Unchanged for the 2011 model year, the Mazda Tribute and Tribute Hybrid share most of their running gear with the Ford Escape--which will be replaced for the 2012 model year.
The Tribute crossover isn't a precise twin of the Escape, in terms of styling and interior execution. While it's bolder and more angular than in its first edition, the recently squared-off Tribute is still softer and more generic than the SUV-ish Escape. The sharpened interior made the same progression, and in general it's a more pleasant place to sit than in the Escape, since the piano-black plastic trim and chunky steering wheel feel a bit nicer to the fingertips than the grainy plastics inside the Ford.The Tribute has a trio of powertrains, with options for shifting and traction. The base version uses a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 171 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. It's teamed with a five-speed manual transmission, while the preferable--and far more common--six-speed automatic is available. Moving up the power ladder is a 3.0-liter V-6 producing 300 horsepower; it's fitted only with the six-speed automatic.
The Tribute Hybrid has its own lean-burn version of the 2.5-liter four, twinned with 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.
With the powertrain choices, fuel economy spans a range from 22/28 mpg in the base version to 34/31 mpg in the Hybrid with front-wheel drive.
There's not much "zoom zoom" in the Tribute's handling, which also doesn't suffer too much from typical trucky SUV feel. Electric power steering is a big improvement over earlier racks, though. The ride quality can get a tad bouncy and harsh, especially on the heavier Hybrid versions.
A generous amount of interior room for five passengers mostly benefits those in front. The buckets are wide and have plenty of surrounding room; the rear bench seat doesn't have as much spread-out space, but two adults can ride on it happily.
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. Since both major crash-test agencies have changed their ratings, no figures are available yet for the 2011 model year. In the past, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Tribute "good" ratings, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarded it five stars in similar tests.
While the Tribute has standard power amenities and offers some options like a DVD entertainment system, heated seats, Sirius Satellite Radio, and remote start, it doesn't offer the latest features available on some Ford products, including the Escape's optional navigation system and the excellent SYNC infotainment system.
For a more in-depth look at this crossover, read TheCarConnection's most recent full review of the Mazda Tribute.