2008 Mazda Tribute Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 6, 2008

The 2008 Mazda Tribute wears a sharp new set of sheetmetal, but performance remains middling, and it still lacks a third-row option.

TheCarConnection.com's editors researched a wide range of road tests of the 2008 Mazda Tribute to write this definitive review. TheCarConnection.com's resident experts also drove the Mazda Tribute to help you decide which reviews to trust where opinions differ, to add more impressions and details, and to provide you with the best information.

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.

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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.

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2008 Mazda Tribute

Styling

The 2008 Mazda Tribute wears a new nose and gets new interior trim, in a moderately successful makeover.

The 2008 Mazda Tribute gets a revamped look for the new model year: It’s a bolder, tougher style that comes with a more comfortable, more upscale interior.

Kelley Blue Book and Car and Driver have opposite views when it comes to the 2008 Mazda Tribute's exterior design; the former states that "the new [Mazda] Tribute puts classic SUV sheet metal cues into a contemporary context that effectively mixes rugged with refined," while the latter leads off that part of the review with the description "blander sheet metal." While updates for the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner are considered improvements by Car and Driver, they say that the "opposite is true for the [Mazda] Tribute." TheCarConnection.com’s editors think 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 lends it a decidedly more masculine appeal than the old version. “With its boxy, traditional SUV body, the Tribute looks like the shipping container the Mazda CX-7 came in,” Edmunds says, though it contends the new look is “nevertheless a stylish, alternative take on the new Escape.” MyRide.com thinks “There isn’t a lot to distinguish the Mazda Tribute from the Ford Escape except the front grill.”

Inside, the 2008 Mazda Tribute wears a handsomely blocky new dash, with piano-black plastic trim and a chunky steering wheel. Automotive.com reports that in the new Tribute, "controls are at hand and not confusing for the driver," resulting not only in greater convenience, but greater safety as well. Unfortunately, the "dozens of black buttons and knobs were difficult to distinguish from one another," according to Car and Driver. The exception is the back-lit instruments, which are now "a pretty ice blue with Mazda-specific red-and-white gauges." Kelley Blue Book simply reports that this Mazda 2008's "gauges are legible." Edmunds says, “Available rich two-tone color schemes and 'ice blue' lighting create a warm, yet modern look.”

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2008 Mazda Tribute

Performance

The 2008 Mazda Tribute drives like an SUV, not a car, and other compact crossovers do it better.

TheCarConnection.com found mixed perceptions in the automotive community about the 2008 Mazda Tribute's performance--even within the same reviews.

Cars.com reports that two different engines are offered on the 2008 Mazda Tribute: "a 153-horsepower, 2.3-liter four-cylinder ['I' trim] or a 200-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 ['S' trim]," as well as a choice of front- or all-wheel drive, and either a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission. According to Kelley Blue Book, the larger engine is the best choice for those who plan to do any towing.

MyRide.com reports that the overall driving experience is "OK," but lacks Mazda's trademark "Zoom." Nonetheless, when equipped with the V-6 engine, the Mazda "Tribute leaves the line with some authority...performance was OK, if not a bit dull." On the other hand, "those who place a premium on fuel economy may find the four-cylinder engine sufficiently energetic," says Kelley Blue Book; however, this review advises that the Mazda 2008 "gets a bit stressed when matched with the heavier all-wheel drive system."

Both Edmunds and Automotive.com use the adjective "nimble" when referring to its on-pavement performance, although off-road performance seems to be lacking. According to Car and Driver, the 2008 Mazda Tribute's rivals have left it behind: "the Tribute has not braced itself where it counts, under the hood."

According to Edmunds, all trims "come with a four-speed automatic transmission, although a five-speed manual is standard on the Tribute i Sport 2WD." Cars.com reports that "upper trim levels, including all V-6 models, come with the automatic transmission standard."

Edmunds recommends the 2WD version if you live in a part of the country that doesn't experience severe weather and road conditions, as this front-wheel-drive version of the Mazda 2008 offers significantly better mileage. According to J.D. Power, EPA fuel mileage figures for the Mazda Tribute's 2.3-liter four-cylinder engines are 18 and 28 mpg; the V-6 is slightly lower at 17 and 24 mpg--still respectable for an SUV of any size.

The reviewer at Kelley Blue Book found the Mazda Tribute "easy to drive and easy to live with on a daily basis," saying the "suspension never feels overly soft or 'floaty,'" although "spirited cornering does elicit noticeable body lean." MyRide.com reports "body roll and wallow don't inspire confidence at freeway speeds," although "brakes are good, with a solid feel." Edmunds reports that the "new electric power steering system delivers surprisingly good road feel and response...[and] handling is respectable." Edmunds sums it up, though, when it says, “Nevertheless, many competitors are more refined and fun to drive than the 2008 Mazda Tribute.”

