Pros: Sporty driving experience, good cargo room and towing ability, heated seats and mirrors.
Cons: Wind and road noise can be prominent. Trouble with rear seats.
The 2003 Mazda Tribute ES AWD with 3.0L V6 was my answer to an SUV that handles well and accelerates fast with a price between 25k and 30k. At this price, it has 200 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque, which was one of the highest among similar priced SUVs. On the road, this SUV accelerates very well for an SUV. It has plenty of cargo room for groceries with the rear seats up and good for moving smaller furniture with the rear seats down.
This is the first vehicle I've driven in snow in upstate NY, but I think that the 18" wheel and high clearance combined with AWD makes it easier to maneuver in winter than other sedans. On occasional heavy snow and ice it is still subject to sliding. Gas mileage was about 24.3 mpg with mid-grade unleaded fuel (min Octane 89) when I drove across US to CA in the summer of 2005 (95% freeway speed 65-80).
Reliability is good since I have not had a serious problem. There is vibration noise from the brake pads in recent months but that may be due to incorrect installation on the mechanics part. Also note that this model from Mazda is manufactured in the US and the engine is considered a Ford engine.
When driving at high speeds the wind noise becomes significant and road noise is not very well insulated. Engine is very quiet near idle but noticeable very quickly. It doesn't sound very nice above 5000 rpm, which is where you get the 200 lb-ft of torque, but it only happens when you floor the accelerate pedal.
Some extras that I really like on the ES model are the heated front seats and heated side rear view mirrors.
The one thing that I don't like very much is the trouble of getting the rear seats flat. The head rests need to be removed and seat cushions need to be moved forward. The best place for the head rests are under the front seats but they can get dirty in that position.