Assuming you want a small SUV for driving
around town - not out in the boonies - there's virtually nothing the Tribute lacks. It's
got a rugged-looking body, a high vantage point for the driver, and a nimble, controllable
driving feel much like that in small sedans.
There's nothing cute about this mini-ute's body. It looks tough and
rugged, but don't let it fool you - the Tribute was designed for driving to soccer
practice, not the Rubicon Trail. Like a small or mid-size car, the Tribute's cabin is
comfortable and refined. Nice materials, logical controls, and clear gauges make it feel
upscale, and cargo space is generous.
As far as weaknesses go, it really only has a couple. Its
underpowered if you pick the four-cylinder engine, and it's not made for off-road driving
like SUVs were meant for in the first place. Yeah, I know it's picky. Besides, there are
plenty of people who like the style and versatility of an SUV but don't want to sacrifice
refinement or comfort. The Tribute is tailor made for those folks.
After spending a week behind the Tribute's wheel, it's obvious why
the Tribute/Escape has been a hot seller since its introduction in 2001. Its interior is
nice and comfortable, even downright supple on high-end models, and it's packed with
practicality without the "boring" stigma of a minivan or sedan. The back seat
folds flat for hauling cargo, and there's a good amount of storage space even with the
seat up. No complaints here.
What really makes the Tribute stand out from its tougher, made for
off-road competitors is its car-like ride. It has a fully independent suspension and
unibody frame, not solid axles and a ladder-style frame historically found in SUVs. That
means it rides like a small car - albeit a tall, tough-looking one - that's easy to
maneuver and comfortable on pothole-filled highways.
Power, at least with the 200-horsepower, six-cylinder engine, is
more than adequate for climbing hills and accelerating onto freeways. A 130-horsepower,
four-cylinder model is available only on the base Tribute with a manual transmission, and
the starting price is nice: just over $18,000.
The LX is priced at $21,680 and the ES is $23,270 and both versions
come with the much better V6 engine and an automatic tranny. It's one of the best
powertrains in its class with truck-like grunt and car-like smoothness. All models can
have either front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.
Best of all, every Tribute is very maneuverable, has great steering,
and has good visibility in city traffic. Compared to the competition, like the Jeep
Liberty, Honda CRV and Toyota RAV4, the Mazda Tribute offers more refinement and
sophistication and at a better price too.
Deciding between the Escape and Tribute could be tough because
they're virtually identical. Where the best deal lies depends on the dealership, rebates,
warranties, and options chosen. Do your shopping and you could get a bargain no matter
which badge you chose.
Why buy it? While it looks tough and rugged, it's designed first and
foremost with on-road comfort in mind. A nice cabin, smooth ride and nimble handling set
it apart from its relatively unrefined competitors.