2008 Mazda Tribute SPosted on July 2nd, 2007
Zoom with a view
By Nina Russin
When I drove the first Mazda Tribute several years back, it was hard to distinguish from its cousin, the Ford Escape. Not true for the second-generation. Mazda’s new Tribute has the ride and handling of much smaller sports cars: peppy acceleration, excellent steering feedback and nimble cornering. In short, it’s zoomier.
The test car has a three-liter, six cylinder engine: the larger of two available blocks. While the four-cylinder engine is available with either manual or automatic transmissions, the six-cylinder comes only with a four-speed automatic. It’s an impressive package, with good acceleration at all speeds, and very little shift shock.
The four-wheel independent suspension combines good road feel with enough shock absorption for city driving. Sixteen-inch rims with all-season tires are standard. The Tribute has front disc brakes and rear drums. I’m not a big fan of drum brakes: they’re harder to service, especially for do-it-yourself types, and not as responsive as discs. But since over sixty percent of the braking on front-wheel drive cars takes place under the front axle, they are probably adequate. Four-channel antilock brakes are standard on all models.
The Tribute comfortably seats four adults, with a more spacious, functional cargo bay than the car it replaces. The front seats with cloth trim are comfortable and easy to adjust. The Touring grade (tested) has a power driver’s seat with adjustable lower lumbar.
Second row passengers sit higher than the front row. Theater-style seating gives both rows of passengers a good forward view. There are seatbelts in three rear seating positions, but two adults will be more comfortable. Two rear passengers should find adequate head, leg and shoulder room.
The new Tribute has a gearshift on the console, replacing the column-mounted shifter of the previous model. Visibility is excellent all the way around the car. A standard tilt feature allows the driver to adjust the steering wheel so it doesn’t block forward visibility. Bright red and blue gauges are easy to see at night. Cruise control buttons on the steering wheel allow the driver to engage and disengage the function without taking his eyes off the road.
Temperature controls are easy to access from both front seating positions. The audio controls are easy to reach, but the compact disc slot is hard to see, especially in bright sunlight. The test car has the upgraded audio system that includes a six-CD changer and seven speakers.
There are map pockets in all four doors as well as the front seatbacks, and two large cupholders behind the gearshift lever for the front row. The center console has a bin large enough to hold compact discs, as well as a change dispenser and a small removable tray for holding cell phones.
The MP3 jack and 12-volt outlet are located at the base of the center stack, above a shelf large enough for compact discs or some paperwork. Front row passengers can stow their sunglasses in small bins overhead, next to the rearview mirror.
Two additional cupholders to the rear of the center armrest serve the second row. There is a second 12-volt power point in back of the center console. With the second-row seats in place, the cargo area has enough room for luggage, groceries and cartons, but it is not large enough to stash a bicycle. A tonneau cover, part of the audio upgrade package, keeps items stashed in the back out of sight.
Collapsing the second-row seats is a three-step process: it takes too long to meet our bike friendly standards. To fold the seatbacks flat, one must first remove the headrests, and flip the seat bottoms forward using cloth straps on the outboard edges of the seat cushions. The 60/40 split rear seatbacks collapse by releasing levers to the outside of the seatbacks.
The rear glass can open independently of the tailgate for loading smaller items. With the tailgate open, it’s easy to reach into the cargo area. There are three tie-down loops on the headliner next to the tailgate, and an apparel hook on the left side of the cargo area. A small bin on the same side will keep parcels from sliding around in back.
The Tribute has an undersize spare: a weight and space-saving measure. It’s not ideal for off-road driving, but the front-wheel drive Tribute is better suited for paved and graded dirt roads.
Thrifty and good looking
The new Tribute has a more muscular exterior than the outgoing model: styling is closer to a traditional sport-utility vehicle. A standard rear wiper should appeal to drivers who live in winter climates. Standard roof rails and cross bars make it easy to load large cargo up top.
Even with the larger engine, the Tribute has good fuel economy, averaging about 21 miles-per-gallon with the tougher 2008 EPA standards. Our drive between Phoenix and Tucson was about three hundred miles, or one tank of gas.
The peppy six-cylinder engine made it easy to merge onto the freeway, with ample power for passing at higher speeds. The chassis remained flat during quick maneuvers, and the standard rack-and-pinion steering produced a good on-center feel.
Road noise was a little more noticeable than for competitors such as the RAV4, but not annoying. On dry surfaces, the brakes were responsive and linear.
The compact footprint makes the Tribute ideal for drivers who need to park in smaller slots, or parallel park on the street. Overall height is well within the limits of home or commercial garages.
Standard safety features on the Tribute include antilock brakes, roll stability control, traction control, and a tire pressure monitoring system. Front, side and side curtain airbags are also standard.
The affordable Mazda Tribute should be on the short list for buyers who want the versatility of a sport-utility vehicle without sacrificing fuel economy or performance. Its compact size makes it ideal for city-dwellers who need to weave through rush-hour traffic. The Tribute is currently available for test drives at Mazda dealerships nationwide.
Likes: Peppy performance, good fuel economy, and excellent visibility all the way around the car. The Tribute has the ride and handling of a much smaller sports car.
Dislikes: Second-row seat is difficult to fold down to extend the cargo floor.
Base price: $22,330*
Price as tested: $23,485
Horsepower: 200 Hp @ 6000 r.p.m.
Torque: 193 lbs.-ft. @ 4850 r.p.m.
0 to 60: N/A
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: No
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 18/24 m.p.g. city/highway
Comments: * Base price does not include a $595 destination fee.
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