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Mazda: a ‘Tribute' to a great car

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang  | Sports | April 3rd, 2006

When the Mazda Tribute was launched with its sister vehicle the Ford Escape quite a number of years ago, it was voted as the best SUV in its category.

I drove the Tribute a few years ago, and also felt it was the best in its category.

So now the question is, is it still as good now as it ever was?

To find out I spent a week with one recently. The Tribute has undergone a few changes since it first came out; the bumpers and taillights have changed and in the interior, but the most notable change is the placement of the gear selector. It used to be behind the steering wheel. Now it's in the middle of the front seats, where it should have always been.

So, it has improved, but has it done enough to keep it ahead of its competition? Well, if you are buying a base model, you get a better, more powerful, four-cylinder engine — now a 2.3 litre displacement, it churns out 153hp.

My test vehicle came with the upgraded 200 hp, V6 engine, but not that I knew that the first time I started it.

As I loaded my stuff in the vehicle and twisted the key, the engine fired up with such a ruckus that I had to pop the hood and immediately check if I had been given a four-cylinder model. Not the best of starts then.

On the road, the noise made it self even more noticeable and the archaic four-speed gearbox showed its age. This is certainly not as refined or as sophisticated as some of the newer vehicles in its class.

Where it still shines though is in the way it handles. This truck can be tossed into corners like a car, which is what made it so popular in the first place.

So despite some good competition, it is still as much fun to drive as it always was. It also drinks like it always did too. If you worry about fuel bills, buy a Mazda5, because the Tribute still has a drinking problem.

To be fair, its not much worse than some of its V6 competitors, although its competition is a bit more refined. What most of the competition cannot provide, however, is a vehicle of this size at a base price of $24,595 (2WD, GX model). The vehicle I had was an all-wheel drive model in GS-V6 trim, and it lists at $32,595. That is still not bad value for what you get, but there are some better ways now to spend that money.

One of which is coming from Mazda, and that is the CX7. The CX7 looks great, and has an impressive power train on paper, and I am sure it'll be better than the Tribute in every way. It also is priced well, so the competition better watch out, Mazda is ready to give its competitors a spanking again.
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