- Much improved styling
- Great new dash
- Good backseat room
- No third-row option
- No navigation system
- Middling road manners
The 2008 Mazda Tribute wears a sharp new set of sheetmetal, but performance remains middling, and it still lacks a third-row option.
The 2008 Mazda Tribute gets a bolder, tougher new look this year, along with a more comfortable, more upscale interior. Other improvements, including a first-ever Hybrid model, breathe new life into a crossover that hasn't seen many changes since its 2001 introduction.
Offered in both front- and all-wheel-drive versions, the Tribute sport-utility vehicle shares platforms and powertrains with the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner, as well as their hybrid editions, though the Tribute carries its own distinctive styling inside and out. The exterior's best new feature is a prominent, squared-off nose. The Mazda logo is framed by a bright surround, and the new look gives it a decidedly more masculine appeal than the old version. Inside, the 2008 Mazda Tribute wears a handsomely blocky new dash, with piano-black plastic trim and a chunky steering wheel.
A 153-horsepower, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine propels the base version through a five-speed manual, while a 200-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 is included with the top model. Both engines can be mated to an optional four-speed automatic transmission and optional all-wheel drive. Fuel economy ranges from 17/22 mpg on all-wheel-drive versions to 22/28 mpg with four-cylinder front-drive Tributes. Performance is no better than average, even with the V-6, and handling is more SUV than crossover, with numb steering the chief complaint.
The front seats are a little flat but comfortable for long trips, and there's plenty of headroom for four adults inside. The second-row seat doesn't have a lot of extra space for adults, but two will ride happily. The Mazda Tribute's assembly quality seems very high, with good materials and well-fitted trim pieces.
New standard features include 16-inch wheels and fog lamps. A DVD entertainment system, heated seats, Sirius Satellite Radio, remote start, and a power moonroof are on the options list, but a navigation system is not offered.
Safety equipment includes standard anti-lock brakes; stability, roll, and traction control; and tire pressure monitors. Side curtain airbags are an option. The IIHS gives the 2008 Mazda Tribute an "acceptable" rating for front impact and a "good" rating for side collision protection. The NHTSA awards the Tribute four stars for driver front-impact protection and five for the passenger, as well as five stars for side-impact protection and three stars for rollover safety.