In the affordable compact SUV genre, Mazda is scraping the bottom of the barrel with the 2011 Tribute. Opening at $20,555 and climbing to $29,065, the Tribute gets, on average, 22 city and 28 highway. A platform mate to the Ford Escape, the Tribute gets everything wrong that the Escape does right. Even the Hyundai Tucson is a better deal with more standard features, a longer warranty, and a lower starting price. Basically, Mazda has just missed the mark by letting the Tribute languish and become dated and clunky next to its sector-mates.
There are five trims: the i Sport, i Touring, i Grand Touring, and s Grand Touring. (A hybrid version is offered in California only.) There are two engine choices, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 171 hp, and a 3-liter V6 with 240 hp. The base sport models have a five-speed manual, while all others are outfitted with a six-speed automatic with a manual mode. Acceleration on the Tribute is adequate in and of itself, but against the competition, the vehicle is underpowered.
Fuel economy ratings are good with front-wheel drive models with the four-cylinder pulling down 23/28 with a manual transmission and 21/28 with the automatic. Four-wheel drive models with the base engine sit at 20/26. (The California-only hybrid gets 34/21 in front-wheel drive and in four-wheel 30/27.) But, yet again, the competition can do the Tribute one better. The Hyundai Tucson, which opens at $2,100 less, gets 23 city and 31 highway.
While the Tribute's lift gate window, a flip-up, is useful, overall the exterior is yawn-worthy. Technically, there's nothing "wrong" with it, the Tribute just hasn't kept up with the pack appearance-wise. Inside, there's room for five, in a cabin soundly dinged by reviewers for too much plastic and oddly conflicting textures. Standard base features include power windows and locks, keyless entry, tilt steering, and a basic stereo unit with an auxiliary audio jack. Want better audio, controls on the wheel, and power driver's seat? Plunk down $3,100 to up to the Touring level.
The 2010 Mazda Tribute earned five stars from the federal government on occupant protection in all sides for both front and side crashes, but only three stars for rollover. Since the vehicle is unchanged for 2011, those test scores should remain valid. Standard safety features include dynamic stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, roll stability control, and a full compliment of airbags.
This is simply a case of the competition outpacing a mediocre offering. The 2011 Mazda Tribute is an awkward occupant of a sector niche with some really good looking, high performing vehicles, and it simply can't keep up. Buyers should take a pass on this one.