The MPV mini-van, two-seater Miata and 929 luxury sedan have gotten all the attention at Mazda the last few years, so much so that we`d almost forgotten another element of the Japanese automaker`s sales operations-trucks. It appears consumers have
forgotten about Mazda trucks, too. In the 1989 calendar year, Mazda sold 78,539 pickups, down 16 percent from 93,287 in 1988. To start the new year, January truck sales were off 19.5 percent, to 5,559 units from 6,910 a year earlier. Mazda
officials in town last week blamed the high cost of trucks, brought on by a 25 percent import duty on foreign pickups, for the sales slide. They were in Chicago to introduce the Mazda Navajo four-wheel-drive utility vehicle, to be supplied by Ford Motor
Co. starting this fall because it`s based on Ford`s Explorer. High cost is one reason Mazda is talking with Ford, its equity partner, about supplying it with pickup trucks in the near future. ``The tariff has taken its toll on truck sales
and has made them go the wrong way,`` one Mazda source confided. Often the tariff puts the Mazda truck at a $1,000 price disadvantage to a comparable domestic pickup. Worse, Mazda is at a price disadvantage when it comes to some Japanese
competitors. Nissan, for example, builds pickups in Tennessee, and Toyota is about to build trucks at its joint venture plant with General Motors Corp. in California. That way, they escape the tariff. We test-drove the Mazda B2600i
four-wheel-drive Cab Plus LX pickup. Perhaps one reason consumers have a hard time deciding to buy one is that it takes so long just to say the name. It`s a mouthful, to be sure, so we`ll cover the territory slowly. The 2600i refers to the fact
it`s powered by a 2.6-liter, 121-horsepower, 4- cylinder, fuel-injected (i) engine. It`s teamed with either 5-speed manual transmission or optional 4-speed automatic. Our vehicle had a smooth-shifting 5-speed to complement the 121 h.p., which is
more than ample for a truck with no load in back. Those using it as a work machine probably would want a V-6, which is what they can get from Chevy and Ford in the compact truck market-a 4-liter V-6 at Ford, a 4.3-liter at Chevy. Why no V-6 at
Mazda? We were told by those in the know at the firm that with a $1,000 price disparity against competition already, the addition of a V-6 would only add to pricing woes. Then, too, the EPA mileage rating of the 4X4 with 5-speed is 18 m.p.g.
city/20 highway and with automatic it`s 17/20. A V-6 wouldn`t add to already low mileage figures. Back to the name designation. Four-wheel-drive, of course, refers to the fact you have an insurance policy in the Snow Belt-on road or off.
Four-wheel- drive is what makes a pickup look more attractive than a 500SL when there`s 8 inches of snow on the pavement. Mazda`s 4WD doesn`t require that you get out and lock hubs. All you n
eed do is pull the transfer case lever to move into 4WD high for snow-packed roads, 4WD low for getting out of axle-deep sand. A dash light tells you which mode you`re in, which is a good system to have because the transfer case lever is very
close to the normal 5-speed lever; more than once we grabbed the wrong lever and ended up in 4WD on wide open, dry road. Mazda would do well to reposition the lever or make it more noticeably different to the touch. The final designation,
Cab Plus, means that a pair of jump seats are positioned behind driver and passenger. Those seats hold either little kids, bags or boxes. When not in use they fold away. Another nice touch is the fact that with the Cab Plus extended interior,
Mazda placed a pair of windows in the rear quarter panels that pop open to provide circulation. They also serve to eliminate any blind spots you might encounter from thick metal pillars. Without Cab Plus, when Mom and Dad go
there`s nowhere to store the goodies except by balancing on the passenger`s lap-unless you dare toss the items in the vacant bed in back. With Cab Plus you can keep the bags or boxes inside. It really adds to the functionality of the truck, making
it more than just the vehicle used to move the stove and frig each time a friend switches apartments. For a compact, the truck`s dimensions are generous. Wheelbase is 118.1 inches and length 198.8 inches. The cargo bed is 72 inches long with Cab
Plus, actually less than on the short bed model due to the added jump seats. The Mazda truck provided good room and comfort, the practicality of four- wheel drive, the functionality of added jump seats. We hope Mazda adds antilock brakes
as an option. Base price of the unit we drove is $13,779. If you sacrifice 4WD, the base price is $11,099.