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Best Bets get average or better mpg, have average or better reliability, good crash-test ratings, and our experts' recommendations.
By Jim Flammang
August 27, 2003
Vehicle Overview Ford owns a controlling interest in Mazda, so theres a close kinship between the popular Ford Escape sport utility vehicle and the related Mazda Tribute. Both SUVs were introduced for the 2001 model year. Subtle styling differences between the two are noticeable, their interior features are not the same, and the Tribute has different suspension settings.
Claimed to be the sportier member of the pair, Mazdas car-based SUV has been attracting considerable interest even if its sales lag well behind the Escape. Both models compete against such rivals as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
Nothing has changed for 2004, but an updated Tribute is expected in the spring. The Tribute is available in DX, LX V6 and upscale ES V6 trim levels and with front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. The Tribute and Escape arent considered to be truly offroad capable.
The Tribute has the same overall shape as the Escape, but the Tribute features unique exterior trim and a different grille, front fascia and headlamps. Both exhibit a conventional small-SUV profile, and their dimensions are similar. The Tribute sits on a 103.1-inch wheelbase and measures 173 inches long overall; thats nearly 7 inches longer than the RAV4. Standing 69.9 inches tall, the four-door Tribute has a rear liftgate that includes a flip-up window. A fully independent suspension and 16-inch tires are installed.
The Tribute carries five people on twin bucket seats up front and a three-place rear seat. The 60/40-split, folding rear seat on the LX and ES models expands cargo room from approximately 17 cubic feet to a more useful 63.9 cubic feet. Leather upholstery and a power drivers seat are standard on the top-of-the-line ES model.
Under the Hood
Mazda and Ford offer the same powertrain choices for their comparable SUVs. The standard engine in the DX is a 130-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder, and a 200-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 is equipped in all LX and ES models. A five-speed-manual transmission is the sole gearbox available with the four-cylinder engine, while a four-speed automatic teams with the V-6. The Tribute may be equipped with front-wheel drive or a Ford four-wheel-drive system that engages automatically but has no Low-range gearing.
Antilock brakes are standard on the ES and optional on the LX. Side-impact airbags for the front seats are optional on those upper models.
Mazdas small SUV creates mixed reactions, but its sporty nature earns the highest marks. The Tribute is noisier than some of its rivals. One example emitted a low growl from its driveline while accelerating at low speeds, as if sound insulation was lacking. In addition, a touchy gas pedal made it difficult to start off smoothly.
The Tributes energetic throttle response is satisfying. Automatic-transmission shifts are barely noticeable, and downshifts for passing and merging come swiftly. The Tribute steers with a somewhat light touch. It handles adeptly but sometimes displays a floating sensation that makes the driver feel less than fully connected to the highway.
Ride comfort is pleasing on the highway, but wavy pavement produces substantial up-and-down motion. Coping ably with bumps and holes, the Tribute exhibits no raucous behavior.