What's New for 2008
The 2008 Mazda Tribute has been heavily revised with significant changes made to the exterior styling and a more stylish, functional and better constructed interior. Like the closely related Ford Escape, the Tribute's engines and chassis carry over virtually untouched. A hybrid-powered Tribute is also expected for this year.
The Mazda Tribute used to be advertised as the SUV with the zoom-zoom soul of a sports car, specifically a Miata. In reality, the Tribute had the soul of a Ford Escape, sharing much of that compact SUV's DNA. That was hardly a bad thing, as it shared a comfortable carlike driving experience, and a useful cargo- and people-hauling interior.
The heavily revised 2008 Mazda Tribute continues that tradition, as it's even closer in appearance inside and out to the Ford Escape. New styling and a greatly improved interior make the Tribute more competitive in the rapidly expanding compact-to-midsize crossover SUV field, but its carried-over powertrain and chassis further diminish any zoom-zoom claims.
With its boxy, traditional SUV body, the Tribute looks like the shipping container the Mazda CX-7 came in. Although its styling is hardly consistent with the rest of Mazda's sporty lineup, the Tribute's redesigned duds are nevertheless a stylish, alternative take on the new Escape. Inside, the story's pretty much the same, though the crummy hard plastics of the past Tribute have at least been replaced by higher-quality and more stylish materials. Available rich two-tone color schemes and "ice blue" lighting create a warm, yet modern look.
The dress may have changed, but it's pretty much the same girl underneath, as the platform that debuted in 2001 hasn't been updated beyond an improved electric power steering system. Nor has there been any significant change in terms of features, as premium items like a navigation system or Bluetooth connectivity still aren't offered.
In total, these remnants of the previous quasi-generation put the Tribute behind newer utes like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and even Mazda's own CX-7 in terms of driving dynamics, performance and desirability. It's still a decent vehicle, and its price -- thousands less in some cases -- could make it appealing to those on a tight budget. But with so much to choose from this year, we think most shoppers should consider other options before deciding on the Tribute.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Mazda Tribute is a small SUV. It's broken into i and s models, which are equipped with four- and six-cylinder engines, respectively. Both are offered in the same three trim levels -- Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. The base-level Sport comes equipped with 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, cruise control, a CD player and an audio auxiliary jack. The Touring adds a roof rack, tinted rear windows, a power driver seat and a few other convenience features. The Grand Touring includes heated exterior mirrors, automatic headlamps, a sunroof, leather-trimmed seats with front seat heaters, a retractable cargo cover and an upgraded sound system with a six-CD changer. The latter two items are optional on the Touring. A towing package, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system (dealer-installed) are among items that are optional on all three trim levels.
Powertrains and Performance
The Tribute is available with a choice of two engines: a 2.3-liter 153-hp inline-4 and a 3.0-liter 200-hp V6. Both come with a four-speed automatic transmission, although a five-speed manual is standard on the Tribute i Sport 2WD. All-wheel drive is available on all models, but for those who don't experience seriously inclement weather, the front-wheel-drive Tribute is a perfectly adequate and more fuel-efficient choice. Towing capacity for the V6 is a respectable 3,500 pounds.
The Tribute comes with an impressive portfolio of standard safety equipment including front side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, stability and traction control, and a tire-pressure monitor. In NHTSA crash tests, the 2008 Mazda Tribute earned an unusually low score, just three out of five stars, for driver protection in head-on collisions. Front passenger protection is rated at five stars, however, as is front and rear occupant protection in side impacts.
Interior Design and Special Features
Like the Tribute's exterior, the interior features little Mazda family resemblance apart from the badge on its steering wheel. Besides that and unique two-tone color combinations, the Tribute is virtually identical to the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner. Unless you're a devout Mazda fan, this isn't really a bad thing, as the control layout and build quality are generally impressive. The HVAC and stereo controls are split like in other Mazdas, with read-outs placed high atop the dash in legible blue letters and numbers. The controls themselves are a huge improvement over the unattractive cookie-cutter units found in most other Ford family products.
The front seats are well bolstered and comfortable, but the rear seat, although roomy enough for adults, is flat and devoid of recline or fore/aft adjustments. Folding that seat down is a bit of a chore, too, as the headrests must be removed and the bottom cushions tipped forward before the seatbacks can be flipped down. Cargo space stands at 29 cubic feet behind the second row and 66 cubes with the second row folded down.
A new electric power steering system delivers surprisingly good road feel and response. Handling is respectable, with the SUV remaining flat through corners and composed in quick transitions. Ride quality is relatively smooth, making this SUV a suitable choice for commuting or hauling around the family. Nevertheless, many competitors are more refined and fun to drive than the 2008 Mazda Tribute. Braking is also disappointing with rear drum brakes standard on all trim levels.
Although reasonably powerful, the V6 engine provides mediocre gas mileage. The 153-hp four-cylinder is a good option for buyers on tighter budgets -- expect slower acceleration and better mileage than you'd get with the V6. For 2008, a new Tribute HEV (Hybrid-Electric Vehicle) will be available with a 155-hp gasoline-electric engine.