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1998 4x4 of the Year Models: Mazda B3000 SE

1998 Mazda B3000 SE

As a bargain pickup in a field of medium-to-high-end sport/utilities, the new Mazda B3000 got somewhat shafted in our scoring. Since we rank vehicles against one another, it was hard to find the Mazda tops in interior, ride, power, or off-road performance. But that's not to say we didn't appreciate the improvement in on-road ride and handling offered by the new-for-1998 torsion-bar/A-arm front suspension (à la Explorer) that replaces the venerable Twin Traction Beam setup. Or that the added 3 inches of cab space wasn't plenty welcome. Most of us even ranked the truck higher than expected in both ergonomics and interior fit and finish, and even though it doesn't count in 4x4 of the Year scoring, we think the Mazda grille design is cleaner than that of its stablemate, the Ford Ranger. All and all, the newly redesigned Mazda is a fine compact truck.

But as such, it has some limitations. In the 4x4, regular-cab configuration, the only drivetrain choice is the now-available-again 3.0L V-6 (with a revised intake for a bit more power) and a five-speed manual tranny. The bigger 4.0L V-6 is available only with the Cab Plus option. At 150 hp and 185 lb-ft of twist, the smaller Mazda 3.0L engine was the least powerful of any in the test, and, even though the pickup was also the lightest 4x4 in the field, the lack of Wheaties showed too clearly. Thank goodness for the precise shifting trans that allowed picking the max-rpm cogs for fire-road fun, but the too-high First gear turned an otherwise well-sized, OK-flexing rockcrawler with best-of-the-bunch ground clearance into a clutch-smoking trail blocker.

Dated graphics, limited off-road ability, and poor mechanical layout explain the remainder of the poor score. We think the radiator hangs too low and is unprotected, and we proved that the driveshaft kangs the gas-tank skidplate during flex maneuvers. The 4WD-engagement system includes new vacuum-pulse-lock front hubs, but those didn't seem responsible for the long lag time sometimes experienced when we switched into and out of four-wheel drive or low range. Sometimes the system performed seamlessly; other times it seemed not to engage at all.

Keep in mind that the Mazda was the lowest-priced ride in the test by a solid nine grand and still seems like one of the most comfortable mini-trucks you can buy; it even outscored one of the sport/utilities in the Interior category. Fine ergonomics, good cruise control, and standard dual airbags are all pluses. And even with rear-only ABS, the Mazda stopped better than the Dodge Durango.

Mazda B3000 SE
•Good ergos
•Improved on-road handling
•Decent ground clearance

•Geared too high
•Weak engine power
•Dated graphics

Manufacturer Mazda
Model B3000 SE
Base Price $16,945
Price as Tested $19,475
Options as Tested Power Package
(15-inch alloy wheels, P235/75R15 tires); AM/FM/CD/clock; sliding rear window; bedliner; Bright Group (tailgate and grille); air conditioning; power windows, doors, and mirrors; speed control/tilt wheel; and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Type OHV V-6
Displacement (liters/cubic inches) 3.0/182
Bore & Stroke (inches) 3.50x3.14
Compression Ratio 9.1:1
Induction Type Multipoint electronic fuel injection
Fuel Requirement/Capacity (gallons) 87 Octane
SAE Peak Horsepower 150 @ 5,000 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 185 @ 3,750 rpm

Type Five-speed manual with overdrive
Model M50D-2
Ratios First: 3.40:1; Second: 2.05:1; Third: 1.31:1; Fourth: 1.00:1; Fifth: 0.79:1; Reverse: 3.40:1

Transfer Case
Type Two-speed part-time
Model Borg-Warner 1354
Low-Range Ratio 2.48:1

Front Type IFS
Rear Type Dana 35
Hubs Automatic (Pulse Vacuum Hublock)
Ratio 3.73

Front Double wishbone with coil springs/torsion bars
Rear Semifloating live axle/multileaf two-stage springs

Type Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 4.0/17.0:1
Turning Radius (feet) 37.3

Size (inches) 15x7
Material Alloy

Size P235/75R15
Brand Firestone Wilderness

Brake System
Front 11.28-inch discs
Rear 11.42-inch drums with ABS

Measured Weight (pounds) 3,580
Advertised GVWR (pounds) 4,760

EPA Estimate (city/hwy mpg) 17/21
As Tested (mpg) 15.0

Standing 1/4-mile (seconds @ mph) 19.21 @ 69.43

60-0 mph (feet) 175.29

Dimensions (inches)
Wheelbase 111.6
Overall Length 187.7
Overall Width 70.3
Overall Height 67.6
Front/Rear Track 58.6/57.3
Front/Rear Overhang 33.3/43.8
Minimum Front Ground Clearance 8.5