2005 Mazda Tribute

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2001 Mazda Tribute

This 2001 review is representative of model years 2001 to 2006.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

Mazda's first SUV in seven years is a winner, especially with the V6.
Pros:
  • Spacious
  • Car-like
  • Smooth styling
  • Potent V6
  • Crisp handling
Cons:
  • Marginal 4-cylinder
  • No anti-lock brakes for base model
  • Awkward shifter

The new Mazda Tribute sport-utility vehicle almost makes up for the fact that the automaker has been out of the hot sport-ute market since it dropped its Ford Explorer-based Navajo in 1994.

However, the Navajo didn't generate much excitement because Ford gave Mazda the 2-door version of its midsize Explorer, while 4-door sport utes long have been the most popular. Ford just didn't want to share the hot-selling 4-door Explorer, much as Mazda would have loved to have had it.

Similar to Ford Escape
The compact Tribute has four doors. It's sold in similar form as the Ford Escape, although Ford-controlled Mazda did most of the engineering work on both vehicles. They share a Mazda-designed platform and Mazda-modified Ford 4-cylinder and V6 engines. Both vehicles are made at a Ford plant in Missouri.

The Tribute has smoother styling than the rugged-looking Escape, and also features a different dashboard, controls, steering wheel and front seats.

Mazda, which is widely known for its Miata sports car, says the Tribute has the "soul of a sports car." Perhaps. The Escape is nimble, but the Tribute features tighter steering and handling. The Mazda version is more fun to drive.

In fact, the two nicely built vehicles have enough significant differences to point potential buyers in the direction of one or the other—although there is a much larger number of Ford dealers.

Roomy
The Tribute is roughly the size of the hot Honda CR-V sport utility, but is 4.6 inches shorter and a few inches wider. In fact, the Tribute is nearly as wide as the Ford Explorer, allowing four adults to easily fit in the well-finished interior. A third rear occupant can slide in, but the center of the back seat is too hard for comfort.

The cargo area is large, with a low opening, and folding the rear seat entirely forward allows significantly more cargo space.

The Tribute is offered with front- or 4-wheel drive and in entry DX, midrange LX and top-line ES trim levels.

Well Equipped
Even the DX is pretty well equipped, with such items as a 100-watt AM/FM/CD audio system, air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, center console, folding back seat, rear defogger/washer-wiper, and power windows, mirrors and door locks.

The LX adds remote keyless entry, cruise control and a split-folding rear seat. The ES adds items such as leather upholstery and a 6-way power driver seat.

Base prices of front-drive Tributes range from $17,005 to $21,825, while 4-wheel-drive models cost from $18,705 to $23,025. The high-line Tribute costs more than the top-line Escape partly because the Tribute has such things as leather upholstery, which is optional for the Escape.

No Anti-Lock Brakes for Base Model
The Tribute has a small number of options, including a power sunroof and premium sound system with an in-dash 6-disc CD changer. Also extra is a $495 package with side-impact airbags and anti-lock brakes, although—alas—it's not offered for DX models.

The CR-V and Toyota RAV4 dominate the compact sport-ute market, but have only a 4-cylinder engine. The 2.0-liter engine in those trucks generates 16 to 18 more horsepower than the Tribute's 2.0-liter 130-horsepower 4-cylinder.

Powerful V6
But the Tribute's 3.0-liter 200-horsepower V6 easily out powers the CR-V and RAV4—not to mention the V6s in rival compact sport utes. The V6 gives the Tribute strong acceleration, but it's no hot rod.

The 4-cylinder comes only with a 5-speed manual transmission, and the V6 is offered only with a 4-speed automatic. The Tribute is fairly heavy, weighing from 3,091 to 3,455 pounds, and the manual thus is needed to extract the most performance from the 4-cylinder. The V6 is optional for the DX, and standard in LX and ES models.

The automatic is responsive, but it's too bad that the V6 isn't available with the manual. Didn't Mazda say the Tribute has the "soul of a sports car?"

Fuel economy is an estimated 23 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway with the 4-cylinder but only 18 and 24 with the V6.

Outside door handles are easy to grip even when wearing gloves. But it calls for a little extra effort to get in and out of the quiet, airy interior. It's comfortable in there, with supportive seats, nice gauges and easily reached controls.

Awkward Gear Selector
However, it is surprising that the automatic transmission has a steering-column-mounted shifter, instead of a floor-mounted one.

Moreover, the automatic's gear selector is so awkwardly long that it blocks some radio controls. Also, cupholders in the front console are a little too low.

Sporty Handling
The Tribute's rather long 103.1-inch wheelbase and firm, all-independent suspension provide a supple ride, although there's some discomfort over rough pavement. The wide stance contributes to sporty handling.

The steering is quick, and the brake pedal is easily modulated. The anti-lock system has electronic brake force distribution that varies the amount of rear braking force depending on vehicle load; the goal is to get optimal stopping performance when the Tribute is filled with passengers and cargo.

Four-Wheel Drive
The 4-wheel-drive system works as an automatic on-demand system, switching from front- to 4-wheel drive when front wheels slip. It also functions as an on-command system, with the driver deciding when to push a button to lock in 4-wheel-drive mode.

The transition from front- to 4-wheel drive is virtually seamless, and the system easily handles light to moderate off-road driving. But there's no low-range gearing to tackle really rough off-road driving, and the tires mostly are for on-road motoring.

The hood is held open with an old-fashioned prop, but the underhood area is well laid out, with fluid filler areas that are easily reached.

The Tribute is above average in most respects, and really should make sports-car owners feel more or less at home.

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BB05 - 8/23/2014 1:17:57 PM