Twice a year, a few old mates and I get together for a weekend of camping and fishing in the New England area.
Strangely, each time I see them they seem to be value added – a little larger than the time before. Ray is a six feet-plus, Richard is nearly as large, and Bill somewhat smaller. I'm around the six-foot mark as well. So what has this to do with the neat Mazda Tribute? You guessed it, the car was our transport for the weekend.
The Tribute isn’t as large as a Nissan Patrol or Toyota LandCruiser, but we still managed to get our camping and fishing gear, food, bedding, plus four hefty bodies into the car for a weekend in the sticks. And not only was the trip to the ranges an enjoyable experience, but some fairly strong lobbying took place regarding driving opportunities as well.
The Tribute handled the open highway and winding sections of the New England Highway with ease, and the spirited 3.0-litre V6 engine mated to a four-speed auto made driving a pleasure.
Mazda cannot seem to take a wrong tack with this car. Good media reports, a strong publicity campaign prior to the car's release and the sight of a few around the suburbs had me more than a little intrigued as to the Tribute's capabilities.
It only took about 15 minutes behind the wheel to assess that the reports were largely correct: The Mazda package is indeed sound. The Tribute presents as a comfortable, roomy, five-seater – provided the middle rear seat passenger is small – with great suspension and road-holding abilities that make life very easy for the driver.
In size, Mazda's new off-roader is somewhere between a Suzuki Vitara and a Jeep Cherokee or Nissan Pathfinder. Inside it's wide and quite roomy. Head room and rear seat room is more than adequate and there is plenty of adjustment available in both front seats. I liked the height and lumbar adjustment available, as well as that all-important driver's left footrest. Another plus is that there is no need to scramble over high wheel arches to enter the rear seat area.
Finish was near faultless. Fit of trim and body mouldings was exemplary and while everything was there in its place on the dashboard, nothing was overdone.
The test car, a second-from-top Classic, featured remote central locking, a roof rack, ABS brakes, front SRS air bags for driver and passenger, alloy wheels, electric windows and mirrors, electric sun roof with shade, a very user-friendly cruise control, overdrive control, one of the best sound systems in the business with its AM/FM radio and six-CD stacker, power antenna, and a steering column-mounted gear selector. That's something we don't see in many cars today, but it certainly gives a lot more space between the front seats!
That gear selector, incidentally, was one area where I could maybe have a little gripe. It worked precisely but I would have liked to have seen a lock between Drive and Neutral (in the same manner as there is between the other available gears) to prevent the vehicle from being accidentally knocked out of gear while in motion.
The four-speed automatic unit in the Tribute is one of those ‘smart' ones that reacts to a driver's style behind the wheel and changes gears accordingly after a few kilometres. Silky, super-smooth changes at fairly low revs were my trademark but a lead-footed driver who liked to hear the engine working hard between up-shifts would soon notice the car changing gears to cater for that style of driving, too.
In line with a host of other vehicles in its class, the Mazda Tribute does not have a low-range gear ratio, relying on its constant 4WD and diff lock (via a dash-mounted switch) to assist it through the muddy or slippery conditions.
True, there is quite good ground clearance of around 30cm on the sides and an approach and departure angle of 21.1° and 31.8° respectively. But without that low-range capability, its use is limited somewhat to conditions where increased traction and greater wheel travel are not required.
Bitumen roads are the Tribute's forte and it really struts its stuff here. Thanks to coil suspension up front, mated to McPherson struts and coils complimenting an independent multi-link setup at the rear (plus double-action shockers all round), the Tribute is a very forgiving car.
Ride is superb, road-holding almost without vice and, with the fuel-injected twin-cam V6 pumping out 150kW at full noise, the car has a distinctly sporty feel to it. Yet with four aboard and all of our gear stowed in the back, we still averaged in the vicinity of 10 litres of fuel per 100km. For a V6 engine, that's good performance. Talk to a few owners of V6-powered cars and you’ll see how good!
The Mazda Tribute offers good value for money within its own class of all wheel drive vehicles. It has excellent carrying capacity, thanks to a capacious rear storage area (enhanced by 60/40 or complete fold-down rear seating). With a powerful yet very quiet engine and slick auto unit, this car is a real pleasure to drive.
In the Tribute’s first month of release, 681 consumers agreed to the extent of taking one home from the showroom.
The Mazda V6 Tribute is priced from approximately $36,300 (price includes on-road coasts and govt charges). To see one for yourself, visit your nearest Mazda dealer.
Mazda’s Tribute – neat styling and good road manners in an affordable package.
The Tribute’s dash layout is very tidy. Note the gear selector lever on the left side.
The Mazda Tribute’s rear door is a natty setup. The top section lifts for storage of small articles.Reads: 2002