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Overall rating:  Product Rating: 3.5

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View all reviews by joela714

Tribute surprises even this Mazda car owner.

by joela714:      Aug 3, 2005

Product Rating: 4.0 Recommended: Yes 

Pros: Small exterior size but spacious interior, power, minimal blindspots,
Cons: Interior dashboard design, no telescoping column, where's the NAV?
The Bottom Line: Yes. Deceptively spacious for such a small SUV; plenty of power for most folks; blind spots minimal.

I rented a Tribute (s trim) for three days while my 1998 Mazda 626 was in the shop.

First, I was surprised by the size of the SUV. Or lack of. When I later parked next to our Accord hybrid, I noted the Tribute wasn't significantly longer. A review of the over at NewCarTestDrive.com (www.nctd.com) revealed the Tribute is actually smaller lengthwise than Honda's popular CR-V (and Tribute's competitor.)

But the small size didn't translate interior-wise which I found spacious. The Tribute was equipped with a sunroof and there was least a good four inches of headroom from the top of my head. This is despite setting the driver's seat nearly straight up, my favorite position. I sat in the back passenger seats for grins and found plenty of head and leg room. I wish Mazda, though, had added telescoping features to the steering wheel. I had to move the six-way powered seat more forward than I liked. The higher seats, though, didn't significantly force me to bend my knees like in cars. And I had no problem reaching the well-placed radio and temperature controls. (Word of warning: Mazda makes really good climate control system in my opinion. I nearly freeze each time in my 626 and in the Tribute.)

Speaking of seats, I found the driver's seat (all seats were covered in leather, by the way) more firm than I was used too. But I liked it and suffered no aches or pains even after several long (over 45 minute) trips on California highways and (stop-go, stop-go) traffic.

The Tribute, appearance-wise, does not stick out among SUVs like Nissan's gorgeous Murano, Hyundai's Santa Fe or Infiniti's...interesting...FX either positively or negatively. More important was the fit and finish, both exterior and interior, was acceptable. The interior dashboard, though, mixed hard and soft plastics in a less than aesthetic-pleasing combo. (Black, dark gray, and more black.) And brushed aluminum in all vehicles looks like plastic to me. (Give me chrome, please.)

The worse culprit, though, was the so-called "wood" trim around the climate and radio controls. I thought it was plastic smeared with oil and actually tried to rub it before realizing what it was.

But one does not buy (or rent) vehicles for their appearance but to drive them. And the Tribute surprised me in this aspect.

Every review I've read about the Tribute and its "cousins", the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner, noted the "weak and boring" engines. I didn't find it so; the s-trim's 200 hp was more than adequate to merge onto the freeway and bypass the larger SUVs dominating California streets and roads. I felt I was in my 626 at times and actually had to slow down several times so surprised at the power from the vehicle. Zoom-zoom, indeed. I did note, though, the SUV's busy ride. I could feel many bumps and pits on the freeway and a bit of float on occasion. Turn-off? Hardly. If I wanted isolation from the road, I would have rented a Lexus. Those with sensitive backs and/or weak stomachs should reconsider if they routinely make long-distance trips, though.

Maneuvering the Tribute was a simple as driving a car though a tall one. I could see myself parallel parking it with a bit of practice. Blind spots, my biggest concern with SUVs, were surprisingly negligible in the Tribute with its large rear-view mirrors and the placement of the B and C (?) pillars. Exception: the backseat headrests cut a sizable chuck of the rear window. But folding down those chairs is easy: flip up a switch on either one and the chair folds forward without removing the headrest. Sadly, neither folds flat.

There were other features—such as the interior lights turning on to facilitate entering or existing the SUV—that I liked as well as suggestions for improvement (the telescoping column above and having the cruise controls on the steering wheel to light). In summary, I found the Tribute an excellent vehicle for those considering an SUV as a future purchase.

Amount Paid (US$): 45 a day
Condition: New
Model and Options: S trim with second (third?) option package
Product Rating: 4.0
Recommended: Yes 
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