What's New for 2001
Mazda's first sport-utility vehicle since the departure of the Navajo half a decade ago, the Tribute combines car-like ride and handling with the ability to go in the snow and tote up to five passengers and a healthy amount of their luggage. With the most powerful V6 in its class, in addition to handsome looks and a spacious cabin, the Tribute should find huge success despite an increasingly crowded small-SUV marketplace.
Despite the fact that Tribute shares its platform, drivetrains and basic design elements with the higher-volume Ford Escape, this new Mazda SUV has plenty going for it, enough that it should be able to "escape" the Ford's shadow.
Three trim levels are available with either front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Base DX models have a weak 130-horsepower, four-cylinder engine teamed to a five-speed manual transmission, but the optional 200-horsepower V6 is worth the additional cost. Both motors meet LEV standards. No manual is available with the larger engine, which uses a four-speed automatic to transfer power to the wheels and can tow up to 3,500 pounds when properly equipped. An option package for the DX includes alloy wheels, dark-tinted glass and a remote keyless entry system.
Mid-grade LX and high-end ES models come only with the V6. By selecting the LX, buyers get items included in the DX option package, plus upgraded cloth seats, cruise control, in-dash cassette player, cargo net, alarm system, fog lights, height-adjustable driver's seat, cargo cover and a reclining, split-folding rear seat. Stepping up to ES trim nets leather upholstery, power driver's seat, and an overhead storage console. Not surprisingly, the LX V6 model is expected to be the sales leader. Antilock brakes with electronic brake force distribution are optional on V6 Tributes.
A four-wheel independent suspension, unibody construction, all-season radial tires and speed-sensing rack-and-pinion steering all contribute to a car-like driving demeanor on pavement. Despite the availability of an on-demand 4WD system and 8.4 inches of ground clearance, Tribute is not intended for serious bushwhacking use, because it lacks a low-range transfer case.
Five people can fit, but Tribute is more comfortable with four aboard. Folding the seats down results in an impressive 65 cubic feet of cargo capacity, which qualifies the Tribute as a mini-SUV, according to our internal definition of such a vehicle. Tribute is likely to be cross-shopped against the Honda CR-V, Jeep Cherokee and Nissan Xterra, as well as the Ford Escape. With the rear seats in use, Tribute offers 17.1 cubic feet of luggage space, more than a BMW X5.
Interesting features of the Tribute include available side-impact airbags, a 190-watt sound system with a six-disc in-dash CD changer and a moon roof. Eight exterior colors are available, with DX models featuring gray lower body cladding, and they can be teamed with either a gray or beige interior.
Ford plans to sell four times as many Escapes as Mazda will Tributes, despite the fact that the Trib comes with a better warranty package and is arguably more attractive. Here's your chance to own something distinctive in a crowd of look-alike SUVs.