Built alongside the Ford Escape in Kansas City, Mo., Mazda's Tribute shared many components with Ford's best-selling SUV, and for 2009, after a freshening-up the year before, the Tribute came in three trim levels: GX, GS, and GT.
These were further divided up into 2WD and 4WD models, with two engine choices: a 2.5-litre inline-four-cylinder or 3.0-litre V-6. Standard equipment level was representative of most vehicles in this category, and the GX, for example, came with power windows, air conditioning, cruise control, power door locks, 60/40 folding rear seat and so on. You could choose from a six-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission, but only with the front-drive model. Power output for the four-cylinder was 171 horsepower while the V-6 developed a healthy 240 hp.
The four-cylinder was somewhat less than civilized. Compared to Honda's CR-V, for example, the Tribute inline-four powerplant made a lot of racket and featured less refined power delivery. This could be because of inferior sound-deadening material, but the V-6 engine was smoother and only marginally thirstier on the highway (8.0 litres/100 km versus 8.3). The V6 also had a considerably greater towing capacity: 1,588 kilograms compared to 680.
The all-wheel-drive system in the '09 Tribute was offered with the automatic transmission models only and was of the "slip-and-grip" variety, with a slight variation; an on-board computer detects any lack of traction and redirects engine output accordingly – up to a 50/50 split. According to Mazda, the computer predicts slippery conditions and reverts to AWD before you actually need it. This system was also utilized in the CX-7 and CX-9 SUVs as well as the MazdaSpeed6.
Like its Ford stable-mate, the Tribute was all about practicality and appealing to mainstream buyers. It offered a decent amount of cargo space, although not the best in this class: 1,877 litres with the back seat folded down. In comparison, this vintage of the Honda CR-V was good for 2,064 litres, while the Toyota RAV4 had 2,074 litres of room.
The Tribute's second row folded flat without having to remove the headrests, and the back door was a one-piece affair that folded upward and was released via a discreet button located above the licence plate. The rear window opened separately by pressing the power key fob.
Two small notes here. The spare tire was stored under the vehicle, and could get filthy after being exposed to the elements for a season or two, and this edition of the Tribute featured one of the most powerful and efficient air conditioning systems in this segment of the market.
That wasn't enough to save it, however. The Tribute was history by 2011.
No safety recalls from Transport Canada or the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but the latter organization has 22 technical service bulletins on file for this vintage of Tribute. They range from "white flakes" resembling snow emanating from the air conditioner (I told you it was cold), to a "clicking or rubbing noise" coming from the front wheels, to "harsh" shifting patterns with the manual transmission, to a warning to buyers who want to tow their Tribute behind an RV. Says NHTSA: "If the vehicle is incorrectly towed with all four wheels on the ground, the driver could experience possible damage to the transmission, harsh or erratic shifts and engagements or loss of transmission function."
Pretty much a thumbs-down from Consumer Reports for the 2009 Tribute. The magazine likes its power and practically, but feels that "a stiff ride, a noisy interior, and flimsy plastic trim" are the car's weak points. Problem areas include the transmission, 4WD system and fuel system, as well as "squeaks and rattles." As a result, it garners a "worse than average" used-car prediction from this group. Comments from owners include: "Paid substantially less than the Honda or Toyota" and "Does exactly what it's supposed to do."
From a base price of $23,000-$32,000 in 2009, the Tribute has dropped by half. Prices range from the low teens for a base four-cylinder with front-wheel-drive, to the high teens for a fully-loaded GT V-6. And 4WD adds about $1,000 to the price tag across the model range.
2009 Mazda Tribute
Original Base Price: $22,550; Black Book: $16,375-$20,600; Red Book: $11,700-$17,200
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder and 3.0-litre V-6
Horsepower/Torque: 171 hp/171 lb-ft for four; 240 hp/223 lb-ft for six
Transmission: Five-speed manual/six-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel or all-wheel
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km):10.9 city/8.0 highway (V-6 with automatic); regular gas
Alternatives: Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox, Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape, Jeep Compass, Suzuki Grand Vitara