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Published: 03/20/2001 - by Miles Cook, Contributor
Mazda bills its 2001 Tribute SUV as having the soul of a sports car. It's a heady boast to be sure and to see if the steak matches the sizzle, we've taken it upon ourselves to experience Mazda's entry into the SUV market in a wide variety of ways.
At the Tribute's introduction last year, our First Drive provided a thorough look at this mini-ute's mechanicals, its interior specifics and its styling. Furthermore, we recently acquired a long-term ES V6 four-wheel-drive model that we will be writing monthly updates about for the next two years. In addition to our Galaxy Blue long-termer, we also spent time in an otherwise identical Jewel Green tester that was put through its paces at the test track.
Built alongside its Ford Escape fraternal twin, the Tribute gets its powerplants from the Ford parts bins. Tribute's optional 200-horsepower, 3.0-liter V6 is used in the Taurus and its twin, the Mercury Sable. The base 2.0-liter Zetec inline four, making 130 horsepower, also sees duty as the optional engine in the Ford Focus. Thankfully, the Focus doesn't have a twin. Transmission choices are dictated by the engine, so in effect, you don't really get a choice as the small engine in the base DX models comes only with a five-speed manual. The V6 is backed strictly with a four-speed automatic and we'd surmise this will be the more popular of the two combinations.
With features like the 24-valve DOHC six, unique monocoque construction and a multi-link suspension, Mazda says the Tribute is in a class by itself. Of course, there are others in this mini-ute segment like the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V, but these vehicles don't offer a V6. About a half-foot longer than a Jeep Cherokee, the Tribute also has a near 2-inch longer wheelbase at 103.1 inches. The track is also wider than the current Ford Explorer.
This, in turn, provides the basis for the Trib's quite decent handling characteristics. Engineers tuned the steering feel to be similar to the Miata. Mazda infers points such as this in their Tribute television ads showing a pack of Miatas running with a Tribute around a racetrack.
Further helping this Mazda SUV's cornering capabilities is the above-noted multi-link independent suspension. The front roll center is lower than the rear roll center, which provides better steering feel and less body roll than most might expect in an SUV.
Car-like ideas also carry over inside the Tribute, with reclining seats for front and rear passengers, good visibility and easy entry/exit due to a lower step-in height and large door openings. Additionally, leather seating and a six-way power driver's seat are standard on the high-end ES model. The rear seatbacks fold down in a 60/40 split in LX and ES models and four tie-down hooks are also in place to secure cargo when the road gets bumpy. With the rear seat folded, there's 63.9 cubic feet of cargo area, enough room, says Mazda, to handle a 4x8 sheet of plywood albeit with the liftgate window open.
The sporty side of the Tribute doesn't come at the cost of the utility side of the ledger. Mazda's Rotary Blade Coupling four-wheel-drive system senses when the front wheels (the primary drive wheels on the Tribute) begin to slip and hydraulically transfers power to the rear wheels for better traction. This seamless transfer of up to 50 percent of the engine's torque means the added traction capability will always be available. An instrument panel-mounted switch also allows the driver to lock the system in four-wheel drive when driving in slippery conditions. Although the Tribute has impressive-for-an-SUV on-road steering, handling and braking performance, its capabilities when the pavement ends or the weather turns blustery are satisfactory for what buyers of this type of vehicle will need. Equipped with the optional Class II tow package, a V6 Tribute can tug 3,500 pounds easily enough to move two personal watercraft or an average-sized ski boat.
Put all of this good stuff on the road and you get a surprising package that impressed even those on staff who are less than thrilled with SUVs in general. Traveling on twisty mountain back roads, the Tribute provided a stable and confident ride that didn't impart fear into occupants when a 25-35-mph-marked curve appeared. Not to be confused with a sport sedan, the Trib could still negotiate these turns at 5-10 mph faster than the recommended speed without worry. Keeping up with average sedans on the same stretch of road was easy and the Miata-inspired steering was another plus that we enjoyed.
Heading to the test track, the lively V6 (making 20 more horsepower than the 2.7-liter V6 in a Hyundai Santa Fe and an enormous 52 horsepower more than the only engine available in a Toyota RAV4) moves the 3500-pound, four-wheel-drive Tribute with verve. Sixty mph is served up in 8.9 seconds and the quarter-mile is done in 16.6 seconds at 83.2 mph. Braking is downright sedan-like as the Mazda ute halts from 60 mph in 125 feet. Scooting through the slalom at 59.7 mph, the Tribute bested the last Honda Accord we tested by a not-too-shabby 3.1 mph. How's that for car-like handling?
So if the Tribute's reasonably swift, essentially handles like a car and has plenty of room to carry the stuff that people put in SUVs, then what's wrong with it? It turns out the Tribute doesn't have any glaring foibles, but we did uncover a few things to nag about.
The gearshift lever's detents are too soft and some of our complaints centered around cosmetics and minor design issues. The hexagonal pattern on the front speaker grilles, for instance, looks cheesy compared to the rest of the cabin; so does the dimpled design on the main instrument cluster.
We also found the cruise control buttons lacking the proper detents and differentiation in feel. With little space between them and nothing to set them apart, they're difficult to use at night. Also, why can't there be an electronic seatback adjustment, at least on the driver's side? The manual one feels clunky and indecisive.
Nitpicking aside, the Tribute is clearly a front-runner in the hotly contested mini-SUV market segment. The fact that it has the most powerful engine in the class will also help it immensely in the ever-important sales race. Even though a loaded ES stickers at more than 25 grand, the numerous features make it a must-look when you start cross-shopping this segment. And when you factor in that you can get a DX V6 with four-wheel drive for right around 20 bills, the package becomes even more attractive.
Associate editor Erin Mahoney says:
I've driven more than my fair share of mini-utes in the past month, and I was impressed with Tribute's refinement. That isn't to say it's perfect; I noticed some inexplicable rattling and creaking emanating from the cargo area while driving down a paved street. Still, the inside of this ute makes for a pleasant environment.
I was initially put off by the notable engine noise, but after awhile I came to appreciate the dull roar - it certainly beats the petulant whine of lesser vehicles' engines. And, although I didn't get a chance to take the vehicle off-road, I noticed that this little trailbuster quelled speed bumps admirably.
A couple of ergonomic snafus didn't escape my notice, however: The climate control dials were set a little too low in the center stack for easy accessibility, and the stereo controls, while located in their optimum position at the top of the stack, were just a little out of reach. Considering that I keep my seat pretty close to the wheel, I was surprised that all controls didn't fall easily to hand. Speaking of seats, I thought it was pretty chintzy for Mazda to use automatic controls for seat track adjustment, but then revert to a manual lever for positioning the seatback.
Regardless of its quirks, here is a small ute that I wouldn't mind spending a lot of time in.
Technical editor Scott Memmer says:
Let me begin this by saying I'm not an SUV fan. Frankly, I think they're overpriced and impractical and will eventually run their course. That being said, anyone but an ignoramus would have to acknowledge their popularity as a segment. They certainly show no sign of having "run their course" at this time, and in fact are proliferating faster than cockroaches.
Still, if you must buy an SUV, this would be a good one to consider. First, the engine in this thing really gets you off the line in a hurry. It's surprisingly peppy, and the tranny is geared low enough to press you into the seat. However, even before I hit the accelerator I noticed something that really irked me: the gearshift lever blocks the left side of the radio. Well, not exactly blocks it, but hangs just below the volume knob so that you have to work your hand around it to operate the radio. Very annoying. Also, the detents in the shifter are on the soft side, so it's a very real possibility that you could shift this car into Neutral (or some other gear) while playing with the radio. Not exactly Phi Betta Kappa design here, but we've seen it before most recently in the Toyota Prius and, earlier, in the Honda Odyssey. Don't know what it is about some of these designers. Don't they ever listen to the radio?
Complaints aside, I still like this vehicle a lot. I found the cabin to be quiet, with a minimum amount of wind, road and powertrain noise even at 70-plus mph. Here are some other positives:
While the Tribute has several strong points, I found the vehicle elevated off the roadway more than I like. I realize this is the whole point with SUVs, but it reminded me yet again why I distrust these vehicles even brand-new ones straight out of a press fleet. The vehicle's higher center of gravity and narrower track make it feel "tippy."
But then, you don't want to hear that, since you've already decided to buy one of these babies. That being the case, the Mazda Tribute would be an excellent choice.
Car buying consultant Phil Reed says:
When my 10-year-old son climbed into the 2001 Mazda Tribute ES, he looked around and said, "Zoom, zoom!"
"Where'd you get this 'Zoom, zoom' stuff," I asked him.
"Off the Mazda Web site," he said.
Zoom, zoom is right, I thought, as we headed out on a test drive. My first impression of this new baby SUV (besides the handsome black against beige steering wheel and gauges) is the ample power. Right off you know there's something hefty under the hood. The 200-horse V6 is most noticeable on takeoff where it digs in and charges off the line. But the extra power is nice at highway speeds too where the four-speed automatic smoothly kicks into a lower gear to pass in the 65- to 75-mph range.
My second impression was the handling. This might be even more surprising and enjoyable than the power. Perhaps it's because I expected the Tribute to be top-heavy and truck-like. For once there was truth in advertising. It does feel like the Tribute was raised by a family of Miatas, as the ads proclaim.
While the driving position is very comfortable, the door handles (plastic with chrome paint) seemed flimsy. With a good hard yank, would they snap off? And then there's the long column shift lever that, when in Drive, is positioned dead in front of the radio volume control. Small things, but annoying.
My time in the Tribute was all-too-brief. This was a car I wanted to drive more and would like to own. I'd definitely rate it above the Nissan Xterra for styling, power and handling. Now, if it holds up, and the spate of early recalls are solved, Mazda will have a real winner.
General ownership experiences
" I must say that it is a great car. Yeah, we took a chance (like everyone else) and purchased a first-year production vehicle. It took forever to get here, and we figured we would reserve comment until it arrived. Well, it is a marvel of fit, finish, engineering and economy. This car rides and handles like an expensive SUV. The engine at idle is silent, the transmission smooth as silk, the interior is nice, not plush but nice. The sound system rocks, the sunroof glides smoothly, the power driver seat adjusts for people short and tall. Like someone posted earlier, this car makes you want to drive. I hate to break it to the skeptics, but Ford/Mazda have a winner here, and next year production numbers will prove it. So there you are, you pay your money and you take your chances . I guess we got lucky!" - omnibud, "Mazda Tribute - II," #401 of 513, Nov. 6, 2000
"I've had my mystic black LX V6 Tribute with premium sound for three weeks now and everything has been great so far. I'm not the type of person who likes to drive a great deal, but the Tribute really makes you long to jump behind the wheel. The horsepower and torque are outstanding and the amount of head and shoulder room in the Tribute is simply amazing to a long-time passenger car owner. Regarding the problems others have had, here are my experiences: (1) gear shifter is too long and in the way - yes, this is true, but it is only an annoyance the first couple of times you drive it. After that you become accustomed to it and it doesn't block my view of the stereo at all. (2) uncomfortable seats - I do notice a difference between the Tribute seats and the cars I have owned. But after driving the Tribute and then driving my dad's Cadillac, I have to say I actually miss the support the firm seating gives me. For a short drive, cushy seats are great, but for a longer one, I think the Tribute's seats would be great. (3) gas smell - My Tribute had 400 miles on it when I took delivery, and I only noticed this for about 100 miles or so. It is completely gone. (4) hard plastic everywhere - this is the one complaint I have. The plastic used in the door panels is so hard I can't stand to rest my arm or knee on it. Very annoying. (5) cheap feeling door handles - I think these are quite nice actually. The spring system has a lot of give, but that just makes the doors easier to open. Of course they're made out of chromed plastic as metal is rarely used on interior door handles anymore. All in all, a great driving experience that I would recommend to just about anyone. For 22K, it's a great value."- djomaha, "Mazda Tribute - II," #398 of 513, Nov. 6, 2000
"I just passed 1,000 miles in my Tribute, and I'm more impressed every time I drive it. Nothing accelerates like it, the 4x4 is quite effective (drove across a rutted beanfield to meet my brother-in-law, who was out rutting it with his tractor), and it has great stability. We had some 25+ mph crosswinds today, but it was not much different from any sedan I've driven (just have to keep a firm hand on the tiller.) Visibility is great, the seats are firm but not uncomfortable after 3+ hours in them and you can slide right out onto your feet. The shifter is too long, but I got over it. There are so many nooks and crannies, I can't find my stuff half the time because I've hidden it so well. I've had closets smaller than the console cargo box - even I will have a hard time filling that thing up. Mileage will not be measured until 2,000 miles, per the owner's manual recommendation. BTW, read the manual. There are a lot of "do's and don'ts" in there about the four-wheel drive, gasoline, engine oil, starting, etc. Had one shop visit last week for no heat to the floor outlets. Some sort of hose popped off, which explains the faint hissing sound it was making. Fixed in a jiffy." - psennett, "Mazda Tribute - II," #394 of 513, Nov. 6, 2000
"Now that I finally have my Tribute, I can report that it was worth the wait, and I ordered in July!! Dealer called me and said he had a ES-V6 with luxury, ABS and Tow but not in the color I wanted and would I want to take a look at it? After three months, I jumped at the opportunity. It was a platinum and it looked fantastic, so at $500 over invoice, I've been zoom-zoom-zooming for about a week. My wife prefers the additional luxury of our Jeep GC Limited, so that's the car she drives primarily, and I get the Tribute. After driving the GC, the Tribute feels much lighter and much more car-like. The zip is great! I agree with the other posters, the Trib handles like a charm. Kinda of spooky how you can take a turn at a fast pace and the SUV hardly leans . Also got a speeding ticket on Saturday . First moving violation on my record! Cons: Shift does get in the way of the radio volume and select switches but it doesn't bother me too much. Door handles do look cheap but door shuts with nice solid thud. With moonroof, a tall person (over 6 feet) in the rear seat will have his/her hairdo ruffled. I guess the moonroof makes the ceiling of the Trib about 2 inches lower. Combined with the 'stadium' style seating of the rear seats, which makes the rear seats higher, tall people may have their heads brush up against the ceiling. Seats are hard. Could have better lumbar comfort as well. Steering column adjust is tricky to operate. Firestone tires. But I was so glad to get my Trib that I didn't even bother to argue with the dealer over them. I did not notice air vents in the rear but they have to be there, right? Should come with perimeter alarm although it does have the engine immobilizer. Pros: Speed! Extremely fun to drive and handles like a charm. Trib looks great! The platinum is gorgeous. Reclining rear seats are really fun! Good storage space. Sound system is good but not as good as the 10-speaker Infinity systems in the GC. CD changer is great. Friends love the room and the view from the back seat, not something you can say with SUV's generally. I know I listed more cons than pros but it is always easier to criticize :-) I love my Tribute and I actually look forward to driving it! I recommend this vehicle without hesitation!" - ljtan, "Mazda Tribute - II," #314 of 513, Oct. 25, 2000
"Here's my general opinion of my new beauty (ES V6) after waiting over 3 months (!) to get it, since I put the deposit down. (And that was after originally expecting it in April, after I first saw it at the Toronto auto show in January.) (1) I love it! I'm glad I waited. (2) I retract my previous comment about the shifter not blocking the volume control: it does sort of block it. It's not really a problem, just one minor flaw which will no doubt be fixed in later models and which we early adopters will quickly cease to notice. Forget about complaints regarding the sun visor or the door handles. (3) No major flaws (yet?). Minor flaws: ever-so-slight "klunk" after shifting to reverse when I first start moving. Seen this with other vehicles. Seats are a little too firm for my butt, but so was the Accord. I find the large center console box a little obtrusive. I appreciate the capacity though. Hmmm can't really think of many problems. That would be a Good Thing. (4) It looks *great*! Parked next to RX300, CR-V, RAV-4, and near a Santa Fe, to compare. I'm partial, I admit, but I really think it has better styling than all of those. Also parked nose-up with a Lexus LX 470. All I could think was 'they're both *really* nice looking boats, but mine had to cost half what the other did!' (5) Awesome power. Need to tone down my driving habits a little. (6) Very tight handling. Corners on rails. Can feel the road texture (perhaps too well, depending on your tastes). Mazda's claims of sportiness really hold up. (7) Beautiful sound system. I think I'll move into the car, since it beats my own stereo hands down. (8) Lots of space. The car uses a unique dimensional warping technology which Mazda engineers developed which allows them to put the space of a much larger SUV into the sleek body of small one. (9) Not sure about mileage yet. First tank was pretty bad. I'll post more after a couple thousand klicks. I was so low on patience from the uncertainty that I was about to test drive a Santa Fe. I didn't really like its look, but it was the only other vehicle in this class (and price range). I'm very happy my car arrived suddenly, after I'd given up hope, in time to keep me from getting something I wouldn't have liked as much." - peterlh, "Mazda Tribute - II," #300 of 513, Oct. 24, 2000
"I've had my chestnut brown, 2WD, LX for about 3 weeks and have 2,600 miles on it. I've had no fuel odor (and obviously have made some trips). The only problems I've had worked on are a rattle in the back glass and blown out speaker in the back that were present when I bought the Tribute. I was a bit concerned about the lack of antilock brakes. I did quite a bit of research on it, yet bought it in spite of the brakes. The 3rd day I drove the Tribute, I was the fifth car behind a major accident on Interstate 10. The brakes worked beautifully and were very responsive. I'll certainly be careful in the rain, however. The premium sound system is fabulous and I've enjoyed the quick response of the steering and the pep of the engine! By the way, the shifter does get in the way of the stereo and I wish there were more lights on key controls (i.e. key area, etc.) and an inside button to release the back glass and door. Minor details that would have increased the price! Regarding an LX vs. ES, I drove both prior to purchasing and didn't feel like the price difference warranted the leather. A personal financial choice at this time due to two teenagers about to enter college. The LX is great! I spoke to the Service Manager at my dealer today and he said they can't keep the Tributes - about a 36-hour lot life. The Escapes, however, aren't selling nearly as well. He thinks it's the harsher body style and color choices they are getting (mostly bright yellow)." - txtribby, "Mazda Tribute - II," #234 of 513, Oct. 16, 2000
"I placed an order for an LX, no other options on 8/31 and took delivery on 9/16. I guess I was lucky that I got one of the LXs in transit and that it showed up in a timely manner. Very nice vehicle, very satisfied so far. Comfortable on a 5 hour trip this past weekend from the Philly area to the Boston area and back. Easy to drive, very good cornering, very quiet on good roads but coarse blacktop or concrete roads do create some interior road noise. But I just turned up the volume on my favorite CDs and enjoyed. I have dealt with the service department where I purchased [my Tribute] and I KNOW they will take care of ANY problems which may occur just as they have done every time in the past so I do not have any worries there. All in all, I am glad I waited for this vehicle rather than settle for a CR-V, RAV4, Xterra or some other equivalent vehicle earlier." - gcjcgcjc, "Mazda Tribute - II," #21 of 513, Sept. 26, 2000
"Took our Tribute to the hills of Pennsylvania this weekend. It was the first long trip we've made since buying it. I averaged 23 mpg on 2 tanks of gas and about 425 miles. I do find the mirrors to generate wind noise but only around 72mph and higher - below that I really didn't notice. It drove great - quiet, tight, and smooth. My only wish would be to get the steering wheel closer to me (that's subjective because my wife likes it where it is) and extend the door arm rest so the width of my arm would rest on the whole thing. I am very happy and have no regrets about buying this truck."- csapm3, "Mazda Tribute - III," #8 of 101, Dec. 4, 2000
Other happy owners and their Tributes' assorted problems
"I have a Tribute ES V6 4WD. It's 8 weeks old, and I've put 5,000 miles on it. (Yes, I love to drive it, but if I don't slow down soon I'll use up the 50,000-mile warranty in less than two years.) So far I have found only one problem with the Tribute. When I apply the parking brake, the dash brake light comes on as it should. However, the next morning, when I turn the ignition on, all of the dash warning lights illuminate properly, then when I start the engine they all go off, INCLUDING THE PARKING BRAKE LIGHT, even though the parking brake is still engaged. Fortunately, I've only made one short trip where I had the brake on without noticing it, but this is a problem that I will take to my dealer tomorrow. Has anyone else noticed this problem? So far, I've received a new owners manual for the Tribute (the original left out some info on child restraint anchor points), and one recall notice concerning the windshield wiper linkage. Maybe we can get it all cleared up soon. The Tribute has been a fantastic driving experience so far, and with 5,000 miles on it, the gas mileage is averaging 20 mpg." - bclamb, Mazda Tribute - III, #93 of 101, Dec. 28, 2000
"The problem with the mysterious fuel odor is a porous gasket between the upper and lower intake manifolds. I spoke to my service advisor, and he explained that the gasket on some Tribs did not cure properly. What we smell are the residual vapors in the intake when the engine is turned off. The fix is to reseal the upper and lower manifolds and let it sit overnight to allow for proper adhesion and curing (as for the overnight part, he said I'm entitled to a loaner car). Outside of that, I do not have any problems except for two inoperative grid lines on the rear defogger . I have had my Trib since Labor Day and love it. It has truck height but not a truck ride. It has truck power but car fuel consumption. It has plenty of room for me, my wife and my child, but I can still maneuver in tight parking lots. As for the recalls, two pertained to my truck and nothing needed to be fixed upon inspection." - csapm3, "Mazda Tribute - III," #88 of 101, Dec. 28, 2000
"I have been wanting a Tribute since June. I have been checking this and other sites since that time. I, like everyone else, was disappointed when there were so many problems with them. Since my car was paid for and running great, I was in no real hurry to have a new car. I decided to wait until things were worked out. I went by our Mazda dealership in Lexington, Ky., the week before Thanksgiving. They had over 20 Tributes in stock! (ES, LX, and DX) I thought that they might be willing to deal right before Thanksgiving with so many in stock. I had been there two months earlier, and they would not come off the sticker at all. They did not have exactly what I wanted in options, but I settled for a LX silver 4x4. I asked them about the recalls, and they said they had repaired them. I feel I got a good price ($800 over invoice), and picked it up Wednesday evening. I now have 1,100 miles on it and LOVE it. I do have the gas smell problem, but it is very minor and is gone in 2-3 seconds. Windshield wipers work great. Cruise works great. Stereo is awesome! I love the way this automobile handles! I am glad that I waited for a better price and for these recalls to be fixed. I am also glad to have my new car and am glad I didn't wait till spring! I have no problem with the interior. The gearshift is too long, but I am already used to it - no big deal. After reading many negative posts through the months, I feel that this site can discourage a lot of people from getting an automobile they would really enjoy. I appreciate all the helpful comments, but if you want a really fun auto to drive - reconsider the Tribute!" - sjohn3, "Mazda Tribute - III," #19 of 101, Dec. 7, 2000
In response to post #19
"After you stop the car, get out, pop the hood, and smell the engine. If you can smell gas around the left side of the block, then it might be an intake manifold problem. I have a platinum ES that developed the gas smell at around 800 miles, and it ended up being the manifold gasket, which had to be replaced. At least one other person had a cracked manifold that had to be replaced. So, I'd take it back to your dealer and discuss the fuel smell issue. Glad you love your Trib, I love mine too. :) I do wish they had some bolder, brighter colors available. The color selections on the Escape and Tribute (with the exception of the yellow Escape) were somewhat conservative for my taste."- jhonaker, "Mazda Tribute - III," #20 of 101, Dec. 7, 2000
"My wife and I just returned from a long road trip and we started smelling fuel fumes coming from the drivers side of the car. This took me by surprise because we have been driving the Tribute for two weeks before we discovered the smell, and after all of the posts about it listed in this forum, I thought we had 'lucked out.' Silly me. On our way home we discovered the cause of the fuel smell a steady fuel leak under the vehicle. I called the dealer and made an appointment to get the fuel leak fixed. This doesn't in any way, shape or form change my favorable opinion about the Tribute. However, Mazda better be diligent about fixing this problem or they might scare off potential customers. I am aware of the recall that is in effect, as we speak, for the fuel leak problem but I haven't received my recall notice yet. Supposedly, Mazda has until the 20th of this month to get the notices out." - queenbee1, "Mazda Tribute - II," #232 of 513, Oct. 16, 2000
Mazda has issued a technical service bulletin (TSB) that covers 4WD Tributes with rear axle leaks - presumably, the vehicle described here has this problem. "I purchased a Tribute ES on 11/29/00 and I love it, unfortunately it has been in the shop twice already! The first time oil was leaking by the rear tires and the service dept. said I needed the main seal replaced and this time (oil continues to leak) I need a rear differential seal replaced. Apparently, there is a national back order for this part, and I will be without my car for at least a month. I've been given a loaner (Protege), but it is certainly not comparable to the Tribute."- ydissac, "Mazda Tribute - III," #92 of 101, Dec. 28, 2000
"I have had my Tribute for about two weeks and just returned from a 500-mile trip. My gas mileage was 24-25. I thought the vehicle ran well and was very comfortable. I did have the problem with the wipers and had to take it by the dealer to have the wipers fixed. They gave me a 626 to drive while mine was being repaired. The service was excellent. I have noticed a few minor items that have bothered me and would appreciate any feedback on these items: (1) I have noticed a whistling sound while traveling down the road. It appears to be the wind against the luggage rack. I thought about moving the rails. (2) I occasionally hear a thump sound in front of the driver's side of the car. I am not sure what it is. (3) A few times when I first start the car I have a slight gas smell. However, just at first and it does not linger. I have read where others have had to keep their car outside of the garage due to the smell. I have not experienced that problem. I shopped all of the SUVs and thought for the money this was the best SUV out there. It was substantially better than the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV 4. It is much bigger, handles better and looks better. I got the ES. I am also quite impressed with the pick-up." - mshepherd, "Mazda Tribute/Ford Escape problems," #352 of 391, Jan. 1, 2001
A satisfied owner, albeit one willing to compromise
"There seems to be so many unhappy people waiting for their Tributes. All I can say is that I bought an ES desert metallic with leather, 4x4, moonroof, trailer hitch and regular brakes - no ABS. I love it! I was not willing to wait until March or April of 2001 for the ABS. The brakes are so responsive and seem to be very good. My vehicle was made in July 2000 and I purchased in October. I have had none of the problems others talked about, not even the windshield wipers, fuel smell, etc. If you wait or settle for a different color, no moonroof, etc., I believe you will love your Trib. It is so much fun to drive, has so much pep [and a] smooth transmission, and is a real looker. I didn't get any great deal on the price, but some extras were thrown in like pin-striping, mud flaps, all-weather floor mats and a special price on the step-tubes. For what I have on this Tribute, you couldn't touch that price with any other similar SUV. I just wanted to let others know that everyone isn't unhappy with their Tribute." - dimps, "Mazda Tribute - II," #506 of 513, Nov. 30, 2000
"I've put about 1,200 miles on my Tribute that I picked up 2 ½ weeks ago, and my wife and I love it. It took about a week to get use to the long shifter, but now it's no problem. We're averaging around 21 mpg in mixed driving. We just had three days of freezing weather and it handled great. It drove so well on the icy roads that I couldn't tell the difference as far as handling is concerned between the Tribute and the 4x4 4-Runner that we traded in for the Tribute. As far as all the recalls, they were all fixed before I took possession of the vehicle. If anymore surface, then I'll just take it back to the dealership and let them fix it like they fixed all the other problems. These recalls are serious if not taken seriously but minor fixes in comparison to other recalls. This is the chance we all take when buying a first year model. I don't perceive this as a problem; although, some of the people in this forum do. Don't let their negativity change your opinion of a fine vehicle. If I had listened to them I might be driving a Santa Fe right now and cursing the day I did every time I tried to zoom-zoom up the next hill." - queenbee1, "Mazda Tribute - II," #186 of 513, Oct. 10, 2000
"I just bought an ES off the lot. It has everything including 4x4, V6, ABS, moonroof, leather, etc. Must be a regional thing. I live in central Ohio, and a large local dealership has 15 of them. No problems, but with only 450 miles on it, the gas mileage is lousy anyone know if it will get better? Also, it takes a little extra to close the back door all the way, but it's not too bad. This is the first 4x4 I've owned with snow on the ground, there is no other way to go it's a blast!" - edster1, "Mazda Tribute - III," #69 of 101, Dec. 22, 2000
"I received my Mazda two weeks ago and have had NO PROBLEMS with anything. I live in Ajax, a town close to Toronto, and we have received a lot of snow in the past few weeks, so I can assure you that the Tribute handles outstanding. I would compare it to any 4x4 on the road. I will say one thing, I also own a Corvette and the gas mileage IS CLOSE, so I hope that it gets better." - linesperson, "Mazda Tribute - III," #57 of 101, Dec. 19, 2000
"I recently took my Trib out on the beach and I have to say the 4WD works great. I was a little reluctant to do it at first, being new and just the fact of being on the beach, but I did it anyway. I had to deflate the tires but had no problem going through the sand. Just another test the Trib passed with flying colors for me. This has to be so far one of my best purchases. I went to the dealer several times and test drove several. I finally went to order one and they had the exact one I wanted on the lot. it took getting a quote over the internet before they would move on the price but after that they honored that price. I got the LX, 4WD, ABS, luxury package with tow package. The only thing I would have wanted was the alarm. This SUV really zooms." - jk61268, "Mazda Tribute - II," #307 of 513, Oct. 24, 2000
Comments about the Tribute's interior
"Here's my two cents on the Tribute. The vehicle runs great. The ride is nice. Some of my family members are tall but everyone fits. It's the first year of production, so there will be some problems (hopefully not any major ones). My guess it that Ford/Mazda will probably be extra careful because of recent PR problems. I paid just under MSRP. I would have probably gotten a car, but I very occasionally need extra cargo space for work. The Subaru Forester is nice, but boring (and tight in the back seat). My tall family did not fit into a Honda CR-V. In the Nissan Pathfinder (driver's side), my soon-to-be-driving son's knees were halfway up the steering wheel. I probably would have gotten a Ford F-150 but will not stick my wife (or myself) in the back, because the rest of the family is too tall. So, maybe the vehicle is a niche item (for me), or maybe just fun to drive (or maybe it was the price) compared to a used/new 4Runner or Expedition. Or maybe it was the gas mileage, weight and driveability. I did not buy it to take off-road (once in a while). I think the ultimate argument to take it beyond a 'niche' will be reliability (and rollover), the news for which won't be out for a while." - rainydog, "Mazda Tribute - III," #10 of 101, Dec. 5, 2000
"I traded in a 626 ES that was loaded and very much a luxury car. Once you have leather seats and moonroof, you will be disappointed if you don't get it on your Tribute. It will be like going backwards. I picked up on Friday a desert metallic ES V6 with towing. I love it, it zooms, zooms, zooms. No fume smells that others have mentioned. However, there are some things I miss [from] my 626 ES: power antenna, lighted vanity mirrors, and push-button controls - not knobs. I also believe the shift is too long and gets in the way of other controls. I just have to remember this is the first year, and it is an SUV, not a luxury car."- dimps, "Mazda Tribute - II," #231 of 513, Oct. 16, 2000
"I've never had a car with leather seats before, so I can't compare. Others have said the leather is not as soft as they expected. I'm fine with them. I know the leather wrapped steering wheel doesn't feel as cushy as [the one in] my roommate's Explorer. I am not getting the fuel smell that others are. Mine was built relatively recently, the week of 9/5, and hasn't been subject to any recall, so maybe that's part of it. Before the Tribute, I drove a 94 Chevy S-10 pickup, v6, regular cab, rear wheel drive. I kept 100 lbs of sand in the back to give it some traction on wet or snowy roads. I loved it to death, but it had over 100,000 miles on it, and was starting to need more than just oil changes. The Tribute blows it away." - jhonaker, "Mazda Tribute - II," #117 of 513, Oct. 3, 2000
"I purchased a Tribute LX about 3 weeks ago and love it except for rust. I found rust under the dash on driver's side. I brought this to the dealer, and they say it is cheap metal and not to worry. I don't like it and will look into it further. I saw the rust when I looked up under the dash - all exposed metal has red rust and surface rust. The problem I have is that the manufacture date is only 2 months ago, and the rust is already there. Any opinions? Let me know - e-mail email@example.com. Besides that, well worth the money so far. I have the LX with the tow package and ABS. I found the prices really low on the Internet and called the dealers and they guaranteed the prices." - jk61268, "Mazda Tribute - II," #157 of 513, Oct. 9, 2000
" This seems to be a solid vehicle with crisp steering and handling. After a month of ownership there are a couple things I would recommend for change: (1) More lateral support in the seats, I feel like I'll tip out of them while cornering hard (but only while cornering hard). (2) Bigger preset buttons on the radio - but then maybe I got too used to the steering wheel audio controls in my Grand Prix. (3) A telescoping steering wheel (I've noticed that the Japanese cars put the steering wheel farther away than their American counterparts. I was more comfy with the steering wheel position in my '94 Cougar and '98 GP than in my '97 Honda Accord or my parents' '99 Maxima. I guess it's just design but I feel like I have to stretch for the wheel in Japanese cars. BTW, this is not a knock, but an opinion as they make the best cars in the world." - csapm3, "Mazda Tribute - II," #157 of 513, Oct. 9, 2000
Edited by Erin Riches
System Score: 7.25
Components.This system has wonderful ergonomics throughout. Not only does the radio have an excellent position in the upper dash, but it's outfitted with great controls. For example, it has a large round volume knob that is ridged and has a great tactile feel. The radio also boasts wide button spacing and a user-friendly topography, although some of the buttons are a little "flat" and could use a little more definition. The head unit has a built-in six-disc CD changer as well as a cassette deck.
Speaker-wise, the rear doors contain a pair of 5x7 full-range speakers. The front doors have the same size, but these are rolled off electronically to accommodate a pair of tweeters tucked in the front corner of the doors. The system also contains an 8-inch subwoofer in the passenger side rear quarter panel. Very nice.
Performance. As you can imagine, with all the speakers in this vehicle it's likely to sound pretty good, and it does. The subwoofer adds a nice rear fill of bass. The tweeters are a little less impressive in terms of sound quality, although they produce a very accurate stereo image in the front seat. Most instruments, such as sax, horns, acoustic strings and drums sound slightly above average, but with a lack of detail in the midrange.
Best Feature:In-dash six-disc CD changer.
Worst Feature: A largely useless knob on the right that would have made a great tuning knob. Its only function is to control bass, treble, balance and fade.
Conclusion.This is not the best sounding system I've heard, but it gets high marks for user friendliness and ergonomics. Drop in some better speakers and a small amp and this thing would crank. Scott Memmer
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