2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD
2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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Photo Gallery: 2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD

Arriving early in 2007 as a 2008 model, the compact Mazda Tribute SUV receives major exterior and interior styling updates, more standard safety features, and a few suspension upgrades to improve the ride – but mechanically, it remains basically the same as previous Tributes dating back to 2005.

Perhaps the biggest news is that the price has gone down, despite the substantial upgrades. Base 2008 Tribute GX four-cylinder models with the five-speed manual transmission start at $23,295, a drop of more than $1,000 over base 2006 GX models (there were no 2007 models). Mid-level GS V6 FWD models with automatic transmission are now $26,995, a drop of almost $3,000. And top-of-the-line GT V6 AWD automatic Tributes now have a suggested retail price of $31,995, a reduction of $3,600.

Sharing a similar platform, powertrain and suspension with the Ford Escape and built in the same Kansas City, Missouri assembly plant, the 2008 Mazda Tribute features a car-like unitbody construction, a fully independent suspension, and standard front-wheel drive or optional on-demand all-wheel drive (standard on GT). An important new addition to the 2008 Tribute is standard traction and stability control on all trim levels, even the base four-cylinder GX model. The stability control system includes the Ford-developed Roll-Over Stability Control which automatically senses if the vehicle is about to roll over and activates the brakes appropriately to regain directional control. Also new are standard side airbags in the front seats and roof-mounted curtain airbags for both rows of passengers – these previously weren’t available on base Tributes.

2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD
2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD. Click image to enlarge

However, while previous Tribute V6 models had four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, 2008 Tribute V6 models have front disc/rear drum brakes with standard ABS. I suspect this was a bit of cost-cutting on Mazda’s part.

The Tribute’s new exterior styling is more conservative than the previous Tribute, and quite a contrast to the swoopy styling of the new Mazda CX-7 and CX-9. The Tribute’s hood is now more squared off, which actually improves the driver’s ability to see the corners of the car when parking – and the lower front body-coloured bumper now has black paint which doesn’t get as dirty. However, the rear window has lost that dip into the tailgate, a common feature on Ford SUVs and minivans, that helped improve rear visibility when backing up.


Three trim levels

As before, there are three trim levels: GX, GS and GT. The GX ($23,295) comes with a standard 153-hp 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine, the same one used in the Mazda3, and a five-speed manual transmission. A 200-hp 3.0-litre V6 is optional ($1,155) but it comes only with a four-speed automatic transmission ($1,295). Standard equipment on the GX includes air conditioning, AM/FM/CD audio system, 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, remote keyless entry, heated power side-view mirrors, and power windows and door locks. All-wheel drive is a $2,400 option, but only with the automatic transmission.

2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD
2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD. Click image to enlarge

Mid-level GS models ($26,995) include standard front-wheel drive, a 3.0-litre V6 and four-speed automatic transmission, six-way power adjustable driver’s seat with adjustable lumbar and height, leather wrapped steering wheel, overhead console, roof rack with cross bars, retractable cargo cover and trailer towing package. AWD is optional.

Top-of-the-line GT models ($31,995) add leather seats, heated front seats, an AM/FM six-disc CD changer premium audio system with seven speakers and automatic volume control, power glass moonroof with sunshade, and automatic headlamps. All-wheel drive is standard on the GT.

2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD
2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD
2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD. Click image to enlarge


Interior impressions

The Tribute has large doors and an easy step-in height, but there is a small lip to step over. The driver sits up high and the vehicle’s boxy shape makes it feel roomy even though it’s a compact SUV. The driver has good visibility because of the tall ‘greenhouse’, but the small centre rear head restraint needs to be adjusted to its lowest position to avoid obscuring the rear view. A rear wiper with intermittent settings and rear washer helps keep the rear window clean for better visibility.

The new gauges are easy to read, but at times, I found glare reflecting off of the clear plastic cover. The glare appears to be coming from the front windshield directly above the gauges.

On top of the centre dash is a new digital display showing the radio band/station/CD track and a digital clock. Below it is a new six-disc CD/AM/FM stereo with very large buttons and chunky dials that are easy to see and can be operated while wearing gloves. This premium system feature seven speakers and great sound.

2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD
2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD
2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD. Click image to enlarge

The heater controls below the radio are of a similar chunky design, but unlike in the Ford Escape, dual automatic climate control is not available. As well, a colour touch screen with an optional navigation system is not offered in the Tribute.

Despite the classy cream-coloured panels in the dash and shiny black trim in the centre stack, the overall look of new dash is not as elegant as the previous Tribute’s – however, it is probably easier to see and operate the controls. (Breaking news: the two-tone dash inserts will be discontinued in June, according to Mazda Canada).

