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Review: 2003 Mazda Tribute

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SEE ALSO: Mazda Buyer's Guide

THE AUTO PAGE
By JOHN HEILIG

SPECIFICATIONS

MODEL: Mazda Tribute ENGINE: 3.0-liter V6 HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 200 hp @ 6000 rpm/200 lb-ft @ 4750 rpm TRANSMISSION: Four-speed automatic WHEELBASE: 103.1 in. LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 173.0 x 71.9 x 69.3 in. STICKER PRICE: $26,669

The Mazda Tribute and Ford Escape are similar vehicles. As a matter of fact, the Tribute is more "American" than Japanese, with 75 percent of its parts from the US or Canada and its final assembly point in Kansas City, MO. Both cars are products of the marriage between Ford and Mazda, which is more closely attuned to Ford's buying out of Mazda.

Tribute is a small SUV, in the same genre as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and similar vehicles. It is a solid vehicle and has great capabilities. It does the job well in easy off-road condition. This is not a Rubicon Trail vehicle. It is also a worthy vehicle on the highway.

I had the opportunity to use the Tribute as a hauler. We had to take grass clippings to the recycling center and pick up mulch for the trip back. The Tribute did a good job of holding the cans we used for the transfers. We also used it as the vehicle of choice for golf outings and carrying chairs and things to outdoor concerts, etc.

We also had passengers in the back seat who felt there was adequate legroom back there. They liked the cupholders for the rear seat passengers. This isn't a comment you often get with a small SUV.

I guess you could call the Tribute, or Tribute-sized vehicles, true sport utilities. They are sportier than their truck-based larger siblings. They are generally car-based, which makes for a smoother ride over most surfaces. There's also slightly more comfort in the smaller SUVs, primarily because of their car heritage.

Tribute is powered by a 3.0-liter V6 that delivers 200 horsepower. It powers all four wheels through a four-speed automatic gearbox with a column-mounted shifter. Even though there is the column shifter, there's still a console between the seats. The console contains an arm rest with a large storage bin inside and a couple of cupholders.

In the center of the dash are two huge storage areas, and there's a cell phone-sized storage area just below the radio. For cell phone charging or other such uses, there is a 12-volt outlet on the dash.

The sound system is an AM/FM stereo system with cassette and CD players. Our tester also had all the accessories - power windows, power mirrors, overdrive, power sunroof, etc.

There were a couple of features about the Tribute that appealed to me. One was the dual lift tailgate that is similar to the explorer. You lift one side and just the window pops up, you lift the other side and the whole tailgate pops up. This is convenient if all you want to put in the back is something small, such as light grocery bags, and you can lift them through the window.

The rear seats also fold down to create a near-flat cargo area for larger objects. It looks as if it could handle a 6x4 sheet of plywood. You have to pull a couple of tabs and do some maneuvering to accomplish this, but it's worth it.

I felt the Tribute had plenty of power for everything we wanted it to do. It was peppy when we wanted it to be peppy and was economical when we wanted it to be economical.

Tribute is a good solid vehicle that delivers all the performance you'd want from a small SUV. It has a host of nice additional features, such as all the storage areas inside and the ability to have different types of access to the rear cargo area.

I liked the Tribute. It did everything we wanted it to do with a minimum of complaints. It's economical, it looks good, and it doesn't offer the huge size of some SUVs that are on the road today.

© 2002 The Auto Page Syndicate