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2003 Mazda Tribute

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$1,656 — $5,876 USED
13
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Sport Utility
5 Seats
20-25 MPG
(Combined)
Key specs of the base trim
 — 
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2003 Mazda Tribute Review

from the Cars.com expert editorial team

Vehicle Overview
Because Ford owns a controlling interest in Mazda, 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. Subtle styling differences between the two are noticeable, and interior features are not alike. The Tribute also has different suspension settings.

Claimed to be the sportier member of the pair, Mazda’s car-based SUV has been attracting considerable interest, though its sales lag well behind Ford’s version. Automotive News reports that 45,270 Tributes were sold in 2001 vs. more than 164,000 Escape sales during the same period. Both models compete against such rivals as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.

The Tribute is available with front-wheel drive (FWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD), and it is offered in DX, LX and upscale ES trim levels. Several interior upgrades have been added for 2003. A two-tone dashboard is installed, and the ES gains standard side-impact airbags. A new cold-weather option group for the ES includes heated seats and mirrors.

Jointly developed by the two companies, the unibody SUV is based on the FWD platform of the Mazda 626 sedan but is powered by Ford engines. The Escape and Tribute are designed to lure buyers out of cars by offering the look of an SUV with the security of 4WD and carlike driving ease. Neither model is considered to offer true offroad capability.

Exterior
The Tribute has the same overall shape as the Escape, but i...

Vehicle Overview
Because Ford owns a controlling interest in Mazda, 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. Subtle styling differences between the two are noticeable, and interior features are not alike. The Tribute also has different suspension settings.

Claimed to be the sportier member of the pair, Mazda’s car-based SUV has been attracting considerable interest, though its sales lag well behind Ford’s version. Automotive News reports that 45,270 Tributes were sold in 2001 vs. more than 164,000 Escape sales during the same period. Both models compete against such rivals as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.

The Tribute is available with front-wheel drive (FWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD), and it is offered in DX, LX and upscale ES trim levels. Several interior upgrades have been added for 2003. A two-tone dashboard is installed, and the ES gains standard side-impact airbags. A new cold-weather option group for the ES includes heated seats and mirrors.

Jointly developed by the two companies, the unibody SUV is based on the FWD platform of the Mazda 626 sedan but is powered by Ford engines. The Escape and Tribute are designed to lure buyers out of cars by offering the look of an SUV with the security of 4WD and carlike driving ease. Neither model is considered to offer true offroad capability.

Exterior
The Tribute has the same overall shape as the Escape, but it features a different grille, front fascia and headlamps, as well as unique exterior trim. Both exhibit a conventional small-SUV profile, and the SUV cousins’ dimensions are also similar. The Tribute sits on a 103.1-inch wheelbase and measures 173 inches long overall — that’s 7 inches longer than the RAV4. Standing 69.3 inches tall, the four-door SUV has a rear liftgate that includes a flip-up window. A fully independent suspension and 16-inch tires are used.

Interior
The Tribute carries five occupants with twin bucket seats up front and a three-place seat in the rear. 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 driver’s seat are standard on the top-of-the-line ES.

Under the Hood
Mazda offers the same powertrain choices that Ford does in the Escape. 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 optional. The V-6 goes into all LX and ES models. Only a five-speed-manual transmission is available with the four-cylinder engine, while a four-speed-automatic gearbox is used with the V-6. The Tribute may be equipped with FWD or a Ford 4WD system that engages automatically but has no Low-range gearing.

Safety
Antilock brakes are standard. Side-impact airbags for the front seats are standard in the ES and optional in other models.

Driving Impressions
Mazda’s small SUV earns mixed reactions, and its sporty nature earns the highest marks. Even though it’s related to the Escape, more flaws surfaced while driving the Tribute than its Ford cousin. The Tribute is noisier than some rivals. A test Tribute 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 with a smooth acceleration.

Energetic and overly eager, the 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 surface.

The SUV’s ride comfort is pleasing on the highway, but wavy pavement produces a lot of up-and-down motion. The Tribute aptly copes with bumps and holes around town and exhibits no raucous behavior.

 

Reported by Jim Flammang  for cars.com
From the cars.com 2003 Buying Guide
Posted on 12/30/02

Consumer Reviews

What drivers are saying

4.2
23 reviews — Read All reviews
Exterior Styling
(4.5)
Performance
(4.3)
Interior Design
(4.2)
Comfort
(4.3)
Reliability
(4.3)
Value For The Money
(4.4)

Read reviews that mention:

(5.0)

As a Tribute to Mazda, this is a awesome vehicle.

by Calcool from Florida on April 2, 2019

Purchased my 2003 Tribute new. Still running great in 2019 with 230 K miles. Used for local commute and many out-of-state travel trips with 4 and 5 persons for daughter's basketball tournaments with ... Read full review

(5.0)

I have a 2003 tribute with over 300,000 miles.

by Grannynancy from Burr Oak Michigan on August 16, 2018

My 2nd mazda. This one is a 2003 tribute with over 300,000 miles. Still on the road and trust worthy. I will probably cry when it dies. Many happy vacations with grand children and great grand. The ... Read full review

Safety

Recalls and crash tests

Recalls

The 2003 Mazda Tribute currently has 8 recalls


Crash and Rollover Test Ratings

The 2003 Mazda Tribute has not been tested.

Latest 2003 Tribute Stories

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Cars.com Car Seat Check

Certified child passenger safety technicians conduct hands-on tests of a car’s Latch system and check the vehicle’s ability to accommodate different types of car seats. The Tribute received the following grades on a scale of A-F.*
* This score may not apply to all trims, especially for vehicles with multiple body styles that affect the space and design of the seating.

Warranty FAQs

What is a Bumper-to-Bumper warranty?

Often called a basic warranty or new-vehicle warranty, a bumper-to-bumper policy covers components like air conditioning, audio systems, vehicle sensors, fuel systems and major electrical components. Most policies exclude regular maintenance like fluid top offs and oil changes, but a few brands have separate free-maintenance provisions, and those that do offer them is slowly rising. Bumper-to-bumper warranties typically expire faster than powertrain warranties.

What is a Powertrain warranty?

Don't be misled a 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty doesn't promise a decade of free repairs for your car. It typically covers just the engine and transmission, along with any other moving parts that lead to the wheels, like the driveshaft and constant velocity joints. Some automakers also bundle seat belts and airbags into their powertrain warranties. With a few exceptions, powertrain warranties don't cover regular maintenance like engine tuneups and tire rotations.

What is included in Roadside Assistance?

Some automakers include roadside assistance with their bumper-to-bumper or powertrain warranties, while others have separate policies. These programs cover anything from flat-tire changes and locksmith services to jump-starts and towing. Few reimburse incidental costs like motel rooms (if you have to wait for repairs).

What other services could be included in a warranty?

Some automakers include free scheduled maintenance for items such as oil changes, air filters and tire rotations. Some include consumables including brake pads and windshield wipers; others do not. They are typically for the first couple of years of ownership of a new car.

What does CPO mean?

A certified pre-owned or CPO car has been inspected to meet minimum quality standards and typically includes some type of warranty. While dealers and third parties certify cars, the gold standard is an automaker-certified vehicle that provides a factory-backed warranty, often extending the original coverage. Vehicles must be in excellent condition and have low miles and wear to be certified, which is why off-lease vehicles feed many CPO programs.

See also the latest CPO incentives by automaker

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