2002 Mazda Tribute Reviews and Ratings

Utility 4D DX 4WD (5 Spd)

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2002 Mazda Tribute
Mitch McCullough, Editor-in-Chief

Introduction
Mazda Tribute is among the sportiest of the small utilities. Sporty handling and brisk V6 performance place the Tribute among the best of the small sport-utility vehicles sold today. Mazda and Ford worked jointly on developing the Mazda Tribute and Ford Escape and together they outclass the other small utilities.

The Mazda Tribute delivers an excellent value for people who want the image and versatility of a sport-utility coupled with refinement and better on-road handling than truck-based utilities. The Mazda Tribute ES, the top model, comes loaded with leather seating, a six-disc in-dash CD player and other luxury features. Model Lineup
Three trim levels are available: DX ($18,155), LX ($21,485) and ES ($22,715).

The base Tribute DX is powered by a 130-horsepower four-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission; it is not available with an automatic.

All other models are fitted with a 200-horsepower V6 and a four-speed automatic transmission. In fact, 90 percent of all Tributes will come with the V6 and automatic, including the DX-V6 ($20,635).

All models are available with either front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive; four-wheel drive and other equipment included with it adds $1200-$1700 to the above prices.

For 2002, the Tribute gets new front seats, a reconfigured center dash storage box and control unit that holds a new audio system for the LX and ES versions with an in-dash six-CD changer. The LX version can be equipped with a six-way power driver's seat. New standard features on all Tributes include 16-inch alloy wheels, remote keyless entry and rear privacy glass. Four new colors also are offered for 2002: Glacier Metallic, Calypso Blue Metallic, Dark Titanium and Light Cypress Metallic.

Side airbags are optional. Walkaround
The Tribute offers an aggressive look, due to its forward-tilted stance, short overhangs and wide track. Thick bumpers, side cladding and wheel lip moldings smoothly integrated into the bodywork convey a sense of stability and refined ruggedness. Large multi-reflector headlamps with clear lenses and rear combination lamps with crystal lenses convey a sense of sportiness. A two-tone color scheme and minimal use of chrome create a clean appearance. The Tribute is aerodynamically superior to several of its competitors.

Mazda Tribute's external dimensions are comparable to those of the Jeep Liberty and Honda CR-V. It is longer than a CR-V and wider than a Ford Explorer. Interior
Capable of seating five people, the Tribute offers more front and rear legroom than the Lexus RX 300 luxury SUV. It's more comfortable with four people, however, and no shoulder belt is provided for the rear center position. The front bucket seats and the rear bench seat are comfortable and of higher quality than those found in many SUVs. Like many smaller SUVs, the rear windows do not roll down all the way.

The second-row seat folds down revealing a flat cargo floor and more than 74 cubic feet of cargo space. It will even accommodate 4x8-foot sheets of plywood, if you don't mind flipping open the rear glass hatch and letting the plywood stick out the back. The lift gate window does not have to be closed before opening the rear hatch. A 12-volt power outlet is located in the rear of the cargo compartment.

Radio controls are easy to use and the heating, air conditioning and ventilation controls are simple. Cruise controls are mounted on the steering wheel. The instrument panel is straightforward and easy to read. Noise, vibration and harshness levels are low when underway. Visibility in all directions is very good. The shape of the Tribute's hood and the seating position allow the driver to clearly see both front corners of the vehicle, an advantage over the Honda CR-V, while narrow A- (front) and D- (rear) pillars minimize blind spots. A low bottom edge maximizes visibility out the rear window and there's no spare tire to block the view.

Leather seating surfaces and a six-way power driver's seat are standard on the ES model. Driving Impressions
The Tribute is an agile and powerful little SUV. It handles better than other sport-utilities. Its sharp steering allows the driver to guide it precisely. At high speeds, the Tribute is supremely stable. Handling response is relatively taut without that mushiness that characterizes SUVs with big off-road tires and long-travel suspensions.

The ride quality is smoother and more sophisticated than that of the other small sport-utilities in its class with firm damping and a well-controlled ride. It handles better on the road the a Jeep Liberty and it's more fun to drive than a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4.

Steering response is direct and accurate without a big dead spot in the center. There's enough feeling in the steering to impart a sense of control. The tires provide respectable grip in paved corners. The Tribute provides surprisingly good transient response in left-right-left lane-change maneuvers. (The suspensions on front- and four-wheel-drive versions are identical.)

