Since model year 1994, the Mazda B-series pickups have been made by Ford on the same assembly line as the Ranger, and under the badging and some slightly different exterior detailing, they’re the same vehicle. If for no other reason, you may want to keep this in mind as the Mazda styling is arguably a little nicer, and the option packages available may be a little different. Rest assured, though, that under the skin they’re exactly the same.
I drive a 1997 Mazda B2300, and I love it. This one, as the name suggests, has a 2.3 liter 4-cylinder engine that I don’t believe they offer anymore - the “small” engine is now a 2.5. “Medium” and “large” are 3.0 and 4.0 liter V-6’s.
Since getting it new in August of '97, I’ve put 98,000 miles on it with no trouble to speak of. Had a crappy connection in the windshield wiper controls replaced under warranty, and that was it for the first 60k.
At around 95,000 miles, the temperature control on the climate control system began acting up. I believe what’s happened is that the heater blend door buried within the core has broken or jammed wide open, and I can only get full-hot air right now. Since I’m in pleasant southern California, I am presently living with the problem as just leaving it off and rolling the window down is a viable option for most of the year. Getting to the ducting/doors is pretty labor-intensive, requiring removal of the entire dashboard. I want to do it myself to see what I need to fix/replace, but since it’ll take all weekend it’s not real high on my priority list.
I have the 5-speed manual tranny, and I get about 25 mpg. I have a camper shell on the back, which probably helps the aerodynamics some and may be increasing the fuel economy a bit.
Mine’s a regular cab - this I sort of regret. I believe they did a redesign of the standard cabs in 1998 that added some room behind the seat, but there’s really not that much in this one.
The 2.3 liter engine cannot possibly be described as “beefy”, and this is one of the more underpowered vehicles I’ve owned. However, it’s good enough for me - I’m willing to accept the relative lack of power as a tradeoff for the fairly good (for a truck) fuel economy. I’ve had it loaded up to the GVWR, and the engine was still able to deal with that. What seemed to be reaching the limit was the rear suspension, but it survived the experience just fine.
Whether it’s a sign of real strength or simply lazy over-designing, the tailgate on this thing is quite beefy (and heavy) compared to, say, a Chevy S-10’s. It has strong hinges mounted as they are on full-sized pickups, not little doorway-style hinges like I’ve seen on some older compact trucks. The bed also has four rope holes (reinforced through-holes in the top edges of the bed walls) - features I’ve observed to be absent on most other compact trucks. These are in addition to four tie-down hooks inside the bed - pretty much everything has these.
Still on the original clutch (no surprise). Still on the original brakes (absolutely shocking, but I’ve checked them myself and they’re still within spec). I’ve done thorough regular maintenance and have had no engine/driveline problems of any sort.
If you can’t tell, I like mine.