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COLOR ME STEALTH GREEN

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sun, May 4, 2008

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

COLOR ME STEALTH GREEN By Reed Berry. Is it just me, or are all SUVs starting to look alike? I can actually remember a time when it was possible to identify a vehicle on the road at a quick glance. Now, as more and more vehicles share platforms, it is becoming much more difficult to tell one from another. Such is the case with the 2008 Mazda Tribute Hybrid. Don't get me wrong - the Mazda Tribute Hybrid is a fine vehicle. It's spacious, fun to drive and has a lot of nice features. But as my eyes scan the highway, seeing a Ford Escape Hybrid or Mercury Mariner Hybrid is like looking in a mirror. It seems as though Ford has given birth to fuel-efficient triplets.

One nice thing about newer hybrid vehicles, including the Mazda Tribute HEV, is that they now look like real vehicles. This hasn't always been the case. The Honda Insight and Toyota Prius both have a unique shape and appearance that doesn't appeal to everyone. Glenn Beck, for one, proclaims that some hybrid vehicles look like "gay spaceships." Of course, the main benefit of buying an HEV (hybrid-electric vehicle) is that you have chosen a vehicle that produces low emissions. That's a good thing - good for us now, and good for future generations. You have now done your part to help save our planet. As its way of saying thanks, your Mazda Tribute HEV will reward you with impressive gas mileage. Mileage estimates for this vehicle are 34 in the city and 30 on the highway. Not bad for an SUV, in my opinion. In an effort to maximize my fuel economy, I am taking a relaxing low-speed drive on the city streets of West Los Angeles. After stopping briefly at a red light, the light turns green and I accelerate lightly. By doing this, the Tribute begins to move forward on battery power alone. As I continue driving at a low speed, I am still driving on battery power. As my speed increases and the speedometer gradually begins to climb, I feel the gas engine kick in at around 30 mph. Obviously, I'm not suggesting that you keep it under 30 at all times or it would take you forever to get anywhere, but driving the Tribute conservatively on short trips around town will allow you to burn less fuel and save money.

For a larger vehicle like an SUV, a 153 horsepower, four-cylinder engine doesn't sound that impressive, however, this vehicle seems to have plenty of power when needed. As I enter the Santa Monica freeway, accelerating to merge into the traffic flow is no problem and the Tribute shows similar enthusiasm as I give it the gas to pass a slower moving vehicle. For those who do desire a more powerful engine, the Tribute is also available with a 200 horsepower six-cylinder engine. The interior of the Tribute is fairly comfortable and all controls are within easy reach. The center console features a large covered storage compartment and, believe it or not, a 110-volt electrical outlet. Wow, finally a vehicle in which I can use my toaster oven. Bagel anyone? Actually, in the interest of safety I don't recommend cooking or eating while driving, but that AC outlet is certainly a nice convenience feature. The passenger compartment remains at a comfortable temperature as a result of the efficient combination of automatic temperature control and dual-zone air conditioning. For your entertainment, there is a CD stereo system with 4 speakers. Personally, I would prefer a multi-disc changer to a single disc CD player but guess what...on this model you're out of luck unless you order an options package that includes a premium sound system. Would you like to add a power moonroof to make the driving experience more enjoyable? Sorry, not available on the Touring version.

There are three versions of the Mazda Tribute: Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. If you want to load up on comfort and convenience features, you'll want to spend the extra money and get the Grand Touring version. Some of the standard features on the Grand Touring version, such as a moonroof, heated mirrors, and leather-trimmed seating surfaces are not even available options on the other two versions. One thing that all three versions have in common, however, is ample cargo space. Behind the second row seat there is 29.2 cubic feet. Fold down the 60/40 split second row seat and you'll have a generous cargo volume of 66.3 cubic feet. The Touring version doesn't have a retractable cargo cover like the Grand Touring version does, but it is included in an option package that is available on the Touring version. As for safety, the Tribute has three-point safety belts at all five seating positions as well as side-impact air curtains with rollover protection. There is also a tire pressure monitoring system and an engine-immobilizer anti-theft system. One thing missing that I would like to see on the Tribute is a back-up camera, a life-saving safety feature that should be included as standard equipment on all SUVs and other high-profile vehicles. Overall, while not the sportiest looking SUV on the road, the Mazda Tribute HEV Touring version provides impressive performance and fuel economy for a vehicle priced at under $30,000.

SIDEBAR COMMENTS Reed commends the Tribute HEV for not looking like a "spaceship" like some other well-known hybrids (e.g., the Prius). However, hybrid owners, by-and-large, like to have their green credentials prominently displayed. The fact that the Tibute HEV looks like a "real vehicle" may end up being its major market failing. Indeed, Honda recently admitted this failing with its Civic Hybrid, and announced that 2009 will see a replacement model that will look more like (you guessed it) a spaceship. As for the Tribute HEV, nothing on the front or side of the vehicle provides any clue of its hybrid pedigree. The rear has one tiny "hybrid" badge, and that's about it. Even the greenest version of GM's behemoth Tahoe has "hybrid" emblazened in a racing stripe on its side flanks. Other existing car-based hybrids at least use different grilles or wheels to differientiate the hybrid models. Otherwise, the Tribute HEV is an excellent example of what a hybrid SUV should be. Its best feature - shared with its sister Escape Hybrid and Mariner Hybrid models - is its outstanding fuel economy (those are real-world figures that the EPA is now using) - truly head and shoulders above the rest of the hybrid SUV offerings currently on the market. It should make other makers take notice. - Roy Nakano The 2008 Mazda Tribute is derived from the latest Ford Escape, so it is based on a solid platform with great lineage. I had a chance to drive a non-hybrid version of the 2008 Mazda Tribute. I must say that although this vehicle is not designed with me in mind, every teenage and early twenties passenger loved the look and feel of the vehicle. The older crowd is not as impressed. The fit and finish is about par for the course. The center console is covered with high gloss black plastic which looks like it would scratch easily, but it held up better then expected. The acceleration is acceptable and it rides well but the road noise is noticeable. The 2008 Tribute has Ford's new electronic steering and it is amazingly smooth. The non-hybrid Tribute is available with two engines: a 2.3-liter 153-horsepower in-line-four and a 3.0-liter 200-horspower V6. All-wheel drive is available on all models and towing capacity for the V6 is 3,500 pounds. I drove the $19,535 base model with the in-line four, and managed a non-noteworthy 22 mpg overall. Clearly, the hybrid version is in another class. - Gordon Bleam

SUMMARY JUDGMENT Don't let it's modesty fool you. The Mazda Tribut SEV is a full-fledged, fuel-sipping green machine in non-hybrid SUV clothing. For more information on Mazda products, visit www.mazdausa.com

SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2008 Mazda Tribute HEV Touring Price (MSRP): $25,310 Engine type: 2.3L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder Horsepower: 153 @ 5,800 rpm Torque: 152 @ 4,250 rpm EPA mileage estimates (v.2008) City/ Highway: 34 / 30 (FWD) Drive configuration: Front wheel drive Transmission type: 4-speed electronicaly controlled automatic transmission Steering: Electronic power-assist rack-and-pinion steering with engine speed sensing variable assist Suspension: Front: Independent MacPherson strut suspension; front stabilizer bar Rear: Multi-link suspension with dual lateral links Wheels and tires: Wheels: 16-inch alloy wheels Tires: P235/70R16 BSW T-rated all-season tires Brakes: Power-assisted Antil-lock brake system with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution