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With rugged good looks, a stout V6 engine, plenty of room for four adults and their luggage, and a sport-tuned suspension that works beautifully on pavement, the Mazda Tribute might be the ultimate small SUV.
Stout V6 power, rugged good looks, roomy cabin, attractive pricing.
Weak standard four-cylinder engine, no low-range transfer case.
Available Tribute Models
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After an extremely successful introductory year, Mazda's Tribute SUV receives only minor modifications for 2002. DX models get additional standard equipment in the form of alloy wheels, dark-tinted glass and remote keyless entry. After a short production run, however, the DX-V6 model will be discontinued. Midgrade LX models can be ordered with ABS as a stand-alone option (last year it was bundled with side airbags) and with a six-way power driver seat. Both LX and ES models get a new driver lumbar support feature. Side step tubes are a new option on all Tribs, and four new colors debut for 2002.
Despite the fact that the Tribute shares its platform, drivetrain and basic design elements with the higher-volume Ford Escape, this 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. For 2002, standard equipment for the DX now 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 on the DX plus upgraded cloth seats, cruise control, in-dash cassette player, cargo net, alarm system, foglights, height-adjustable driver seat with lumbar support, cargo cover and a reclining split-folding rear seat. This year, LX buyers can select a power driver seat. Stepping up to ES trim nets leather upholstery, power driver 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 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, the Tribute is not intended for serious bushwhacking use, because it lacks a low-range transfer case.
Five people can fit, but the Tribute is more comfortable with four aboard. Folding the seats down results in an impressive 65 cubic feet of cargo capacity. The Tribute is likely to be cross-shopped against the Honda CR-V, Jeep Liberty and Nissan Xterra, as well as its corporate twin, the Ford Escape. With the rear seats in use, the 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.
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