Most trucks have grown larger over the years, but the long-lived Mazda B-Series has bucked this trend by remaining a true compact pickup for its entire run. Initially an in-house effort by Mazda, the B-Series ended up as a joint Ford/Mazda production to reduce the cost of manufacture. That's a nice way of saying that from 1994 onward, the B-Series was essentially a Ford Ranger wearing different clothes. But to its credit, Mazda's pickup never lost its compact identity, which made it relatively maneuverable without sacrificing too much pickup functionality.
The B-Series had its heyday from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. During these years, its nimbleness (on- and off-road), trio of engine choices and large variety of trim configurations made it a tempting choice. But toward the end of its run, the Mazda stood frozen in time while rivals continued to improve. A well-maintained Mazda B-Series (or the similar Ford Ranger) could be a good pick for those who need a basic pickup at a bargain price, but otherwise we'd advise looking elsewhere for a more refined daily companion.
Most Recent Mazda B-Series
Based on the Ford Ranger, the final generation of the Mazda B-Series was introduced for the 2001 model year and soldiered on through 2009 mostly unchanged. It was available in three versions for most of its life: B2300, B3000 and B4000. Initially, all except the B2300 (two-wheel drive only) could be had in either two-wheel or four-wheel-drive guise, but from 2003 onward, only the B4000 could have 4WD. Antilock brakes were standard on all models for the entire production run, but other modern safety features like stability control and side curtain airbags were not available.
The B2300 was available only in a regular-cab body style and featured a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 142 horsepower. The B3000 was powered by a 3.0-liter V6 good for only 148 hp, just 6 hp more than the four-banger but with a far broader torque range which helped deliver more usable power. It was available in either regular-cab or extended-cab configuration. The latter included a pair of smaller rear doors along with flimsy flip-down rear seats (a feature no longer recommended for passenger use). The B3000 was discontinued after 2007. The B4000 featured a 207-hp 4.0-liter V6 and was only available in the extended-cab body style.
Notable features vary with trim level and year but included a bedliner, alloy wheels, foglights, skid plates, a limited-slip differential, full power accessories, keyless entry, cruise control and a CD player with an auxiliary input jack. There was also the rugged Dual Sport model, a 2WD truck with a raised suspension and big tires that gave it a measure of off-road capability and a tough look. The Troy Lee edition carried graphics by a designer of flashy motocross gear in order to appeal to more active sport-oriented users. The name of the B-Series truck became "Mazda Truck" for 2002, though the experiment ended shortly thereafter.
Just like the Ford Ranger, the Mazda B-Series went without improvements as buyers passed up compact trucks to purchase full-size pickups that were only slightly more expensive. As a result, the B-Series became suitable only for those with minimal truck requirements. But if your needs fit this description, a used B-Series of this vintage could be a good pick. Shoppers looking for a basic, light-duty pickup might consider a B2300 with the manual gearbox, as consumer feedback has indicated fuel economy in the range of 23-30 mpg. Those who plan on towing are advised to consider the B4000, which can pull up to 5,600 pounds.
Past Mazda B-Series Models
The generation of the Mazda B-Series produced from 1994-2000 also shared its platform with the Ford Ranger. Initially these B-Series trucks came in base, midgrade SE and luxury-level LE trims in standard- or extended-cab body styles. There was a choice of three engines: a 2.3-liter inline-4 (98 hp), a 3.0-liter V6 (140 hp) and a 4.0-liter V6 (160 hp). Transmissions consisted of either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. The V6 versions offered a choice of 2WD or 4WD.
Model-year 1995 saw the debut of a driver-side front airbag and ABS as standard equipment for all B4000s and 2WD B3000s, while '96 saw the addition of a passenger-side front airbag in the upper trims. A five-speed automatic debuted for the B4000 in '97. A revamp took place for 1998 that included freshened styling, a stronger 2.5-liter four and a revised front suspension for better ride and handling dynamics. For 1999, the Cab Plus 4 debuted (essentially an extended cab with a pair of reverse-opening rear doors) as did the flashy Troy Lee edition.
At the time, we noted in Mazda B-Series reviews that the truck offered a good selection of configurations and attractive styling. Downsides included the limited functionality of the truck's rear seats and the lack of horsepower from even the top V6 engine.
Previous to 1994, the B-Series was all Mazda. The B2200 with its 2.2-liter inline-4 and the B2600i with its 2.6-liter V6 were offered in standard and extended cabs. A five-speed manual transmission was standard with a four-speed automatic optional, while only the B2600i could be had with four-wheel drive. Although these were decent trucks, the chance of finding one of these workhorses in good condition is slim, as they're well into their retirement years.