Ford owns a controlling interest in Mazda, so there's 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 and upgraded for 2005. When comparing the two, you'll find subtle styling differences, unique interior features in each and different suspension tuning.
Serving as the sportier member of the pair, the car-based Tribute attracts considerable interest even if its sales totals lag well behind the Escape's. Both models compete against the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
New Tribute i and s trim levels replaced the previous DX, LX and ES for 2005. A new 2.3-liter four-cylinder in i models produced 153 horsepower, versus 130 hp in the prior version. For the first time, four-cylinder models could be equipped with an automatic transmission. Little has changed for the 2006 model year.
Front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive are available, but the Tribute and Escape aren't considered true offroad machines. Mazda says its intelligent full-time Active Torque Control Coupling four-wheel-drive system reacts faster than a hydraulic unit.
The Tribute has the same overall shape as the Escape but features unique exterior trim and a different grille and headlamps, which were redesigned for 2005. Both SUVs exhibit a conventional small-SUV profile, with similar dimensions. The rear fascia has vertical taillights, and alloy wheels hold 16-inch tires. The rear liftgate contains flip-up glass.
Tributes ride a 103.1-inch wheelbase and measure 174.4 inches long overall. Standing 67.7 inches tall (not including roof rails), the four-door Tribute has a fully independent suspension. Ground clearance is 8.4 inches when loaded.
Each Tribute carries five people on twin bucket seats up front and a three-place, 60/40-split, folding rear seat. Tributes have a floor-mounted gearshift, and the standard 100-watt CD stereo can feature Sirius Satellite Radio. Leather upholstery, heated front seats and side mirrors, and a power driver's seat are optional.
Under the Hood
Tribute i models get a 153-hp, 2.3-liter four-cylinder. A 200-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 that produces 193 pounds-feet of torque goes into s models. The four-cylinder teams with a four-speed-automatic transmission or a five-speed manual, while the V-6 is available only with the automatic. Tributes can be equipped with front-wheel drive or a four-wheel-drive system that engages automatically but has no low-range gearing.
Standard antilock brakes have electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. Side curtain-type airbags with rollover protection are optional on s models.
In its previous form, the Tribute drew mixed reactions, but its sporty nature earned high marks. Tributes are quieter than they used to be, and energetic V-6 throttle response is satisfying. Automatic-transmission shifts are barely noticeable, and downshifts for passing and merging come swiftly.
Steering with a somewhat light touch, the Tribute handles adeptly. Occasionally, a floating sensation makes the driver feel less than fully connected to the highway.
Ride comfort is pleasing, but wavy pavement produces substantial up-and-down motion. The Tribute exhibits no raucous behavior and copes handily with bumps and holes.