The Mazda Tribute remains unchanged in 2006, save for exterior colour choices. Deleted for 2006 are Black Mica, Titanium Grey Metallic, Pacific Blue Mica, Dark Sand Metallic and Steel Blue Metallic. Taking their places are Brilliant Black, Galaxy Grey Mica, Indigo Blue Mica and Sparkling Gold Mica.

The Mazda is a twin to the Ford Escape, but each gets its own body panels and interior trim. Unlike the Escape, there is no Tribute hybrid version. Available engines are a 2.3-litre four-cylinder and 3.0-litre V6. The four-cylinder comes with a five-speed manual that can be optioned up to a four-speed automatic; the V6 is automatic-only. Both engines come in two- or four-wheel-drive.

The 4WD system uses Mazda’s Active Torque Control Coupling, which automatically transfers torque when the system detects loss of traction.

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.

The V6 comes in the GX-V6, GS-V6 and GT-V6. AWD is optional on the GX and GS, and standard on the GT-V6.

Building on the GX-14’s features, the GX-V6 adds four-wheel disc brakes. The GS-V6 adds painted wheel arch mouldings, privacy glass, roof rack, fog lights, leather-wrapped wheel, cruise control, cargo cover, six-way power driver’s seat, and curtain airbags.

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. 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.

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.

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