For 2005, the Mazda Tribute receives several upgrades, and comes in new trim line designations. A new 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine replaces the 2.0-litre from 2004, with a significant increase in horsepower and torque. The extra power also means it’s available with a four-speed automatic, unlike the manual-only 2.0-litre.

There’s a new full-time, four-wheel-drive system, called Active Torque Control Coupling (ATCC), which uses an electromagnetic clutch. All models receive standard anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, and V6 models receive four-wheel disc brakes. The 2005 models have increased spring rates and larger front stabilizer bars over the 2004 Tribute. Outside, there’s a new front fascia with new grille, new taillights and five new colours, while the interior has been tweaked with such improvements as better placement of the HVAC system knobs and floor-mounted shifter.

The Mazda is a twin to the Ford Escape, which has also been improved for 2005, but each gets its own body panels and interior trim. The Tribute has less of a big-truck face and its interior looks more upscale than the Escape.

The four-cylinder model is the GX-I4, and includes disc/drum brakes with ABS, 16-inch alloy wheels, heated power mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, two-speed rear washer/wiper, CD player with four speakers, air conditioning, power locks with keyless entry, power windows, tilt wheel, and 60/40 folding rear seat. All-wheel-drive can be added as an option to the automatic-equipped GX-I4 only.

The V6 comes in the GX-V6, GS-V6 and GT-V6. AWD is optional on the lower two lines and standard on the GT-V6. All come with automatic transmissions.

To the GX-I4’s features, the GX-V6 adds four-wheel disc brakes. The GS-V6 adds painted wheel arch moldings, privacy glass, roof rack, fog lights, leather-wrapped wheel, cruise control, cargo cover, six-way power driver’s seat, and curtain air bags.

The GT-V6 adds a full-size spare, power sunroof, six-CD player with seven speakers, and heated leather seats.

In base form, the Tribute is a four-cylinder trapped in a six-cylinder body. Even though it’s a bigger engine than before, it feels like it’s working too hard to get everything moving, and the engine has to be revving quite high to take off smoothly with the manual transmission. The V6 is much better, getting the Tribute away from lights with plenty of pep.

The Tribute’s steering is pleasantly light and the little truck is very responsive. The interior is nicely done, and while the seats don’t look like it at first, they provide all-day comfort on a long drive. The Tribute’s starting price is more than the Ford Escape, but it offers more standard features, including air conditioning even on the base model.

Still, although headroom is 32 mm taller, the Tribute offers less front legroom and the same shoulder room as a Mazda6, and the Tribute’s tall, wide console makes the seating seem that much more cramped. The Mazda6 wagon is a good alternative, with a lower centre of gravity and better cornering abilities. Other compact SUV alternatives include the Hyundai Tucson and Santa Fe, Kia Sportage and Honda CR-V.

The Tribute is built in Kansas City, Missouri.

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