To some, Mazda’s conservatively styled Tribute SUV is starting to look out-of-date in a world increasingly full of sleek crossovers. It was launched in Australia early in 2001 and enjoyed sales success right from the start so there's plenty on the used-car market at any one time. Mazda Tribute was sold until early 2008 when it was replaced by the much faster and sexier Mazda CX-7.
Tribute is an honest vehicle and makes a good family wagon for those looking for no-nonsense transport. There’s seating for five, though the typical family unit of two adults and two children will be a lot more comfortable than four grown-ups. Boot space is good and is easy to access through a well-designed tailgate.
Most use the Mazda SUV as a suburban runabout. On the road, Tribute is almost car-like to drive and to ride in, though, because it’s taller than a car it doesn’t corner or handle as well. Ride comfort is generally good, though the age of the design is starting to show in relatively high noise levels from road/tyre contact when cruising at speed.
The Mazda 4WD system normally drives only the front wheels, the rear wheels are fed some torque when the front wheels begin slip. This happens pretty quickly and unless you’re on really soft ground that takes the transmission by surprise you may not even notice the switch to 4WD. You can lock in 4WD for added traction in semi-tough conditions. Don’t try to tackle really hard 4WD situations or the low-slung rear suspension could be damaged.
Tribute comes with the choice of a four-cylinder or V6 engine. The four had a capacity of 2.0 litres from its introduction in 2001. Performance is OK, but make sure you try one for yourself, preferably with a bit of a load on board as part of your initial road testing. The engine capacity went up to 2.3 litres with the introduction of the MY04 Tribute in January 2004. The extra punch from the 15 per cent more capacity was further enhanced by significant changes to the engine design. This is the powerplant to aim for if your budget is up to it.
The V6 is better again if you want real performance, but can be relatively thirsty. As is often the way, adding more cylinders to the engine not only improved its output, but also adds refinement. As an on-road people moving wagon the Mazda Tribute V6 is an excellent vehicle that owners really love.
Transmission choices are dictated by which engine you buy. The four-cylinder comes as a five-speed manual. The V6 has a four-speed automatic transmission.
A major midlife facelift in July 2006 saw a stronger grille and bonnet styling and revised bumper shapes change the appearance of the Tribute more than you might have expected.
Even more importantly, under the skin revisions to the body resulted in greater strength, a quieter ride, and less wind noise at speed. This revised body meant the Mazda Tribute had a slightly more solid feel than before.
As part of the 2006 makeover, the never-popular column-mounted gearshift was replaced by a more conventional floor shift. This is not only more pleasant to use, but also gives the cabin a sportier note. The centre of the dash has received a major redesign and new trim materials give a sportier flavour.
Mazda was one of the earliest Japanese marques to come to Australia, way back in the 1960s. These days it's number four in the sales race in this country, beaten only by the brands that build cars locally. So it comes as no surprise that the Mazda dealer network is widespread and well organised.
Servicing, repairs and spare parts are generally well-priced and we have heard of no real complaints about supply.
You can do a fair bit of the mechanical work yourself, but, as always, we caution that you should only let professionals do anything that might be related to safety.
You may also like to look at the Ford Escape which is a clone of the Mazda Tribute, though the Ford was not always sold with the same mechanical choices and/or equipment levels as the Mazda.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Check the engine starts up easily and idles smoothly and quietly. A V6 will be better than a four-cylinder, but the latter is still pretty good.
A manual gearbox should be smooth and quiet in its operation, with gearchanges that are light and easy.
Make sure the clutch pedal doesn't require too much effort, and is smooth throughout its complete travel.
Check the automatic transmission works quietly and doesn’t hold onto gears, or change gears too often when it shouldn’t do so.
Make sure the brakes work properly, pulling the wagon up in a straight line and without one wheel locking before the others.
Visually check the condition of the interior, then take the Tribute for a run on rough roads to see if there are any rattles or squeaks as cabin parts move.
Look at the condition of the body in case the Mazda has been taken into off-road territory. Signs of the latter damage are generally at the bumper corners, the underneath of the door sills and on the underbody. Also look for tiny scratches in the body side where it has been squeezed through bushes and the like.