By on March 10, 2020

Our last two Buy/Drive/Burn entries reflected compact truck offerings in 1972 and 1982. We know you all love talkin’ trucks, so we bring you a subsequent entry in the series today. It’s 1992, and you’ve got to buy a compact Japanese truck.

Hope you can bear the 10-percent interest rate on your loan.

We return to the three Japanese manufacturers featured in our first compact truck post today, to see what they had on offer 20 years later.

Mazda B-Series

The fourth-generation B-series was a long-lived vehicle, sold globally between 1986 and 1999. Much more livable than the 1970s design it replaced, it won the favor of car magazines immediately. Three flavors were on offer: Base, SE-5 (sporty), and LX (luxurious). Available from 1986 to 1993, the B was refreshed for 1990 with a new bumper and grille color scheme, plus new wheels. It gradually became more plain, with Eighties tape stripe packages nearly extinct by 1990. Later versions of the B2600 in North America had a larger 2.6-liter inline four. Paired with a five-speed manual, it distributed 121 horses. 1993 was the last time Mazda sold its own truck in North America, as in 1994 it was replaced by a rebadged version of the Ford Ranger.

Toyota Truck

What the rest of the world called the Hi-Lux was known simply as Truck in North America. This fifth generation of Toyota’s long-standing model entered production in the summer of 1988, replacing the short-lived fourth-gen model after five years. For the first time, Xtra Cab versions had enough room behind the front seats for small jump seats, meaning two more people could uncomfortably fit inside. In 1991, Toyota added American production for the Truck at the NUMMI plant in Fremont, California. The same year, the front end of the Truck was revised and gained the new Toyota Sombrero. The largest engine on offer was a 3.0-liter V6 of 150 horsepower. 1994 was the last time America was offered a Hi-Lux, as for 1995 Toyota introduced the America-centric Tacoma as its replacement.

Nissan Hardbody

World markets simply loved the D21 Hardbody. In production since late 1985, it remained so in China through 1999, and in Mexico through 2008. Splitting the truck into two products for the first time, the short-wheelbase “A” was designed in Japan, while the “S” version, the King Cab, was designed in the United States. Nissan produced the Hardbody at its Tennessee plant from the start, and the American market received both Standard and King Cab versions. Trim levels included Base, XE, and SE, and air conditioning as an optional extra on the lower trims through 1994. Hardbody had its first refresh in 1993, carried out in piecemeal fashion: An exterior refresh was accompanied by the original 1986 interior. After this awkward 1992.5 to 1993.5 run, the interior was updated for 1994 models. The largest engine available through 1995 was the VG30E from the Maxima, which was dropped for 1996 as it did not meet OBD-II requirements. For 1998 the Hardbody was replaced by the D22 Frontier.

Three durable trucks, as long as you can keep the rust away. Which one gets a Buy?

[Images: Toyota, Nissan, Mazda]

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26 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: Compact Japanese Pickup Trucks From 1992...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Blasphemy! We LOVE Compact Japanese Pickup Trucks From 1992…

    Ok…

    Buy Toyota, because Marty McFly in “Back to the Future” and all those bad guys running around the desert making war from the backs of their Hiluxs

    Drive the Nissan, because in 1992 they were pretty damn good

    Burn the Mazda, not really, but that’s what’s left

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      “Drive the Nissan, because in 1992 they were pretty damn good”

      Still a big step down from the Toyota. My cousin had 1993 Nissan, identical to my 1993 Toyota. V6/5 SP, 4WD, extended cab. No comparison. The Toyota drove so much tighter and smoother than the Nissan. Night and day difference. The only thing I’d give the Nissan is the V6 pulled harder on the low end, so better for towing.

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    These were all solid offerings. I would buy and drive the Toyota. I would rather have the other two and burn a few S-10s.

    This seemed to be peak Japanese engineering times. All 3 were tough and could go many thousands of miles. I wish they could still make trucks like this, although the safety requirements required would make it unlikely to happen.

    If you were lucky enough to find one of these today with low miles and good condition (especially the Toyota), the price you would pay would probably be more than what they sold for new in 1992.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Oh, yes, the Marty McFly Toyotas show up on Classic Cars.com all the time for $30-40K

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      When I sold my ’94, with 280kmi on it, a worn transmission, bad paint, and needing a new timing chain … I still got $750 as a trade-in for it.

      Which was ludicrous for an 18 year old worn-out compact truck – a RWD one, at that!

  • avatar
    Erikstrawn

    Buy? 1995 Nissan Hardbody SE-V6. Buy during the cold season so you can listen to the motor in cold weather. The engines were factory blueprinted, but the piston manufacturer mis-marked some pistons. In cold weather you can get some piston slap. Nissan increased the warranty on the engines to 100,000 miles because of this. Many trucks got new engines around the 90,000 mile mark.

