Used Vehicle Review: Mazda Tribute, 2008-2011

Vehicle Type

Small SUV


Now replaced in spirit by the Mazda CX-5, the Tribute was a Ford Escape based family-ready SUV model that offered up available V6 power, four-wheel drive, generous amounts of ground clearance, and a focus on capability and versatility.

Good outward visibility and a tough and durable feel to the Tribute’s ride are noted, as is generous cargo space.

Competing with machines like the Toyota RAV-4, Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester, Tribute offered up four or six-cylinder power, two or four-wheel drive and manual or automatic transmissions. The model boasted a comfortable ride and car-like handling, despite being surprisingly capable in an off-road setting.

Thanks to a tall ride height, generous clearance and a relatively flat underside free of dangling hardware, Tribute can crawl over even moderately-sized obstacles without teeth-gritting scrapes from its underbelly. The fully-automatic 4x4 system works well in virtually any situation too – diligently extracting traction from even slippery surfaces and operating with little of the dimwitted wheel slippage put forth by less intelligent systems. For a system that works with no driver involvement, Tribute's 4x4 system knows what’s up and almost always sends engine power where it’ll do the most good.

All models were five-seat, and feature content included power seats, tinted glass, fog lamps, stability control, air conditioning, cruise control, leather-wrapped accents, steering-wheel audio controls, remote access, heated mirrors and MP3 capability for the stereo system.

Look for a 2.5L four-cylinder with 171 hp, or a 3.0L V6 with 200. From 2009 and on, that V6 was re-tuned to create 240 horsepower. This up-tuned engine is recommended for driving enthusiasts. A six-speed automatic was standard with the V6 engine, as well as on four-cylinder models with AWD.

What Owners Like

Good performance from the factory stereo system, very pleasing performance with the 240 hp V6 engine, good ride quality and year-round traction on AWD models are highly rated by owners. Handling, too.

Those taking the Tribute onto even moderately-challenging trails find decent levels of traction and ground-clearance. Good outward visibility and a tough and durable feel to the Tribute’s ride are also noted, as is generous cargo space.

What Owners Dislike

Complaints deal mainly with heavy fuel consumption, some cheap interior parts, and higher-than-expected levels of wind and road noise. Note that some owners have experienced a notable reduction in said road noise by opting away from the factory Continental tires. Some owners also wish for more comfortable seats, or a manual-mode with the automatic transmission for more control of shifting. Finally, the turn signals, high beams and wipers share the same stalk, which can result in accidental engagement of one or more functions if drivers aren’t careful.

Here’s a look at some owner reviews.

Common Issues

Largely, the Tribute looks like a solid used crossover SUV bet, though a few checks are advised during the test-drive process for maximum peace of mind.

On a test-drive of the Tribute models that interest you, pay special attention to the operation of the automatic transmission. Scrutinize any model that is difficult to shift into or out of gear, and note any hard shifting, hesitation or slipping from the gearbox. Some owners have reported having to replace transmissions under warranty. Note that another sign of trouble is a delay when trying to shift from reverse to drive, and vice versa. Try this several times, making note of any delay. This is a fairly well-documented problem on various websites. 

A Google search for “Mazda Tribute Transmission Problems” will reveal more information. Here’s an interesting link to a page hosted by a transmission shop that services and repairs transmissions, discussing the potential issues.

Check for proper operation of the power windows in both directions, as numerous reports of failed window regulators have been made in owner forums. If this part fails, the power windows will work improperly or fail to work at all.

Note that disconnecting of the battery, or a dead battery, may wipe out the anti-pinch circuitry and cause other window-related issues, which requires resetting the window controls. More reading here.

Inspect the body for signs of rust, especially on older models. Triple check around the rear hatch, and rear doors. Look on the lower and inner edges of the doors and hatch, too. Look for signs of chipped paint as well.

Note any coolant or oil leaks beneath the vehicle, especially originating from the transfer case or rear differential. If a leak is detected, a bad seal may be the culprit.

Finally, note that any struggling or hesitation during acceleration could be caused by a bad fuel pump. This issue is sporadic at best, though it’s a part that numerous owners have had to replace.

The Verdict

Tribute seems to be well-enjoyed for its driving experience and performance – though potential transmission and fuel pump issues, both of which would incur fairly large repair costs, seem slightly worrisome. Thankfully, issues with either of these components should be fairly easy to identify on a pre-purchase test-drive, and even easier for a mechanic to diagnose with an inspection.  Seek out a good price on a model with full service records that exhibits no trouble signs, and buy confidently.

Now replaced in spirit by the Mazda CX-5, the Tribute was a Ford Escape based family-ready SUV model that offered up available V6 power... 4/9/2015 10:26:50 AM