base price: $1 6,950.

Safety: Dual air bags, side-impact protection and rear anti-lock brakes.

Price as tested: $18,160.

EPA rating: 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway.

Incentives: None.

Truett's tip: Solid, well-made, comfortable and reliable, the Mazda B3000 is a truck that probably will be well-loved by those who buy it.

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