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Mazda Tribute Hybrid, 2008: Weidel on Wheels

Mazda Tribute Hybrid, 2008: Weidel on Wheels 1By Jeff Weidel

Confused about the differences between the Ford Escape and the Mazda Tribute? Don’t be. They are essentially the same vehicle. And if two options aren’t enough, how about three, with a hybrid model?

The Mercury Mariner is a close relative to the Tribute and Escape. The Tribute made up some ground in 2008 joining the Escape and Mariner by adding a hybrid option. Other than the Mazda badge, its two-tone coloring scheme and a couple of small styling differences, the Tribute and the Escape are identical.

Yes, the hybrid market continues to multiply, with the Tribute among the new 2008 additions. Although too late for any breaks on this year’s taxes, a hybrid purchase means a $3,000 federal tax credit for 2008. However, beware that the Mazda Tribute Hybrid can cost $2,000 to $4,000 extra depending on the equipment. The Tribute test driven here for a week cost $25,310.

Mazda Tribute Hybrid, 2008: Weidel on Wheels 2

Enough about tax breaks and sticker prices. Mazda (and Ford) offer up an appealing compact sport utility vehicle hybrid that should appeal to the masses. The Tribute’s efficient, gasoline-electric drivetrain is basically a carryover from the original Escape/Mariner hybrids that gets an estimated 34 mpg around town and a little less (30 mpg) in freeway situations.

Two electric motors (three come with all-wheel drive models) produce enough energy that the Tribute can travel between speeds of 25-30 mph on the battery alone, hence the better gas mileage in the stop-and-go environment of city driving. That reportedly makes the Tribute one of the least polluting vehicles on the road.

The mileage figures and the environmental friendliness are two huge reasons to like the Tribute. A third reason to really appreciate this particular hybrid is the responsive acceleration.

Mazda Tribute Hybrid, 2008: Weidel on Wheels 3

For a 2.3-liter, 4-cylinder with 155 horsepower, the Tribute responds well in city driving and has enough power to merge adequately on the freeway. But you can’t have everything — from a starting position the Tribute takes a while to get going.

The good news for Californians is Mazda’s limited release of the Tribute is in the Golden State. Buyers elsewhere have to the Escape or the Mariner.

This test drive Tribute featured two-wheel drive. If four-wheel drive is purchased for winter trips into the mountains, beware that the regular Tribune would be a better selection. Another downside is the air-conditioner only cools the cabin when the gasoline engine is running.

All Tributes received a modest redesign for 2008, including some nice interior improvements. The stereo controls are laid out better and so is the climate setup. An ice-blue lighting at night is a nice touch and so is a center console that can reportedly store a laptop. One thing the Tribute didn’t receive was the Sync electronic integration system Ford added to the Escape.

The ride quality doesn’t match some other more enviable qualities of the Tribute, providing a typical performance for the compact SUV class. An additional 300 pounds more than the regular model makes the hybrid ride less agile, but braking is solid.

The Tribute offers good head and leg room for front-seat passengers, while also lending comfort and support. The back seat is rated much better than class average and three people won’t feel too squished during short drives. Cargo space is average, yet a decent size load can be accommodated because the back seat folds flat.

FAST FACTS: Mazda Tribute, 2008

Power — 2.3-liter, 4-cylinder, 155 horsepower; Mileage Estimate — 30 mpg (city), 34 mpg (hwy); Standard Features— Automatic climate control, leather-wrapped, tilt steering, anti-lock brakes, power windows, doors, mirrors; keyless entry Halogen fog lights, roof rack, CD/MP3 player.

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