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2008 Mazda Tribute

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Mazda Tribute provides good interior room and a better class of interior trim.

Comfort levels inside the 2008 Mazda Tribute are definitely above average, according to reviewers consulted by TheCarConnection.com.

Cars.com reports that this year's Mazda Tribute "still has seating for five," with a "rear seat...split 60/40." MyRide.com says that the "cloth-covered front seats were supportive and comfortable." According to Edmunds, front seats have adequate padding, but the rear seats leave something to be desired, being "flat and devoid of recline or fore/aft adjustments."

There's no shortage of room here; Cars.com reports that the Mazda Tribute "has just shy of 30 cubic feet of storage space with the backseat up; it's 66 cubic feet with them down." Kelley Blue Book is in agreement: "stow-space [is] generous," and "key controls well-placed and logically arrayed." The console storage compartment of the Mazda 2008 Tribute is "just big enough to hold a laptop," reports Kelley Blue Book.

The 2008 Mazda Tribute's "high-contrast" interior was a miss for Car and Driver, which expressed the opinion that "it successfully detracted initial attention away from the overall cheapness of the Ford parts-bin pieces." The plastic surfaces gathered fingerprints easily, requiring constant polishing. Kelley Blue Book adds that "due to the high-gloss finish on many interior surfaces, bright sun can cause annoying reflections" in the Mazda Tribute. Edmunds reports “the control layout and build quality are generally impressive.”

MyRide.com states that this Mazda 2008 model is "a little quieter" than its "Ford cousin," but the outside mirrors and rear tires still make their presence known at highway speeds.

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2008 Mazda Tribute

Safety

The 2008 Mazda Tribute gets mostly good crash-test ratings, though the passenger scores are a concern.

TheCarConnection.com's research reveals that the Mazda 2008 Tribute does an admirable job in keeping its occupants safe.

Solid safety features and accident avoidance equipment earn the 2008 Mazda Tribute high marks from reviewers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which gave five stars to the 2008 Mazda Tribute in most areas. The exception is driver frontal impact, which received only a three-star rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives this year's Mazda Tribute ratings of "good" in all areas except for pelvis injuries: "measures taken from the dummy indicate that a fracture of the pelvis would be possible in a crash of this severity," but they add that "the risk of significant injuries to other body regions is low."

As for the tire pressure monitoring system and traction control, Car and Driver reports that these are standard equipment features across all trims of the Mazda Tribute. Edmunds and other sources also report ABS brakes as standard equipment.

Cars.com discloses even more details regarding this Mazda 2008 model's airbag system. According to this source, sensors control the amount of force with which the airbags are deployed according to factors such as the weight of the passenger and (in the case of the driver) how far back they are sitting. Side airbags deploy from the seats rather than the door; in addition, side curtain airbags are standard.

MyRide.com praises overall visibility, "thanks in part to large side mirrors." When backing up, drivers are assisted by a sonar system that sounds off in case of an unseen obstacle.

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2008 Mazda Tribute

Features

The 2008 Mazda Tribute is a strong value even in base trim, but drivers who talk will miss the Bluetooth connection.

The 2008 Mazda Tribute offers more features and advanced options than in years past, though it still neglects the tech heads who want navigation systems and Bluetooth.

Four trims are available in the Mazda 2008: the Tribute I Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, and Tribute S Sport. Standard equipment installed on the base model as reported by Automotive.com includes "air conditioner with pollen filter, halogen headlights and foglights, flip-up rear window, cargo hooks, rear heater ducts, reclining front seats, 60/40 split folding rear seats, AM/FM/CD player with four speakers, remote entry, cruise control and tilt steering wheel." This source was particularly impressed with the 2008 Mazda Tribute's air conditioning.

Other Mazda Tribute trim packages offer a roof rack, tinted glass, and a six-way adjustable power seat. The top two trims provide vastly improved sound systems, as well. More interesting is what is not offered; Edmunds reports that for Mazda, 2008 brings no "significant change in terms of features, as premium items like a navigation system or Bluetooth connectivity still aren't offered." This is a problem, as Kelley Blue Book points out that the "Mazda Tribute doesn't match the levels of overall refinement offered by so many of its fresher competitors." However, Edmunds reports an optional rear-seat DVD system to keep the kids entertained on long trips, which can be added to any version of the 2008 Mazda Tribute.

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Styling 7
Performance 6
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Features 8
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