Last year, Mazda took pains to set its B-series truck apart from parent company Ford Motor Co.'s Ranger pickup. You could say the B4000 helped craft a stronger identity for the Japanese automaker, with a leaner body mass, a new logo and sculpted sides.

This summer, both the Ranger and the B4000 got even more practical with the addition of four-door models - something the competition still doesn't offer in the compact pickup segment.

Our two-wheel-drive 1999 Mazda B4000, which is built on the same New Jersey assembly line as the Ranger, had a sticker price of $21,340.

She: If you don't think utility is hot right now, you should have been shopping with me last weekend. I spent Saturday browsing around a college town and look what I bought, honey.

He: Dirt?

She: "Dirt" perfume by a company called Demeter. I had my choice of that or Tomato, Fig Leaf or Sugar Cookie.

He: I like you better without the Fig Leaf.

She: But I bought the Dirt. Now that's what I call not fooling around with fancy names or products. Forget Boucheron or L'Air du Temps. In fact, my new fragrance reminded me of that four-door Mazda B4000 compact pickup truck we tested. Rock-solid utility. No pretensions. And the truck made even more sense than Dirt perfume because at least you get tons of use out of what used to be basically a novelty vehicle with only two doors.

He: I still like Shalimar a lot better. But I suppose you could use the B4000 to haul your Dirt, right? Actually, we used that Mazda to haul lots of stuff. I always worry about hauling guitars and amplifiers in a pickup bed because they're exposed to the elements, and you can't leave them for fear of having something stolen. The beauty of the four-door B4000 is that you can stash everything in the back seat and lock it up. In a pinch, you can also throw one or two adults back there, although they wouldn't want to travel any great distance in those seats.

She: Well, most people don't haul guitars every day, but they do haul coats, purses and briefcases and that's where the four doors really come in handy. You feel like you have a sedan at your disposal, not a sports car.

He: You also just put your finger on the B4000's one weakness. The extra set of doors makes this truck a great everyday utility vehicle, except for the ride. Sorry, folks. This still feels like a truck. Which is not to say the ride quality is unbearable, at least not in the standard two-wheel-drive model. On the plus side, the 4.0-liter V-6 provides lots of pep, even with two or three people aboard. Fuel economy is so-so - with only 16 mpg in city driving.

She: Going back to my latest purchase - I'm surprised you didn't ask what I paid for it. Only $12. Almost as much of a bargain as the truck.

He: That $21,000 sticker on the '99 truck is actually lower than on a comparably equipped '98 model. It's a pretty remarkable price considering all the equipment you get. Our te st model had air conditioning, automatic transmission, power windows and mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with a tilt column, a sliding rear window, a bedliner, an AM/FM stereo with a cassette player and alloy wheels. Try to find a five-passenger sedan with all those amenities, and the payload capacity of the B4000, for 21 grand.

She: One nagging concern I have is how you would convince someone to buy this truck over a Ford Ranger. Where's the benefit? I know the Mazda is designed to appeal to loyal import buyers who may not pick a domestic truck as their first choice. If that's the case, those people will probably have no problem with the Mazda.