2005 Mazda Tribute GX FWD
Click image to enlarge


by Greg Wilson

A substantially-revised Mazda Tribute is an unexpected, but pleasant surprise in the middle of the 2004 model year. Badged as a 2005 model, the updated Tribute offers freshened styling, a redesigned instrument panel, a revised all-wheel-drive system on 4WD models, stiffer springs, and on four cylinder models, a new more powerful 2.3 litre engine which is now available with an optional automatic transmission – the previous 2.0 litre engine came only with a five speed manual.

Six cylinder Tributes still get the 200 horsepower Ford Duratec 3.0 litre V6, but for the purposes of this road test, I’ll stick with the new four cylinder model.

This new Mazda-designed 2.3 litre twin cam four cylinder engine is exactly what the Tribute needed. The previous 130 horsepower 2.0 litre four banger really didn’t have enough oomph for this size of vehicle, and the lack of an automatic transmission made the 4 cylinder Tribute less attractive to the majority of buyers. Now with 153 horsepower and 152 foot pounds of torque at 4250 rpm (compared to 130 hp @ 5400 rpm and 135 ft-lb @ 4500 rpm), the Tribute exhibits improved off-the-line and passing performance, and its newly optional four-speed automatic transmission (with a new floor shifter) shifts smoothly and automatically for those who don’t want to shift themselves.

Another benefit of the new engine is that it weighs forty pounds less than the previous motor, improving handling by improving front/rear weight balance.

2005 Mazda Tribute GX FWD
Click image to enlarge

My Tribute GX test vehicle had the standard front-wheel-drive platform, but 4WD models offer a new electronically-controlled full-time four-wheel-drive system which uses an electromagnetic clutch that varies the amount of torque sent to the rear wheels depending on traction, road conditions, and driving style. Mazda claims the new system responds to a greater variety of conditions and is quicker to send torque to the rear wheels when needed. However, like the previous system, it operates in front-wheel-drive when all-wheel-drive is not needed, mainly to save fuel.

New exterior, interior styling


2005 Mazda Tribute GX FWD

2005 Mazda Tribute GX FWD

2005 Mazda Tribute GX FWD
Click image to enlarge

Styling changes to the Tribute are subtle but fairly extensive, including a revised front end with new headlamps and grille, new fenders and rocker panels, new rear bumper and new vertical taillights. The overall effect of the new styling heightens its sportiness and brings the styling more in line with other Mazdas, but truthfully, a lot of people won’t even notice the differences.

Inside, there are attractive new metal-rimmed overlapping gauges, metal-like trim on the centre console, and redesigned heater controls. Overall, the results are favourable. The interior has a more expensive look and I found controls easy to use. As well, new door seals and improved sound-proofing have reduced noise seeping in from outside.

Tribute interiors are roomy with plenty of headroom and legroom for four adults, possibly five. Outward visibility is excellent – I particularly like the sloping rear window even though the rear wiper motor housing intrudes into window space. The rear wiper, by the way, features intermittent and full-on wiper settings, as well as a washer. The rear seat has three head restraints, but the centre one is smaller so as not to impede rear view visibility.

2005 Mazda Tribute GX FWD

2005 Mazda Tribute GX FWD

2005 Mazda Tribute GX FWD
Click image to enlarge

Between the beefy front bucket seats is a usefully-wide armrest which covers an oversized storage bin. Two cupholders are placed behind the automatic shift lever, low enough that spills won’t penetrate any electrical components. I liked the Tribute’s grippy steering wheel which has a soft rubber feel, the power window buttons slanted towards the driver, and the position of the handbrake just to the right of the shift lever. I don’t have a lot to complain about the interior.

The rear seatbacks split and fold down, but first you must pull up the seat cushions to allow the seatbacks to fold down flat. The cargo area is roomy with a carpeted floor, but the walls are plastic which can be scratched. Two handy storage bins are located on each side of the trunk.

I liked the easy-lift rear hatch door which includes a separate-opening rear window, a rarity in this class. The liftover height is low and the cargo openging is large. A sliding privacy cover is optional though – you’ll want to order it for security.


Driving impressions

The additional responsiveness of the new engine at all speeds is the main difference between this four cylinder Tribute and the previous model. The Tribute’s 153 horsepower is still not a match for the CR-V’s 160 horsepower or the RAV4’s 161 horsepower, but at least the Tribute is now in the same ballpark, and at a price comparable with the RAV4 and thousands less than the CR-V.

The Tribute’s new engine is quiet around town and when cruising on the freeway (2200 at 100 km/h, 2800 rpm at 120 km/h in fourth), but like most four cylinder engines, it’s buzzy on acceleration. My only serious complaint is the sensitivity of the throttle on take-off – I found it difficult to make a smooth take-off from a standing start.

2005 Mazda Tribute GX FWD

2005 Mazda Tribute GX FWD

2005 Mazda Tribute GX FWD
Click image to enlarge

The new automatic transmission is responsive to kick-down, quiet, and smooth-changing. It has an on/off overdrive button on the shift lever for those times when you want to lock out fourth gear. The standard manual transmission, by the way, is new and includes shorter shifts and reduced shifting effort.

The Tribute has always handled well for an SUV, in part because of its wide track and fully independent suspension (front MacPherson struts, rear multi-link). The 2005 model features increased spring rates and larger stabilizer bars for a sportier driving feel. I found the ride comfortable but firm, and handling quite stable. Though tall, the Tribute doesn’t feel tippy or top-heavy, and is easy to drive. Its engine-speed sensing power rack and pinion steering is responsive with varying effort from ‘easy’ at slower speeds to ‘firm’ at higher speeds. The Tribute’s turning diameter of 38.3 feet is fairly wide for a small vehicle.

Four cylinder models have front disc/rear drum brakes with anti-lock and EBD (electronic brake differential) to prevent rear wheel lockup under heavy braking. Six cylinder models get four wheel disc brakes. Tires are substantial Continental Contac 235/70R-16 M+S.


Verdict

With a new 153 horsepower four cylinder engine, a new optional 4 speed automatic transmission, and a base price of $24,395, the base Tribute FWD is an attractive value in the compact SUV segment.


Technical Data: 2005 Mazda Tribute GX FWD

Base price $24,395
Options $ 2,045 (4-spd automatic transmission $1,000; option package AB00 $1,045)
Freight $1,125
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $27,665
Type 4-door, 5 passenger compact SUV
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.3 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 153 @ 5800 rpm
Torque 152 @ 4250 rpm
Transmission 4 speed automatic (std. 5 speed manual)
Tires 235/70R16
Curb weight 1,479 kg (3,260 lb.)
Towing capacity 680 kg (1500 lb)
Wheelbase 2620 mm (103.1 in.)
Length 4429 mm (174.4 in.)
Width 1828 mm ( 72.0 in.)
Height 1720 mm ( 67.7 in.)
Ground clearance 214 mm (8.4 in.)
Cargo volume 841 litres (29.7 cu. ft.) rear seats up
  1892 litres (66.8 cu. ft.) rear seats down
Fuel consumption City: 10.9 L/100 km (25.9 mpg)
  Highway: 8.6 L/100 km (32.8 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/80,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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