2010 Mazda Tribute Review

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The Car Connection
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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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2010 Mazda Tribute

Styling

The 2010 Mazda Tribute and Tribute Hybrid earn mostly high marks for exterior styling, though their interior design and switchgear get more mixed reviews.

The 2010 Mazda Tribute and Tribute Hybrid 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.

Kelley Blue Book and Car and Driver take opposite points of view on the 2010 Mazda Tribute's exterior design. The former says "the new [Mazda] Tribute puts classic SUV sheet metal cues into a contemporary context," and the result "effectively mixes rugged with refined." On the other hand, the latter describes the Tribute's look as "blander sheet metal."

TheCarConnection.com's editors think the exterior's best new feature is a prominent, squared-off nose. "With its boxy, traditional SUV body, the Tribute looks like the shipping container the Mazda CX-7 came in," Edmunds says-although it too calls the Tribute's design "a stylish, alternative take on the new Escape."

The more masculine look carries over to the interior. The 2010 Mazda Tribute has a handsome and blocky dashboard, with piano-black plastic trim and a chunky steering wheel. Automotive.com reports that the new Tribute puts "controls...at hand" in a way that is "not confusing for the driver," improving safety and convenience. But Car and Driver points out that the "dozens of black buttons and knobs were difficult to distinguish from one another," countering the safety claim. The magazine praises the back-lit instruments, which are "a pretty ice blue with Mazda-specific red-and-white gauges." Kelley Blue Book characterizes the gauges of the Tribute 2010 as "legible." And Edmunds says, "Available rich two-tone color schemes and 'ice blue' lighting create a warm, yet modern look."

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2010 Mazda Tribute

Performance

The 2010 Mazda Tribute and Tribute Hybrid drive like SUVs, not cars, and while performance and fuel economy are adequate, the vehicle is becoming dated.

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. According to Kelley Blue Book, the larger engine is the best choice for those who plan to do any towing. Cars.com reports that "upper trim levels, including all V-6 models, come with the automatic transmission standard."

The 2010 Mazda Tribute Hybrid 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 that allows the Tribute Hybrid to travel short distances on electric power only, with the engine off.

All Tribute models, including the hybrid, can be specified with either front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Edmunds recommends the 2WD version if you live in a part of the country that doesn't experience severe weather and road conditions, as gas mileage is significantly better with the front-wheel-drive version of the Mazda 2010.

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. Edmunds reports that the "new electric power steering system delivers surprisingly good road feel and response...[and] handling is respectable." Both Edmunds and Automotive.com use the adjective "nimble" when referring to on-pavement performance, although off-road performance seems to be lacking. The reviewer at Kelley Blue Book finds 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."

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. Edmunds sums it up, though, when it says the 2010 Mazda Tribute "feels old compared to [newer] rivals."

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2010 Mazda Tribute

Comfort & Quality

The 2010 Mazda Tribute and Tribute Hybrid offer interior room for four and good storage, but glossy black trim requires lots of upkeep-impractical in an SUV.

Comfort levels inside the 2010 Mazda Tribute and Tribute Hybrid are definitely above average, according to reviewers consulted by TheCarConnection.com.

The front seats are comfortable for long trips, and there's plenty of headroom for four adults inside. 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." The second-row seat doesn't have a lot of extra space for adults, but two will ride happily.

The 2010 Mazda Tribute's "high-contrast" interior is a miss for Car and Driver, which expresses the opinion that "it successfully detracted initial attention away from the overall cheapness of the Ford parts-bin pieces." 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. 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.

There's no shortage of storage here; Cars.com notes that the Mazda Tribute offers "just shy of 30 cubic feet of storage space with the back seats up; it's 66 cubic feet with them down." Kelley Blue Book agrees that "stow-space [is] generous," and "key controls [are] well-placed and logically arrayed." The console storage compartment of the Mazda 2010 Tribute is "just big enough to hold a laptop," reports Kelley Blue Book.

Edmunds asserts "the control layout and build quality are generally impressive," with well-fitted trim and good materials.

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2010 Mazda Tribute

Safety

The 2010 Mazda Tribute and Tribute Hybrid score well on crash safety tests, although the rollover scores for this tall SUV could be a concern.

TheCarConnection.com's research reveals that the 2010 Mazda Tribute and Tribute Hybrid do an admirable job of keeping their occupants safe. Car and Driver reports that standard safety equipment on all models includes 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 are some of the few vehicles to receive just three stars for rollover safety.

Cars.com notes that the airbag 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.

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2010 Mazda Tribute

Features

The 2010 Mazda Tribute and Tribute Hybrid are good values, even in base trim, but the lack of Bluetooth, navigation, and SYNC options leaves them in the lurch.

The 2010 Mazda Tribute and Tribute Hybrid offer decent feature lists, but the lack of a navigation system and the superb voice-activated SYNC infotainment system offered on the Ford and Mercury variants of this SUV are a major drawback.

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. 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 2010 Mazda Tribute's air conditioning.

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.

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. More interesting is what is not available; Edmunds reports that "premium items like a navigation system or Bluetooth connectivity still aren't offered." Owners can always buy a (much cheaper) portable nav system, but it's an unusual omission on a family vehicle.

This is a problem, as Kelley Blue Book points out that the "Mazda Tribute doesn't match the levels of overall refinement offered by...fresher competitors." However, Edmunds notes that an optional rear-seat DVD system can be added to any version of the 2010 Tribute to keep the kids entertained on long trips.

For 2010, Mazda adds a few new convenience items. 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.

Review continues below
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7.2
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Styling 8
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 8
Features 6
Fuel Economy N/A
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