About 90 percent of all Tributes will come with Ford's 3.0-liter V6. Similar in design to the Duratec V6 used in the Ford Taurus, this specially tuned 200-horsepower engine gives the Tribute a distinctive advantage in performance over the other small utilities, including the Toyota RAV4 that's powered by a four-cylinder engine. It isn't the smoothest V6 on the market, nor is it the roughest. But it is smoother and more satisfying than the four-cylinder engines found on most small sport-utilities.

All V6 Tributes come with an automatic transmission. Engine and four-speed automatic communicate well. The transmission shifts smoothly up and down appropriately for the situation and the engine's broad power band never lugs or strains. Mazda tuned the suspension for slightly more aggressive shifting and mapped it for quicker acceleration than the Ford Escape. Properly equipped, the Tribute can tow trailers of up to 3500 pounds, which includes lightweight ski boats, ATVs or snowmobiles.

The Tribute is more than capable of heading down remote two-tracks on trout fishing excursions. It isn't not a highly capable off-road vehicle, however. The Jeep Liberty is better for that. Front-wheel-drive (2WD) Tributes may have trouble passing through silt and mud without getting stuck, but four-wheel-drive versions should get through most of the places most of us want to go. More important, the four-wheel-drive system improves driver control on wet pavement, ice and snow.

Specifically developed for the Tribute, the four-wheel-drive system works full time, automatically transferring power between the front and rear wheels as needed through a gadget called a rotary blade coupling. This coupling (similar to a torque converter in an automatic transmission) will, for example, send more power to the rear wheels if the front wheels start to spin when you're sitting at a traffic light on a rainy day and stomp on the gas. A switch on some models allows the driver to lock the torque split 50/50, which is useful when driving off road or on snow-covered roads.

Though it performs well on primitive unpaved roads, the Tribute is not intended as a serious off-road vehicle. There is no traction control system nor is there a low-range set of gears. Neither its four-wheel-drive system nor its suspension is up to tackling the Rubicon Trail.

Smooth and responsive, the brakes do a good job of slowing the Tribute down in a hurry and Mazda claims they are the best in the class. The optional anti-lock brakes (ABS) come into play just when expected and are detectable by the familiar pulsating sensation. We highly recommend opting for ABS. Summary
Mazda Tribute offers more power than the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and other small SUVs with four-cylinder engines. On the road, it is more sophisticated than the Isuzu Rodeo, Mitsubishi Montero Sport, Nissan Xterra or Suzuki Vitara. And it costs less than a similarly equipped Xterra. It's a joy to drive and is at the top of its class.

Model as tested
ES 4WD ($23,915)
Basic Warranty
3 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in
Kansas City, Missouri
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
18155
Price as tested
26150
Options as tested
ABS ($495); Luxury Package ($1090) includes Premium Audio Package with 6-disc in-dash CD, power sliding glass moonroof; Tow Package ($355); destination charge ($540)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
DX 2WD ($18,155); DX 4WD ($19,855); DX-V6 2WD ($20,635); DX-V6 4WD ($22,035); LX 2WD ($21,485); LX 4WD ($22,685); ES 2WD($22,715); ES 4WD ($23,915)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front airbags
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
3.0-liter DOHC 24v V6
Transmissions
4-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
air conditioning, power windows w driver-side express down, rear wiper, rear privacy glass, tilt steering column, 16-inch alloy wheels, remote keyless entry, luggage rack, dual power fold-away mirrors, three power outlets, CD, tachometer; LX adds fog lights, cruise control, cargo area cover; ES adds overhead storage console with map light, reclining front bucket seats with six-way power for driver's seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather seating surfaces

Engine & Transmission
Engine
3.0-liter DOHC 24v V6
Drivetrain type
four-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
200 @ 6000
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
24/20
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
disc/drum w ABS
Suspension, front
Independent MacPherson strut, coil springs
Tires
P235/70R16
Suspension, rear
multi-link

Accomodations
Seating capacity
5
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
38.3/NA/41.7
Head/hip/leg room, rear
36.9/NA/36.9

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
74.4
Wheelbase
103.1
Length/width/height
173.0/71.9/69.9
Turning circle
36.8
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
3500
Track, front/rear
61.0/60.2
Ground clearance
8.4
Curb weight
3455


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