2010 Mazda Tribute Review

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The Car Connection
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
March 3, 2010

The 2010 Mazda Tribute wears crisp SUV sheetmetal and offers a high-mileage hybrid model, but it's something of an oddity in the zoomy Mazda lineup.

TheCarConnection.com has driven the 2010 Mazda Tribute and Tribute Hybrid to bring you this hands-on review that covers styling, performance, safety, utility, and features from on-the-road observations. TheCarConnection.com's editors also researched reviews from other sources to give you a comprehensive range of opinions from around the Web-and to help you decide which ones to trust. High Gear Media drove a manufacturer-provided Mazda Tribute and Tribute Hybrid to produce this hands-on road test.

The 2010 Mazda Tribute and Tribute Hybrid are low-volume crossovers that pose a bit of a puzzle. Ford has built them for Mazda since 2001 on its now-aging-but continually updated-Escape and Escape Hybrid platform (also used for the Mercury Mariner and Mariner Hybrid). Redesigned for 2008 and fitted with vastly better engines and transmissions for 2009, the Tribute twins give Mazda a traditional-looking SUV that stands out in a showroom filled with increasingly zoomy designs. The Tribute Hybrid is Mazda's sole hybrid vehicle, however, and gets gas mileage that would do a compact hatchback proud. Competitors in the sporty end of the compact crossover market include the Ford Escape itself, the Nissan Rogue, and Mazda's own CX-7 crossover. The 2010 Mazda Tribute starts at $21,155.

The latest Tributes got a bolder, tougher new look two years ago, along with a more comfortable, more upscale interior. Though it's based on the Ford Escape, the Tribute carries its own distinctive styling inside and out-including a prominent and squared-off nose that frames a large chrome Mazda wing logo with a bright surround. The look is decidedly more masculine than earlier Tributes, and that carries over to the interior too. The 2010 Mazda Tribute has a handsome and blocky dashboard, with piano-black plastic trim and a chunky steering wheel.

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The base 2010 Mazda Tribute comes with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 171 horsepower and 171 foot-pounds of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, with a six-speed automatic available too. The optional engine is a 3.0-liter V-6 producing 300 horsepower, which only comes with the six-speed automatic.

The 2010 Tribute Hybrid model is fitted with a specially tuned version of the 2.5-liter four, mated to an electronically continuously variable transmission (eCVT) containing two electric motors that both power the car and recharge the battery pack, which sits by the rear axle. All Tribute models, including the hybrid, can be specified with either front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.

Fuel economy ranges from 22 mpg city, 28 mpg highway with the base 2.5-liter four and the five-speed manual, to 18 mpg city, 23 mpg highway for the V-6 and automatic combination when four-wheel drive is also specified. The Tribute Hybrid is rated at 34 city, 31 highway in front-wheel-drive form, though that falls to 30 city, 27 highway when four-wheel drive is specified.

Handling is adequate for a tall crossover, but hardly up to the standard of the rest of Mazda's range. The electric power steering is vastly improved over earlier model years, but the Tribute and Tribute Hybrid will simply never be as fun to drive as a hot hatch like the Mazda3-the true standard-bearers for Mazda's "zoom-zoom" brand identity.

The front seats are 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. Assembly quality seems high, with well-fitted trim and good materials. It's worth noting that the shiny black surfaces show the merest speck of dust and gather fingerprints easily, so proud owners may spend a lot of time wiping them down to keep them glossy.

Safety equipment on the 2010 Mazda Tribute and Tribute Hybrid includes standard anti-lock brakes; stability, roll, and traction control; and tire pressure monitors. Front and side airbags are standard, along with side-curtain airbags that extend rearward. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the 2010 Mazda Tribute ratings of "good," its highest ranking, for both frontal offset and side impact crash tests. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awards the Tribute five stars for driver and passenger front-impact protection, as well as five stars for driver side and rear passenger protection in side impacts. However, the Tribute and Tribute Hybrid count among the handful of vehicles to receive just three stars for rollover safety.

There are four models of 2010 Mazda Tribute, starting with the i-Sport, and then in ascending order, the i-Touring, i-Grand Touring, and s-Grand Touring. All "i" models have the 2.5-liter four, and the "s" model is powered by the 3.0-liter V-6. Touring models replace the five-speed manual with the automatic transmission and add power seat adjustment, while Grand Touring models come with a power sliding glass moonroof and dual heated power remote outside mirrors.

For 2010, Mazda adds a few new convenience items to the Tribute. All models now have an ambient temperature gauge, and the Grand Touring and hybrid models get a built-in garage-door opener and an electrochromatic rearview mirror with rearview camera display.

Standard features include 16-inch wheels and fog lamps. A DVD entertainment system, heated seats, Sirius Satellite Radio, and remote start are on the options list. However, unlike its Ford and Mercury brethren, the 2010 Mazda Tribute offers neither a navigation system (buy a portable one) nor the excellent SYNC infotainment system-which is a shame.

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