    Drive? Any of them.

    Burn? The KA-24 powered Nissan trucks. At idle the motor vibrates the entire cab. I hated driving them when I was a tech.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Sometimes there are very obvious Buy/Drive/Burn offerings. Today’s…not so easy.
    Buy: Toyota. Like the 4Runner of this era, they just wouldn’t die and have held up very well. Very tough, very rugged. Anything that can get hit by a wrecking ball, driven into a tree, left at high tide in the North Sea, and had a building implode around it and still start up is at the highest level of toughness!

    Drive: Nissan. Peak Nissan. Break the rules and buy one of these as well. Also wouldn’t die and I think styled a little better than the Toyota.

    Burn: Mazda because the rules say we have to burn one and I just don’t see any of these Mazda trucks driving around any longer. I still see the rare 30 year old Toyota or Nissan truck/SUV moving under its own power.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    By the Toyota and keep it in a climate controlled garage for the fan boys to buy years later.

    Drive the Nissan – they seemed pretty capable in their day and oddly I still see some running around from the “HARDBODY” generation.

    Burn the Mazda by default. On the whole I actually think that Mazda and Ford were better off when they were in partnership.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      “Burn the Mazda by default. On the whole I actually think that Mazda and Ford were better off when they were in partnership.”

      Old Mazdas pre “zoom-zoom” are actually some of my favorite cars. An interesting blend of some 1980s Honda-ish driving dynamics but with a heafty dollop of Toyota durability and comfort. My brother still runs our old family ’89 MPV with this same 12 valve 2.6L, total rust bucket that’s seen miles and miles of offroad use as a mountainbike hauler, I have a great shot of it fording a stream. Somewhere north of 250k miles last I checked, he dropped a fresher junkyard transmission in it a few years ago that perked it back up. Even that old MPV has some very impressive dynamic qualities. Center of gravity from behind the wheel is way lower than what you’d think. So it’s frightening riding as a passenger when you absolutely tear down a mountain road, but it’s insanely confidence inspiring from the driver’s seat. The MPV is a curious blend of 929 platform with some B series parts thrown in (rear axle). Despite all the years of hard use, the original balljoints are still tight (!!).

  • avatar
    spookiness

    I had a 93 short bed B2200 and I loved it, so I can’t burn the Mazda.
    Admittedly, not many are left. I think head gaskets did most of them in eventually. No disrespect to the Ranger design that replaced it, we all know tons of them are still on the road.

    Nissan just never did much for me, and I test drove a used one before I bought the Mazda (also well-used, circa year 2002) and just wasn’t that into it although it was smoother and quieter. Burn if I have to.

    Toyota, I’d drive it just out of curiousity.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Drive the Toyota: rugged, dependable.

    Buy the Nissan: The Toyota may be a better choice here but I owned a ’94 Hardbody, 2WD and with the KA24E engine. Rugged, simple, but prone to rust. Mine was kept clean, but the next owner, whom I knew, let her go real quick.

    Burn the Mazda: for no particular reason other than my experience with them is very little.

  • avatar
    gtem

    I refuse to torch any one of these three great trucks. Saw examples of all of them south of the border when I was down in rural Mexico for work back in 2015, although the hardbodies are easily the local favorite and absolutely EVERYWHERE doing hard work. Rust took its toll on all three up north, the Nissans getting it the worst due to structural frame rot near the rear axle. The Toyota Pickups of this era get some heavy body rot, but the heavy duty Hilux frames actually hold up better than the thinner lighter duty Tacoma frames that followed. Having driven 3.0L Japanese v6s of this early 90s era, I’d actually prefer the Mazda’s 12 valve 2.6L I4 with a stick shift out of all of them. Our family (still) has an ’89 MPV with that 2.6L I4, our ’98 Allsport had the barely updated 155hp 3.0L. With all the extra weight of the 4WD system and luxo options and added safety bits, the ’98 was an absolute dog in the hills, the 4cyl actually felt better paired in the lighter ’89. At low revs the 2.6L doesn’t give up much of anything to the 3.0L, and gets appreciably better mpg.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Buy: Mazda/Ford–While in many cases grossly underpowered, they were reasonably solid and reliable. I personally like that extended-cab model.
    Drive: Toyota–A very popular truck and one that has people still refusing to buy anything bigger (I know one woman who would rather buy and rebuild an old Toyota than drive one of the newer ones.) That said, they have their durability problems–mostly due to rust.
    Burn: Nissan Hardbody–They rusted out faster than the Toyotas.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    The pictures of the Toyota’s are all 1993 models. The 1992’s had a different grill. One of the best looking trucks Toyota ever made IMO.

    Gone was the box seam on the Toyota trucks that rusted after the first winter in MN. Additionally they finally got smart and built the box with a double wall. The interior was heads and tails better better than the the garbage in the generation before them and the extended cab was actually big enough to be functional.

