Full 2009 Mazda Tribute Review
What's New for 2009
After last year's exterior and interior overhaul, the 2009 Mazda Tribute gets significant mechanical upgrades. The four- and six-cylinder engines now make more power, and a new six-speed automatic improves fuel economy. The front and rear seats have been redesigned, a new capless fuel system has been introduced and more standard equipment shows up on each trim level.
Last year, the Mazda Tribute got a brand-new wardrobe for Christmas. The exterior was thoroughly overhauled and the interior was freshened with better materials, smarter controls and a more pleasing design. Unfortunately, the vehicle underneath mostly remained the same, including its pair of inefficient and weak engines. So for 2009, the Tribute gets a gym membership to bulk up against an always expanding array of tough competitors.
The four- and six-cylinder engines found in the 2009 Mazda Tribute have been improved. The inline-4 now displaces 2.5 liters (versus 2.3) and produces a more robust and class-competitive 171 horsepower. This makes the base engine a more attractive choice and should make some buyers question the need for the V6. Should they go for it anyway, the 3.0-liter V6 has been pumped up to make 240 hp (versus 200). Best of all, a new six-speed automatic transmission means that both engines' fuel economy has actually gone up for 2009 despite the power increases. Unfortunately, nothing was done to correct the Tribute's mediocre braking distances.
So the Tribute has finally completed its transformation, but is the end result worthy of your consideration over newer crossover competitors? After all, this is still an aging platform introduced in 2001, regardless of its new clothes and new engines. Other crossover SUVs like the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Saturn Vue, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4 are more refined, brake better and in most cases are more versatile. Mazda's own CX-7 is sleekly styled and more in keeping with the brand's typical sporty driving dynamics.
Furthermore, the Tribute is a virtual clone of the popular Ford Escape, sharing the same body, interior and powertrains. The Tribute also shares the same pros and cons as the Escape -- except for one. One of the Ford's key selling points is its Sync system that smartly integrates cell phones and media players into the car's controls. The Mazda doesn't have it, and although we suggest looking at the above set of crossover competitors, if the Tribute appeals to you, we'd opt for the Escape with Sync instead.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Mazda Tribute is a compact crossover SUV broken down into i and s models that correspond with the four- and six-cylinder engines. Both are offered in three trim levels -- Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. The base-level Sport comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlamps, air-conditioning, full power accessories, cruise control, a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The Touring adds a roof rack, tinted rear windows, a power driver seat and steering-wheel audio controls. The Grand Touring gains a sunroof, heated side mirrors, leather upholstery, heated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and an upgraded sound system with a six-CD changer and satellite radio. The latter item is optional on the Touring. Remote engine start and a towing package are among items that are optional on all three trim levels.
Powertrains and Performance
All Mazda Tribute models can be equipped with either front- or all-wheel drive. The Tribute i gets a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 171 hp and 171 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the Sport trim; a six-speed automatic is optional on the Sport and standard on the others. Fuel economy with the automatic and front-wheel drive is 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. All-wheel drive drops that to 19/25/21 mpg.
The Mazda Tribute s gets a 3.0-liter V6 good for 240 hp and 233 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic is standard. Fuel economy with front-wheel drive is 18 city/26 highway and 21 mpg combined, and 17/24/20 mpg with all-wheel drive.
The 2009 Mazda Tribute comes with an impressive portfolio of standard safety equipment including front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, stability control and traction control.
In government crash tests, the Tribute scored five stars in all frontal and side impact categories. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Tribute scored the top rating of "Good" for frontal offset and side impact crash protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
Like the 2009 Tribute's exterior, the interior has little Mazda family resemblance apart from the badge on its steering wheel. For the most part, the Tribute's cabin is virtually identical to that of 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 the build quality are generally impressive. The climate and stereo controls are split, with readouts placed high atop the dash in legible blue and white characters. Sadly, the Tribute does not offer the innovative Sync electronics interface system that is such a strong selling point in the Escape and Mariner.
The front seats are well bolstered and comfortable. The rear seat, although roomy enough for adults, is flat and devoid of recline or fore-and-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 lowered. Cargo space stands at 29 cubic feet behind the second row and 66 cubes with the second row folded. This is more than what's available in competitors such as the Nissan Rogue and Saturn Vue but less than in the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
The revised engines and new six-speed automatic for 2009 are welcome changes to the Mazda Tribute. The newfound power, along with an increase in fuel economy, make this aging entry more competitive and a better vehicle to drive. Elsewhere, the electric power steering system delivers surprisingly good road feel and response. Around corners, this compact crossover SUV remains relatively flat and inspires driver confidence. The ride quality is smooth, making the Tribute a suitable choice for commuting or hauling the family. Nevertheless, many competitors are more refined and more fun to drive. In testing, we've found panic braking distances to be disappointing, the rear drum brakes being a likely culprit.