The Mazda Tribute has always remained in the shadow of its better-known Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner cousins. That position likely won’t change much, but with improved style and purpose, this compact sport-ute can hold its head up high and proudly display its new-found charm.
It doesn’t take an automotive guru to realize that Mazda has substantially altered its product mix in the last year or so. Along with adding more performance-centered hardware from
its Mazdaspeed division, this Ford-controlled, Japanese-based automaker has made a beeline for the sport-utility-wagon category. Gone is the traditional MPV minivan while an array of five- and seven-passenger wagons have been added to the mix. The relatively new CX-7 and CX-9 multipurpose machines have been grabbing most of the headlines, but that shouldn’t diminish the Tribute’s latest makeover one bit, especially when you dial in the new hybrid gas/electric model.
As an entry-point model, it retains a more traditional sport-ute appearance, but taking a page from the Escape, it makes a bolder statement that, while not exactly shouting “look at me”, does command admiring eye contact. The front end — including the honeycombstyle grille, the lights, side mirrors and bumper — is all-new. The fenders bulge out more dramatically and the taillamps and liftgate have been reshaped. Although most key dimensions — length, width, height and interior/cargo room — remain essentially unchanged (insuring that there will no knees-up, charter-class, third-row seating offered on this rig), the Tribute manages to look bigger and more substantial. If that was the designer’s plan all along, they’ve done their job well.
The cabin receives similar upgrading and now displays a fancy new set of gauges, an equally attractive floor-shift console and an armrest positioned between the front seats that covers an extra-deep storage bin that’s big enough to hide a laptop computer. High-gloss piano black trim is on the menu, a substance that’s rapidly replacing brushed satin nickel as a must-have interior fashion statement. You can also expect to find new seat fabrics and colors that further set the 2008 passenger area apart from past efforts.
The Tribute’s list of powertrain options, carry over from last year with only a few tweaks in an effort to improve fuel economy. The starting point is a 153-horsepower 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine matched to either a five-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic. Optional is a 200-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 that’s fitted with the automatic only.
Either engine can be had in two-, or four-wheel-drive, the latter an on-demand system that “predicts” wheel spin and sends up to 50 per cent of the available torque to the rear wheels when help is needed.
Arriving later this year is the Tribute Hybrid that will be a virtual copy of the Ford Escape/ Mercury Mariner Hybrids from a technical standpoint. A 133-horsepower four-cylinder gasoline powerplant will join forces with a 94-horsepower electric motor to help boost fuel economy and reduce emissions.
For the moment there are four different Tribute variations to ponder, each with their own equipment levels. The base i Sport comes with air conditioning, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, remote keyless entry, four-speaker au and a full range of s consisting of six airba side and side curtain traction and stability - trol to keep the Trib heading where th driver intends.
The i Touring adds a six-way power driver’s seat, overhead console and a roof rack, while the loaded-up i Grand Touring includes moonroof, leather sea and heated mirrors front seats.
There are also “s” v of all three models w content, but with the replacing the I4.
Options such as a premium audio system with six-disc CD changer, a cargo cover and a towing package are also available on most models.
At a starting price of less than $20,000 (including delivery fees), the significantly improved Tribute represents great value and a great choice for sport-ute buyers on a budget.