It's a well-worn cliche, but the Mazda Tribute puts some sport in sport utility. Responsive handling and brisk performance from the available V6 engine make the Tribute one of the sportiest of the compact SUVs.
The 2005 model line was recast to complement the rest of the Mazda lineup, and little has changed with the 2006 model. The Tribute i model is available with a four-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic, while the Tribute s features a powerful V6 and four-speed automatic. Both models are available with a four-wheel-drive system that uses electronics in place of a previous hydraulic system to better split power between front and rear tires according to driving conditions.
The Tribute received a more polished look for 2005 and it continues without alteration, as its redesigned front fascia and other styling revisions already added zest to what was one of the better looking contenders in the class. The suspension had also been revised for improved handling. Available side-impact airbags and curtain airbags enhance safety.
The Mazda Tribute delivers an excellent value for drivers who want the versatility of a sport utility, but with the superior refinement and on-road handling of a car-based utility can offer. Mazda and Ford worked jointly on developing the Mazda Tribute and Ford Escape and they share much in common, but the Mazda offers sportier handling.
Mazda Tribute is available in two pairs of trim level: Tribute i 2WD ($20,115) and 4WD ($21,815), and Tribute s 2WD ($23,200) and 4WD ($24,700).
Tribute i is powered by a 153-horsepower four-cylinder engine. It comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission; a four-speed automatic is optional for both the 2WD ($820) and 4WD ($620) models. The Tribute s is fitted with a 200-horsepower V6 and a four-speed automatic.
Tribute i comes standard with air conditioning; power windows, mirrors and locks; remote keyless entry; tilt steering; a roof rack with cross bars; 16-inch alloy wheels; four-speaker AM/FM/CD satellite-ready stereo; rear privacy glass; delayed accessory power; two power points; and, new for 2006, electronic cruise control with steering-wheel-mounted controls. Seats are upholstered in cloth, the rear seat is a 60/40 split fold-down bench, and there's full carpeting and front and rear floor mats.
The s model adds fog lights, upgraded cloth trimmed seats, an upgraded driver's seat with adjustable lumbar, and sundry appearance items.
Options for both i and s include a cassette player ($200), an in-dash six-disc CD changer ($500), a DVD entertainment system ($1,200), various cargo area accessories, a perimeter alarm ($115), side step tubes ($400), color-keyed door edge guards ($70), all-weather floor mats ($40); compass and outside temperature gauge and auto-dimming rearview mirror ($230 and $300 with Homelink); moonroof deflector ($50); rear bumper step plate ($50); rear spoiler ($300); and wheel locks ($40). Some of these options are not available with certain packages.
A Premium option package ($1,610) for Tribute i automatic features leather-trimmed seats, a six-way power driver's seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, fog lamps, overhead console with storage bins, illuminated vanity mirrors, maple-look wood-grain center stack and center console, painted bumpers, lower body-side and wheel-arch trim, and body-colored mirrors. The s is available with any one of three option packages: The first ($1,480) adds six-way power driver's seat, seven-speaker premium audio with six-disc in-dash CD changer, power moonroof and retractable cargo cover and a single overhead storage bin; the second package ($1,745) adds to the first leather-trimmed upholstery, the black-maple-look wood-grain center stack and console and leather-wrapped steering wheel; the third package ($2,595) adds heated front seats and outside mirrors to the contents of the other two packages. The s is also available with a Class II trailer tow package ($350) consisting of a frame-mounted trailer hitch with 3,500-pound capacity and wiring harness. A Preferred Equipment group ($175) adds a cargo net, cargo tray, rear bumper step plate and wheel locks.
Safety features that come standard include anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist. Side-impact airbags, designed to provide torso protection for driver and front-seat passenger, and curtain airbags ($565), designed to offer head protection, are available only on the Tribute s models.
The Mazda Tribute has an aggressive look due to its forward-tilted stance, short overhangs and wide track. Thick bumpers, side cladding and wheel lip moldings, all tweaked and massaged for a slightly different look for 2005, carry over for the 2006 model and are smoothly integrated into the bodywork to give the Tribute a sense of stability and refined ruggedness. Large multi-reflector headlamps with clear lenses and rear combination lamps with crystal lenses add a sporty dash.
