HAS THE EDGE?
Two doublecab pick-ups, one from Vauxhall one from Mazda,
swap punches in this months comparative test.
Andrew Pearce and David Cousins hold the towels
BUYERS wanting a doublecab pick-up have two choices. Either opt for a main dealer product – which currently means Vauxhalls Brava or Toyotas Hilux – or go for an import.
The pros and cons of the import route were covered in farmers weekly, May 24, 1996. The bones are these: An agent sources the required car in a right-hand drive country and handles the paperwork. A price generally a little higher than the main dealers models buys better specification and trim. And if the import is solely for multi-driver, business-only use, VAT is reclaimable – which its not for VAT-inclusive main dealer versions.
Import specialists say parts and service should be no problem, warranty is available either from the maker or through insurance, and resaleability is excellent.
This spring saw the main dealer Brava revamped. An obvious import competitor is Mazdas B2500, coincidentally also reborn this year. VAT-inclusive prices are within a gnats of each other at £15,120 (Vauxhall) and £15,269 (Mazda), the latter through Urchfont Garages (01380-840276). For a flavour of what separates the pair, we borrowed an Urchfont customers car for a day and put it against the Brava.
* Engines, transmissions
Vauxhalls Press information huffs a lot about the Bravas 2.5-litre, direct injection motor and low pressure turbocharger, but in practice the power unit has no puff to match. Sure, it sounds crisp and eager when you blip it and even lively in the first couple of gears, but after that wont pull your hat off. Fact is, 75hp and 118lbf ft of torque arent nearly enough for a body weighing 1658kg and carrying an extra 55kg of Truckman top.
Main road hills drag the Brava right back, while overtaking needs clear sight of the horizon. Just getting around, the gearbox is needed a lot and adding the maximum 975kg payload or a stock trailer will mean using it even more; luckily the clutch is light and shifts are clean.
Cab noise is pretty low, too. The motor chatters all the time but sounds clean and fairly willing, even when (as normal) its being thrashed.
The Mazdas power-plant is the same displacement, boasts three valves/cylinder and has no turbo. Even so it generates another 10hp and 10lbf ft of torque, which are enough to drag the trucks topless and 75kg lighter frame along with more enthusiasm. Not enough to get your granny over-excited, mind, but perceptibly faster than the Brava.
Despite the extra urge youll still need the gearstick almost as much as in the opposition. And for shifting this just pips the Vauxhall, sitting a little closer and offering shorter throws. But on noise the Mazda comes off worse – theres much less diesel rattle, but a brief boom period around 3000rpm spoils the quiet.
These trucks seat five and luxury plays second fiddle to practicality. Easy-clean plastic covers floors and doors, blanked-off switches dot the dashboards, and the locks, windows and mirrors are strictly manual.
Headroom and legroom is good in both models, front and rear. Interior space looks much the same, but lighter grey plastics and a slightly higher driving position keep the Vauxhall cab a little lighter and friendlier than the Mazdas; its dash is curvier and more welcoming than the blocky, severe version of the Oriental, and its new plush seats are softer and more supportive.
Neither truck has generous back door openings – its easy to clout a knee getting in and out – but once youre installed, the Bravas back seat is kinder.
Stowage space is limited in both cases and ends up evens. The Mazda has several fag-packet-sized cubbies in the dash and a good tray on top of it, the Brava has fewer cubbies and a less usable tray, but centre console cup holders and seat back pockets. Tools and jacks find a home under or behind the rear seats, with the Mazdas easier to get at. A win, then on accommodation for the Brava.
* Load bay
Some-and-some here. The new Bravas deeper sidewalls have boosted its bed volume, but the Mazda can tote a substantial 190kg more. Bay dimensions are a mix, with the Mazda 45mm (1.8in) longer, 28mm (1.1in) narrower and 125mm (4.9in) tighter between the wheel arches.
