There are a few Sport Utility Vehicles that are big on sports appeal but not so great on utility. And there are rather more SUVs big on utility but with all the sports appeal of a school bus. When it comes to offering a true Sport Utility Vehicle - a vehicle that combines the two qualities in generous measure - the 2006 Mazda Tribute stands out.
Mazda is famous for its sports cars. It understands great handling, performance and driver appeal. The MX-5 Miata is one of the world’s all-time greats. The Mazda RX-8 is the latest in a long line of rotary-powered sports classics. The MAZDA 6 Sports Sedan and Sport Wagon are renowned for sporty design and behavior.
So it’s little wonder that the 2006 Mazda Tribute is an SUV with the soul of a sports car.
Mazda is also famous for quality, comfort and user-friendliness, and the Tribute wins here, too. It’s spacious, safe, versatile, well made and has a unique four-wheel-drive system ideal for unpaved tracks or slippery roads.
The 2006 Tribute is better than ever. Cruise control is now standard on all 2006 Tribute iautomatic models, making freeway driving easier and more relaxing. Its controls are conveniently sited on the steering wheel, so that the driver’s hand doesn’t have to leave the wheel. All the major changes for 2005 – including a new and more powerful four-cylinder engine, new styling and optional new four-wheel-drive system – are retained.
While certain SUVs claim to be sporty, it is quite apparent they aren’t. They’re overweight and compromised by their truck-like chassis, ponderous handling and low-revving inefficient engines.
The Mazda Tribute is an SUV with a capital S. Its driver appeal comes from a host of sports-oriented features. They include the standard 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, used in the latest Tribute i. This is a retuned version of the same engine found in the sporty MAZDA 6i sedan, MAZDA 3 line and MAZDA 5 . It’s all aluminum, which keeps weight down, benefiting handling and improving the power-to-weight ratio. With 153-horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 152 lb-ft of torque at 4,250 rpm, it is one of the most powerful four-cylinder engines in the SUV market.
It’s one of the most sophisticated too: light, efficient and refined. Its double overhead camshafts improve engine breathing and high-revving response, which in turn improves performance and fuel economy. Gas mileage, incidentally, is an excellent 22 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway – yet more evidence of efficiency and economy. It also uses a variable induction system that delivers more power when the driver demands it. Balance-shafts give this four-cylinder engine the smoothness of a good six-cylinder unit. The pistons are lightweight as well, improving throttle response, smoothness and the engine’s ability to rev.
The Tribute icomes with an easy-shifting 5-speed manual gearbox, which has short, sporty gear changes. It uses multi-cone synchronizers (dual-cone for first, triple-cone for second, dual-cone for third) to reduce shift effort and a cable-shift for improved gear-change precision. The gear lever is sited nice and high on the center console to be as near as possible to the driver’s right hand.
A sophisticated 4-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission is available. Built-in ‘logic’ within the shift control keeps the transmission in a lower gear on steep inclines to eliminate the ‘hunting’ many automatics exhibit on steep grades. As with the manual gearbox, the automatic’s gear lever is floor mounted, in the center console, for sporty operation. Cruise control now comes standard on Tribute iautomatic models and remains standard on Tribute s.
The Tribute sgets more of everything, including a smooth 3.0-liter V6, good for 200 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and a gutsy 193 lb-ft of torque at 4,850 rpm. This engine is a retuned version of the high-performance unit found in the MAZDA 6ssports sedan and is one of the most powerful engines in the segment. The extra power over the 2.3 means even more effortless freeway performance and more power for pulling heavy loads. The V6 has aluminum heads and block, for reduced weight – to improve performance and handling – and better structural rigidity, to reduce vibration and improve refinement. As with the 2.3 four, it uses double overhead camshafts to control the valves and improve engine breathing – which in turn boosts performance and gas mileage. The 4-speed auto box is standard.
The Tribute’s sporty behavior also comes from its unibody construction and the fully independent coil-sprung suspension, as used on many sports cars. Many rival SUVs use truck-like body-on-frame chassis, which flex more and provide a much less stable platform for the suspension. The Tribute’s unibody (or monocoque) construction provides superb structural rigidity, improving ride and handling, as well as contributing to fewer rattles and a much tauter driving feel.
The fully independent coil sprung suspension – MacPherson struts at the front, multi-link at the rear – ensures each wheel responds independently to road conditions, increasing the sure-footedness of the vehicle, improving handling and road holding. It gives the vehicle more poise in difficult conditions, including at high-speed and on unpaved surfaces, and also improves ride comfort. The center of gravity is low, to improve stability. The track, both front (61.3 inches) and rear (60.9 inches) is wide, which also benefits stability, handling and road holding. Nitrogen gas-charged shock absorbers give superb wheel control, on- or off-road, and maintain their composure even after tough use (the gas will not overhead, unlike conventional oil-filled shock absorbers). The Tribute handles like a well-sorted sedan, but with all the extra benefits of an SUV.
Another sports car touch is the use of rack-and-pinion steering for greater steering precision and response. Variable power assistance means low-speed maneuvering, such as parking, is easy. Yet at higher speed, reduced power assistance preserves road feel and steering feedback.
