By KBB.com Editors
Designed for people who prefer more car-like styling in their compact SUV, the 2009 Mazda Tribute attempts to place as much emphasis on "sport" as it does on utility. As in the past, the Tribute continues to share its unit-body design, powertrains and fully-independent suspension with its corporate cousins the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner. To help ensure broad appeal, the Tribute offers seating for five, both four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines, front or all-wheel drive and three different trim levels. The Tribute HEV Hybrid model is available in limited numbers and only in the state of California.You'll Like This Car If... You May Not Like This Car If...
Driver's who place a strong emphasis on car-like ride and handling, as well as need a third-row seat, might find the Toyota RAV4 a better choice. If you're looking for Ford's SYNC audio system or DVD navigation, you'll have to go with the Escape over the Tribute.What's New for 2009
For 2009, base models receive an all-new 2.5-liter four cylinder engine that has more power and better fuel economy than last year's 2.3-liter unit. The 3.0-liter V6 also sees improvements in horsepower and fuel economy. An all-new six-speed automatic is standard on all but the front-drive Tribute "i" trim.Driving It Driving Impressions
Like many of its compact peers, the 2009 Mazda Tribute is easy to drive and easy to live with on a daily basis. While the suspension never feels overly soft or "floaty," spirited cornering does elicit noticeable, but not unexpected or extreme, body lean. However, the standard Roll Stability Control system does an exemplary job of maintaining confidence, even on twisty roads. Those who place a premium on fuel economy will find much to like with the new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, which delivers good off-the-line acceleration and passing power and excellent fuel economy. Anyone who plans major towing or toting on a regular basis in any Tribute would be better served by the more powerful V6. Those desiring an extra measure of traction should definitely consider the optional Active Torque Control Coupling (ATTC) all-wheel drive. This slick computer-commanded system can transfer up to 50 percent of the available power to the rear wheels almost instantly, as well as shift it left-to-right to optimize overall traction.Favorite Features
Superb Central Storage
In addition to its lesser storage areas, the Tribute has a huge center console bin that can hold a standard-size laptop computer and lots of smaller accessory items.
Roll Stability Control
This outstanding safety standard helps prevent a potential rollover from occurring by automatically using selective applications of the throttle and anti-lock brakes.
The Tribute's cabin is now even quieter and pairs contrasting light and dark interior trim panels on all models. New front seats are designed for maximum comfort and both front and rear seats receive new foam padding. Gauges are legible, stow-space generous and key controls well-placed and logically arrayed, but bright sun conditions tend to create annoying reflections on the glossy Piano Black accent bits and frequently overpower the already marginal clock-and-radio digital display readout. Adults can fit comfortably in both front and rear quarters, while the Tribute's 60/40-split rear bench seat easily folds and tumbles to create a flat floor that expands its cargo bay from 29.2 to 66.3 cubic feet.Exterior
The 2009 Mazda Tribute puts classic SUV sheetmetal cues into a contemporary context that effectively mixes rugged with refined. Squared-off primary lines resolve into nicely rounded edges while a prominent glass area gives the cabin an open, airy feel. The Tribute's large, pentagonal grille imparts a distinctive Mazda flavor to the front fascia and its crisp shoulder ridge is effectively reinforced by large fender flares that house not-so-large 16-inch alloy wheels. At the rear, a one-piece hatch with a bumper-level cutout simplifies loading and incorporates a pop-up glass element that permits carrying longer items, from ladders to surfboards.Notable Standard Equipment
Even the entry-level 2009 Mazda Tribute Sport models offer an excellent set of features, including numerous power assists, keyless remote entry, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD sound, cruise control (with automatic transmission) and alloy wheels. The Touring trim level adds a power driver's seat, privacy glass, roof rack and a new AM/FM six-disc CD stereo with auto volume control and steering wheel control switches, while the primo Grand Touring variant includes leather upholstery, heated side mirrors, power moonroof, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and SIRIUS Satellite Radio. All Tributes have anti-lock disc/drum brakes (ABS) and traction/stability control plus a sophisticated Roll Stability Control system. There are now six airbags, with the dual front units now supplemented by front-side and side-curtain bags.Notable Optional Equipment
Save for engine/drivetrain choice and the specific feature enhancements that constitute each of the three trim levels, Tribute options are relatively few. Tribute Sport buyers can opt for roof rails that are standard on the Touring and Grand Touring, while all offer a trailer hitch, side steps and a rear spoiler. The Tribute Hybrid Grand Touring also offers an optional DVD-based navigation system.Under the Hood
Gasoline-powered 2009 Tributes are fitted with either an all-new Mazda-designed 2.5-liter 171-horsepower four-cylinder engine or a 3.0-liter 240-horsepower Ford Duratec V6. Only the front-drive, four-cylinder base Tribute Sport in the "i" trim level offers the choice of a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. All others come standard with the automatic. Tributes with the four-cylinder engine have a 1,500-pound maximum towing capacity, while Tributes with the V6 can pull a 3,500-pound trailer. Official EPA numbers give the four-cylinder engine a consistent edge over its V6 counterpart in all configurations. The Tribute Hybrid uses Toyota-sourced technology and pairs a 2.5-liter, 153-horsepower in-line four-cylinder engine with a 94-horsepower electric motor and a six-speed automatic. It has a clear advantage in overall fuel economy, but is rated for trailers of no more than 1,000 pounds.
2.5-liter in-line four
171 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
171 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/28 (FWD, manual), 20/28 (FWD, automatic), 19/25 (4WD, automatic)
240 horsepower @ 6550 rpm
223 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4300 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/26 (FWD), 17/24 (4WD)
2.5-liter in-line 4 with 70-kilowatt Permanent Magnetic Synchronous Electric Motor
153 horsepower @ 6000 rpm/94 horsepower @ 5000 rpm (247 net horsepower)
136 lb-ft of torque @ 4500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy 34/31 (FWD), 29/27 (AWD)
With a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price for all but the Hybrid in the $20,000-$29,000 range, the 2009 Mazda Tribute sits squarely in the middle of the affordable, compact crossover utility vehicle segment. Interestingly, it can command several hundred dollars more than a comparably-equipped Ford Escape. The Fair Purchase Price indicates that the new Tribute will retain slightly less of its original selling price over time than many of its higher-volume Japanese competitors, the most notable being the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4 – as well as the aforementioned Ford Escape.