At the bottom of the centre stack is a 12-volt powerpoint, an auxiliary input jack, and an open bin for a music player or cell phone. Behind the transmission shift lever are two cupholders and another open storage slot, but the largest storage area is under the centre armrest. This usefully-sized bin has a removeable upper tray, coinholder, slots for CDs, a small tissue box holder and enough room for a camera or other electronic device you want to keep out of sight.

2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD
2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD
2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD
2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD. Click image to enlarge

The cabin has loads of headroom even with the sunroof, and legroom is good for front and rear passengers. I found the front seats to be very comfortable with power height and fore-aft adjustment and a manual lumbar adjustment.

The rear seats are split 60/40 for cargo-carrying versatility, but the rear head restraints have to be removed and stored somewhere when the seatbacks are folded down. As well, the process of folding down the rear seatbacks is not a simple one: first you must pull up the seat cushion against the front seat, then remove the head restraints, then fold down the seatback. This provides a load floor length of up to 1681 mm (66.2 in.). With the rear seats up, the load floor is 882 mm (34.7 in.) and 1249 mm (49.2 in.) wide. In total, there is 1877 litres (66.3 cu. ft.) behind the first row seats and 828 litres (29.2 cu. ft.) of cargo space behind the rear seats.

One feature I’ve always liked with Tributes and Escapes is a rear window that opens separately from the hatch. This enables lighter items to be dropped in without having to lift up the rear hatch door.


Driving impressions

My test vehicle was a Tribute GT with the standard 200-hp V6 engine and all-wheel drive system. This is the engine you should get in the Tribute because the 153-hp four-cylinder motor isn’t really powerful enough for this size of vehicle, particularly if equipped with all-wheel drive. Even the V6 seems to be straining a bit when pulling out to pass on the freeway, although it’s a fine motor otherwise. The twin overhead cam, 24-valve V6 engine develops a healthy 200 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 193 lb-ft of torque at 4850 rpm, and it is very responsive off the line, around town, or in mid-range passing. It’s also very quiet and smooth on the freeway. The V6 offers a towing capacity of 1588 kg (3500 lbs).

2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD
2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD
2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD. Click image to enlarge

The four-speed automatic transmission shifts cleanly and smoothly and responds to throttle input well – but it should be noted that some competitors now have five-speed automatic transmissions. The Tribute’s four-speed features a manual on/off overdrive button on the shift lever for those times when you want to shift into third gear on a hill, or in the city when you don’t want the transmission to shift into fourth.

Fuel consumption ratings for the Tribute GT with all-wheel drive are slightly higher than the FWD model: 12.5 L/100 km city, and 9.1 L/100 km hwy, but fortunately the V6 uses Regular 87 octane gasoline.

Though it’s a tall vehicle with a high ground clearance (216 mm/8.5 in.), the Tribute rides and handles more like a car than a truck due to its fully independent suspension (front MacPherson struts/rear multi-link), wide track, standard Continental ContiTrac 235/70R16-inch all-season radials, and stiff unitbody construction. Additional refinements to the springs and dampers for 2008 have resulted in a more comfortable ride too.

New for 2008 is electric power rack-and-pinion steering which eliminates the power steering pump in order to reduce vibration and save energy. This variable assist steering system provides low effort at parking lot speeds and a firmer feel at higher speeds, and I found it offered a good balance of steering precision and effort.

2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD
2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD. Click image to enlarge

The Tribute’s all-wheel drive system is an electronically-controlled system that uses an electromagnetic clutch that varies the amount of torque sent to the rear wheels (up to 50%) depending on traction and road conditions. It operates in front-wheel-drive most of the time to save fuel. During my test drive, I barely noticed the transition to AWD from FWD, but that’s exactly the way it should be: combined with standard traction and stability control this system provides traction and stability in slippery conditions automatically so that the driver doesn’t even notice it. Unlike early Tributes however, this model doesn’t have a driver-selectable differential lock for a 50/50 front/rear torque split for low-speed off-road driving.


Warranty

It should be noted that the Tribute has a longer basic warranty than the Ford Escape: 3 years/80,000 km vs 3 years/60,000 km. Like the 2008 Ford Escape, the 2008 Tribute now comes with a 5-year/100,000 km powertrain warranty, something that wasn’t offered on earlier Tributes.


Verdict

With its fresh new look, upgrades in interior ergonomics and safety equipment, and a new lower price, the 2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD is a good buy in the compact SUV class.


Pricing: 2008 Mazda Tribute GT V6 AWD GT V6 AWD


Specifications

  • Click here for complete specifications

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