The Tribute sgets four-wheel disc brakes, for superb stopping performance. The front disc brakes are ventilated for better heat dissipation, to improve braking performance after repeated use, such as a long downhill stretch with many bends. The lighter Tribute igets front ventilated disc brakes and rear drum brakes. Both Tribute iand smodels are equipped with standard Anti-lock Brakes (ABS) to prevent wheel lock-up and skids, and to maintain steering control under braking. The four-channel system is more advanced than a conventional three-channel set-up, as every wheel has its own sensor to provide individual braking control. Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) varies the distribution of braking force between the front and rear wheels to stop the vehicle as quickly as possible. Another advanced braking feature, Emergency Brake Assist (EBA), boosts braking power during emergencies, thus cutting stopping distances.
Part of being a great sports vehicle is great sporty design, and the Tribute scores well here, too. Outside, the body has a taut athletic skin. Wheels are 16-inch five-spoke alloys, like those used on the MAZDA 6 and RX-8. Inside, the main instruments – including the tachometer – are chrome ringed, sports car-style. The driver’s and front passenger’s seats have pronounced side bolsters to hold you in place during cornering. The driver also gets adjustable lumbar support in the Tribute sand six-way power adjustment is also available.
While it would seem from commercials on television, some SUVs are designed for Brazilian rain forests or the Sahara Desert; the Tribute, on the other hand, is designed for the real world driving. That means the freeway, the rough-and-tough urban jungle and unpaved roads.
Car-like front-wheel drive is standard. If extra traction is necessary – either for off-road driving or pulling heavy loads in slippery conditions – the Tribute is available with Mazda’s innovative Active Torque Control Coupling (ATCC) four-wheel-drive system. This ingenious system is available with both four-cylinder and V6 engines and automatic or manual transmissions.
A sophisticated computer monitors the engine, wheel speeds and transmission, and automatically transfers torque between the front or rear wheels. The split varies between zero and 100-percent. It senses where traction is strongest and delivers the appropriate amount of torque for optimal grip. Unlike mechanical systems, which react only to wheel slip, ATCC predicts wheel spin, and prevents it from happening in the first place. It changes continually, to suit ever-changing driving conditions, and is also completely automatic, so no driver settings or adjustment is necessary. It reacts faster than a hydraulic system because there is no lag time waiting for a viscous fluid to heat up before splitting power between the axles. The system is also useful on road – such as in snow or heavy rain, or any time where there is a potential for loss of traction. Compared with less sophisticated four-wheel drive systems, ATCC improves driving responsiveness, handling and fuel economy.
Like all good SUVs, the Tribute has a commanding driving position, great visibility, good ground clearance, a tall roof and large cargo area. The elevated seating position, and superb visibility means you get a better view of the road when weather conditions are bad, such as heavy driving rain. The vehicle seats five adults in comfort. For extra versatility, there are up to four storage areas within easy reach of the driver’s seat, and five near the front passenger. Both front doors have storage compartments, as do the backs of each front seat. There’s 30 cubic feet of carrying space behind the rear seat when it’s up, and 66 cubic feet when the seatback is reclined. The rear seat is asymmetrically split 60:40, which improves carrying versatility. For extra practicality, the tailgate features a rear window that lifts separately, ideal for loading less heavy objects.
Safety is a priority. The all-steel unibody construction is not only very rigid, it is also enormously strong. The crumple zones and ‘Triple H’ construction are designed to absorb and redirect energy away from the passenger cabin. ‘Triple H’ refers to the H-shaped structures in the sides, floor and roof that provide a rigid cell around the cockpit. Side impact door beams are also fitted, further to improve safety in a side impact.
The Tribute comes with advanced front airbags that, unlike most rivals, use various sensors to deploy each front airbag with exactly the right amount of force to deal with the impact. Sensors measure the weight of the seat occupants, the force of the impact and the seat distance from the steering wheel. Side airbags, fitted into the seats rather than the doors – so they work equally effectively, irrespective of seat position – are available. So are side air curtains, primarily to protect in the event of a rollover. Front seat belts have pre-tensioners to reduce slack in the early moments of an impact. In the rear, all three seats have three-point belts and adjustable head restraints for extra safety.
The Tribute comes with a standard roof rack that can carry up to 100 lbs – bike, ski and cargo box attachments can all be ordered as complements. A moonroof is available on the Tribute s. It opens with a single touch of a button and comes with a shade to keep the sun out. Standard air conditioning is controlled by three large, easy-to-use, silver-colored knobs. An AM/FM/CD stereo is standard and can be upgraded with an in-dash six-disc CD changer, a cassette deck or a MiniDisc player. The premium sound system uses a 190-watt seven-speaker system with two tweeters and a sub-woofer. Optional rear-seat DVD entertainment uses an LCD screen that drops from the roof, and includes two headsets and a remote control. Leather upholstery, a six-way powered driver’s seat, overhead console storage bins, maple look instrument panel and leather-wrapped steering wheel are all offered in various good-value option packages.
Mazda North American Operations is responsible for the sales and marketing, customer parts and service support of Mazda vehicles in the United States. Headquartered in Irvine, Calif., MNAO has more than 700 dealerships nationwide.