The Bravas 85mm (3.3in) lower loading height will help those with a dodgy back. Whether the tailgates new double tailgate latches are a plus all depends; a single catch is easier to use when your arms are full.
Ladder racks with stops are standard fitment in both camps, as are three lashing hooks down each side of the bed. The Brava adds two more on the tailgate, though the Mazdas extra external side rails are probably more use.
* Ride, steering and brakes
Vauxhall has tried again to reconcile load carrying with passenger comfort, but the compromise still doesnt come off. Rear leaf springs still let the back jiggle and soft torsion bars let the nose pitch into road hollows, producing a loose and sometimes queasy-making ride. Still, its better than the original. We didnt push things too hard round rural Wiltshire; just enough to discover fairly the Vauxhaulls light, direct steering and low front end grip. Braking (from discs and drums) is strong, though the pedals long initial free travel takes a little getting used to.
Mazda has not tried so hard to please in the suspension department, leaving the B2500s torsion/bar leaf springs firm all round. Its a better approach; the truck feels tighter to drive, wallows less and generally feels more attached to the Tarmac; a consistently more jittery ride is a small price to pay. Steering is much the same as the opposition for effort, directness and lock, while front end grip seems better. Mazdas disc/drum mix feature a more direct-action pedal which delivers equally good stops.
* Off road
Long overhangs, bus-length wheelbases and the fact that one was a customers car kept us cautious. We used a farm-based course (see box), soon finding that both vehicles will, in dry going at least, easily handle routine excursions.
Transmissions are more or less the same, offering part-time four-wheel drive and freewheeling front hubs – the latter usefully automatic on the Vauxhall but manual on the Mazda. Neither car has a centre diff, so will wind up the drive-train if turned tight on hard surfaces.
When ruts get deeper or humps get higher its the Brava which scrapes first. Apart from clearance, it also loses on suspension travel (though not by much) and slow speed crawlability, the latter thanks to the Mazdas very low ratio transfer box. But the Brava does have a potential ace up its sleeve in the shape of an optional limited slip rear diff.
Assuming youre happy to take the import trail, the Mazda is the better bet. Its less of a drag to drive, carries more load and generally feels more of a knockabout work tool. The Bravas modern cab is a significant plus and sometimes those extra load bay inches will count, but these cant overcome that weary engine, the cars poor dynamics and potentially higher cost.
Above: Revised Brava dash updates the cabin and light trims keep it bright. Seats are softer and give more support than the Mazdas.
Right: Darker Mazda interior is partly down to cliff-like dash. Umbrella handbrake
not too clever.
Above left: Single tailgate release and side rope rails mark out the Mazda load bay… Above right: …While Vauxhall Brava users get twin tailgate latches and more bed width, but less bay length and load capacity.
Above left: Mazda keeps its wheel changing kit and a little spare space behind the rear seat… Above right: …Whereas Vauxhall puts them under it.
We rambled round some of Moordown Farms off-road course at Henley, Hungerford, Wilts. If youd like to brush up on your (driving) technique or feel like a spot of gliding, paintballing or off-road karting, Folly 4×4
(01264-731456) has them.
A waving back wheel means this Brava is bravely going nowhere. In the same spot the Mazda shows
more axle travel; its got better underbody clearance, too.
GRINS AND GRIPES
+ Light, friendly interior
+ Softer seats
+ More room between rear wheel arches
+ Wider load bed
+ Engine quiet through range
+ Limited slip diff option
+ Automatic front hubs
– Very tired engine
– Ride an odd mix
– Soggy to drive
– Less underbody clearance and axle travel
– Potentially more expensive
+ If VAT reclaimed, significantly cheaper
+ Stronger engine
+ Longer load bay
+ Higher carrying capacity
+ Better drive on road
+ Slightly more able off road
– Interior relatively dated
– Seats less supportive
– Brief boom period around 3000rpm
– Umbrella handbrake
– Manual front hubs