    The Nissan or the Mazda didn’t feel refined or as solid as the Toyota when you drove them. But they were all good trucks although the Mazda & Nissan didn’t have the resale value of the Toyota, which is why I purchased my ’93 V6 4WD extra-cab brand new after shopping used.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Heresy! Buy and drive all of them! I saw a ratty but running Hardbody just the other day, and lately I’ve been seeing a very clean white early ’90s Toyota pickup running around town, with the “1 TON” emblems on the B-pillars. I’m dying to catch it when I can quiz the owner about it.

  • avatar
    MBella

    All solid vehicles as others have said. I will be the contrarian today and say buy the Nissan. There’s not that much of a difference between these. In college I also saw one hold it’s own during a truck pull against several full size trucks.

    Drive the Toyota. There’s got to be a reason why these things hold their value. I’ll find out why without investing myself.

    Burn the Mazda, because it’s left over and not because I want to.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Buy the Toyota. Drive the Nissan and then sell it to fund upkeep on the finicky-by-Toyota-standards 3.0 V6. Burn the Mazda, because it would have been the “Buy” response to this question in 1986 but was out-of-date by now.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    I actually owned a ’94 Toyota Pickup, and put 280kmi on it, with the 22RE 4-cyl.

    So buy the Toyota.

    I guess … drive the Nissan and burn the Mazda? I don’t have strong feelings about either; could reverse those and not care.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    I’d buy the Toyota, drive the Mazda and burn the Nissan RustBody. A buddy had a Nissan. it rode rough, was noisy and rusted like it spent its life on a salty beach.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    I didn’t appreciate these at the time.

    Buy Toyota, drive Nissan, burn Mazda.

    (EPA currently shows fuel economy of 1992 Toyota Truck 4WD 6 cyl, 3.0 L, Automatic 4-spd at 12 mpg city, 16 highway, 13 combined [restated from the ‘original’ 13/17/15]. I may have been right back then.)

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Those early 90s Japanese 3.0L V6s were more or less all the same in that they were as thirsty (or more) as an American 4.0L+ V6, but without the useful low end torque (hey kind of like the Tacoma’s new downsized 3.5L). It was a self imposed problem stemming from the Japanese market and their displacement related taxes iirc. The 3.4L Toyota truck motor developed for them by their Hino truck division was a vast improvement, and the 4.0L that came out in ’03 in the 4th gen 4Runner was better yet.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Burn the Toyota. Someone had to. They’re overrated anyway.

    Then drive the Nissan, buy and give the Mazda to charity.

  • avatar
    AutoPatriot

    This one is simple because I am certainly biased.

    Drive the Mazda. I’m sure it would be a blast on a trail. The truck is so rare you won’t get another chance for sure.

    Burn that Toyota, mainly to protest the 5th generation compared to the previous Toyota gems. I had a 88 Toyota 4 runner 4×4 5spd. Great truck, but she did eventually burn herself out even without my permission.

    Buy the Hardbody! Doesn’t matter what year. I own a black 96 xe 5spd 2.4l one of these. It’s a single cab 2wd “black package” with white alloy 14s. Told you I was biased.
    My dad bought it brand new, I still have the original sticker window and all the service paperwork, 14k out the door!
    The only mechanical problem it’s ever had in it’s 24 years was in 2006 a blown heater core that leaked coolant into the passenger side floorboard. That’s it. Seriously. Everything else works perfectly. See why they have such a reputation?

    Okay full disclosure on this so I feel better about posting this commentstory. I did a very bad thing Ttac long story straight in 2014, the Hardbody ended up sitting off in a side yard at a friend’s house.
    Nothing at all wrong with the truck I just didn’t have space, for many months I was good I swear! I would go start her up and drive around the block but over time the Hardbody just ended up sitting for five years.
    Fast forward 5 years to November 2019 my Almost paid off Civic Coupe, yes manual baby! Got totaled. I looked for months to replace that car in the right price but it was impossible in my location.
    I decided no car payment for a while if I could drive my truck for a while, before it’s too late and it almost was! But that’s what I’m here to tell you.
    The truck sat for 5 years to get her back on the road this is what it took:
    A new gas tank and fuel filter. – bad idea to leave a full tank of gas.
    New battery. Spark plugs.
    No Don’t forget oil!
    Fired right up!

    Since November I have only done mild very past due normal maintenance(the odometer is at 63k.) like belts,starter, tires and brakes. But that’s it. The thing runs just as good as it has since I was a little boy. It’s amazing to think it will be an antique here in Tennessee in 9 months.

    I pass another one of these trucks on the road daily. One of the last vehicles from the 90s still on the road.

    Buy this truck you won’t regret it.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I would not burn any of these trucks. I like them all and I wish you could get a compact truck similar to this.

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