In terms of external dimensions, the Tribute sits near the middle of its class. Measuring 174 inches in overall length, the Tribute isn't as long as the Honda CR-V or the new 2006 Toyota RAV4 (at 181 inches). However, the Tribute's wheelbase is only an inch shorter than the RAV4's wheelbase (the distance the front and rear wheels). Also, the Tribute has a relatively wide track (the distance between the left and right wheels), about the same as the RAV4's. The CR-V is 6 inches narrower than the Tribute. A longer wheelbase and wider track tends to offer better stability.
Inside the Mazda Tribute is a pleasant place to be. The front bucket seats are comfortable and of higher quality than those found in many SUVs. All five seating positions have three-point seatbelts and adjustable head restraints. Rear-seat passengers will discover that the Tribute's rear windows do not roll down all the way, as with many small sport utilities.
The middle ground on exterior size means the Tribute fares about the same inside. It trails virtually all the competition in headroom and hiproom and lands about in the middle in legroom. It feels roomier than it is, however, an indication of good packaging and design. The lower dash flows smoothly around the front-seat knee wells. Interior door panels are economically crafted to yield maximum elbowroom.
The 60/40 split-fold rear seat allows multiple combinations of people and stuff. Folding the rear seat reveals a flat cargo floor and nearly 67 cubic feet of cargo space. The Tribute will accommodate 4x8-foot sheets of plywood, if you don't mind flipping open the rear hatch glass and letting the plywood stick out the back. The glass does not have to be closed when opening the rear hatch.
Up front, the switchgear is straightforward. Radio controls are easy to use, and the heating and air conditioning controls are simple. Cruise controls are mounted on the steering wheel. The instrument panel is straightforward and easy to read. The center panel is matte finish and trimmed in brushed aluminum.
Visibility in all directions is very good. The shape of the Tribute's hood combines with its seating position to allow the driver to clearly see both front corners of the vehicle, an advantage over the Honda CR-V and many crossover utility vehicles. Narrow A-pillars (front) and D-pillars (rear) minimize blind spots. The low bottom edge of the rear window maximizes visibility, and there's no spare tire hanging off the liftgate to block the view.
The Mazda Tribute is an agile and powerful little SUV and it handles better than most sport-utilities. Its sharp steering allows the driver to guide it precisely. We found the Tribute stable at high speeds. Handling response is relatively taut on winding roads, without that mushiness that characterizes SUVs with big off-road tires and long-travel suspensions. Tribute handles much better than a Jeep Liberty, for example, and it's sportier and more fun to drive than a Honda CR-V.
Steering response is direct and accurate without a big dead spot in the center. There's enough feeling in the steering to give the driver a good sense of control. The tires provide respectable grip in paved corners and transient response in lane-change maneuvers is surprisingly good. In other words, it's relatively tight when turning back and forth on a winding road or in an accident-avoidance maneuver. The suspensions on front-wheel-drive (2WD) and four-wheel-drive (4WD) versions are identical, so there's no ride-quality penalty with 4WD.
Noise, vibration and harshness levels are low when underway, so it feels relatively refined though not luxurious.
The Tribute's ride quality is smoother and more sophisticated than that of most other compact sport utilities. It offers firm damping and a good control of body motions. The 2005 Tribute received increased spring rates and a larger front stabilizer bar to general approval, lending it a sportier character when the roads get twisty.
The V6 in the Tribute s is neither the smoothest nor the roughest V6 on the market, but it's smoother and more satisfying than the four-cylinder engines found on most small sport-utilities. It's more powerful than the V6 engines in the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento, but it's about 10 horsepower shy of the heavier Jeep Liberty's new V6 and trails the RAV4's very powerful V6 by 69 horsepower.
The V6 engine and four-speed automatic work well together. The transmission shifts smoothly up and down, appropriately for the situation. A broad power band means the engine never lugs or strains. Mazda tuned the transmission for slightly more aggressive shifting and mapped it for quicker acceleration than in the Ford Escape. Properly equipped, the Tribute can tow trailers up to 3500 pounds, which covers personal watercraft, ATVs, snowmobiles, and small boats.
