The Mazda Tribute was a compact SUV known for its practical packaging, agile handling, surprising V6 performance and solid value. As a crossover SUV, it was more of a truck masquerading as a car than vice-versa in people packaging, although it also combined all-weather driving utility with a friendly, easy-to-drive character. Introduced for 2001, Mazda marketed the Tribute as the Miata of SUVs, and we found the claim not far off the mark. As with its mechanical twin the Ford Escape, the Tribute featured the most powerful V6 engine in its class and could haul up to five passengers and their gear in a practical, space-efficient cabin.
While our editors found the Mazda Tribute to be one of the best small SUVs on the market when it was introduced, age and plenty of newer competitors dropped its standing considerably. After a one-year hiatus, the Tribute returned with new styling and a snazzier interior. However, its underpinnings remained virtually unchanged, leaving the Tribute still behind other compact SUVs, including the carlike Mazda CX-7. Much like the Ford Escape that it closely resembles, the Mazda Tribute began life as a smaller sort of Ford Explorer only to be supplanted by a more carlike breed of crossover.
After 2011, Mazda discontinued the Tribute and effectively replaced it with the more modern and efficient CX-5.
Most Recent Mazda Tribute
Built from 2008 through 2011, the second-generation Mazda Tribute was offered as the four-cylinder "i" and six-cylinder "s" models, which were each available in three trims: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. All-wheel drive was optional on all trims.
Although nearly identical mechanically to the previous-generation model, this Tribute received significant changes to its styling and interior. The latter in particular was greatly improved, with much better materials. Its design and switchgear were consistent with Ford products, however. Initially, this revised Tribute came with the same engine choices as before, which were the 153-horsepower 2.3-liter four-cylinder and 200-hp 3.0-liter V6, with both running through a four-speed automatic transmission.
The following year brought big improvements in the powertrain department, with a choice of either a 171-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder or a 240-hp 3.0-liter V6, both coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission (except in the i Sport 2WD, which had a five-speed manual). In addition to the standard models, a hybrid model dubbed the Tribute HEV was also available and, as expected, proved to be a virtual twin of the Ford Escape Hybrid. The HEV earned a combined fuel economy estimate as high as 32 mpg.
Handling was respectable, with the Tribute cornering with a controlled amount of body roll and proving composed in quick transitions. The ride was relatively smooth as well, making this SUV a suitable choice for commuting or hauling the family around. However, its trucklike, utility-style packaging didn't match up against a generation of new carlike competitors with more luxurious interior treatments, higher refinement and superior driving dynamics. As such, although a used Tribute would still be a good choice, we'd encourage consumers to consider its rivals as well.
Past Mazda Tribute Models
The Mazda Tribute was originally introduced in 2001, and there were relatively minor changes made over the next few years until the significant 2008 refresh. The Tribute was offered in DX, DX V6, LX V6 and ES V6 trim levels until 2005, when the i and s trims replaced them. These designations represented the engine choice. The 2005 model change also saw a minor exterior face-lift, a revised suspension and the debut of the more powerful 153-hp 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. Previously, the base engine was a 2.0-liter inline-4 that made a paltry 130 hp. The bigger engine was always the 200-hp 3.0-liter V6.
Functional and space-efficient on the inside, practical and tough on the outside and generally fun to drive wherever life took it, the Mazda Tribute was always one of our favorite compact SUVs when it came to utility. If you're looking at this Tribute, we'd recommend a V6-powered version (particularly for pre-2005 vehicles), despite its thirst for fuel, as the four-cylinder is a pretty anemic performer. It should also be noted that the interior isn't nearly as nice as that of the second-generation model.