The four-wheel-drive system improves driver control on wet pavement, ice and snow. The Tribute is capable of negotiating two-tracks, but it isn't designed for true off-road travel. Neither its four-wheel-drive system nor its suspension are up to tackling rugged terrain. There's no traction control system nor is there a set of low-range gears. If rugged terrain is on your itinerary, you might be better served by the Jeep Liberty. Tribute handles well on smooth dirt roads, however, and the four-wheel-drive versions should get to most of the places most of us want to go. The 2WD Tributes may have trouble slogging through silt or mud without getting stuck.
Tribute's four-wheel-drive system works full time, automatically transferring power between the front and rear wheels as needed. The Active Torque Control Coupling, introduced on the 2005 models, features a computer-controlled electromagnetic clutch. The newly developed system can react faster and more smoothly to changing road conditions and driver input than the old hydraulic system.
Tribute i models come with front disc and rear drum brakes, while the s is upgraded with four-wheel disc brakes. The brakes do a good job of slowing the Tribute down in a hurry and are smooth and responsive around town. ABS, which allows the driver to brake and steer at the same time, is standard, along with Electronic Brake-force Distribution, which balances brake force front to rear for more stable braking, and Brake Assist, which assists the driver in maintaining maximum brake force in an emergency stopping situation.
The Mazda Tribute is a joy to drive. If you want a little zoom in your compact utility, this is a good place to be. Toyota trumped the V6 Tribute's power with its new 269-horsepower RAV4, but the Mazda V6 still offers more power than the Honda CR-V and other small SUVs with four-cylinder engines, and it costs less than a similarly equipped Liberty.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard is based in Northern California.
|Model Line Overview |
|Base Price (MSRP) |
|Model lineup: |
|Mazda Tribute i 2WD ($20,115); i 4WD ($21,815); s 2WD ($23,200); s 4WD ($24,700) |
|2.3-liter dohc 16-valve inline-4; 3.0-liter dohc 24-valve V6 |
|5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic |
|Safety equipment (Standard): |
|dual two-stage front airbags; ABS with EBD |
|Safety equipment (Optional): |
|side-impact airbags and curtain airbags |
|Basic warranty: |
|4 years/50,000 miles |
|Assembled in: |
|Kansas City, Missouri |
|Specifications As Tested |
|Model tested (MSRP): |
|Mazda Tribute s 4WD ($24,700) |
|Standard equipment: |
|air conditioning, cruise control, power windows w driver-side express down, rear wiper, rear privacy glass, tilt steering column, 16-inch alloy wheels, remote keyless entry, roof rack with cross bars, dual power fold-away mirrors, two power outlets, CD, tachometer, fog lights, cruise control, reclining front bucket seats |
|Options as tested: |
|side-impact airbags and curtain airbags ($565); Option Package 1 ($1,645) includes 6-way power driver's seat, leather-trimmed upholstery and steering wheel, 7-speaker AM/FM/6CD, power sliding glass moonroof, wood-grain dash trim, overhead console and retractable cargo cover; Tow Package ($350) |
|Destination charge: |
|Gas Guzzler Tax: |
|Price as tested (MSRP) |
|four-wheel drive |
|3.0-liter dohc 24-valve V6 |
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm): |
|200 @ 6000 |
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): |
|193 @ 4850 |
|4-speed automatic |
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: |
|19/23 mpg. |
|103.1 in. |
|174.4/72/67.7 in. |
|Track, f/r: |
|61.3/60.9 in. |
|Turning circle: |
|38.3 ft. |
|Seating capacity: |
|Head/hip/leg room, f: |
|40.4/53.8/41.6 in. |
|Head/hip/leg room, m: |
|Head/hip/leg room, r: |
|39.2/49.1/36.9 in. |
|Cargo volume: |
|66.9 cu. ft. |
|Towing capacity: |
|3500 lbs. |
|Suspension F: |
|independent, MacPherson strut, coil springs, stabilizer bar |
|Suspension R: |
|independent, multi-link, trailing arms |
|Ground clearance: |
|8.4 in. |
|Curb weight: |
|3482 lbs. |
|Brakes, f/r: |
|disc/disc w ABS and EBD in. |
|Fuel capacity: |
|16.5 gal. |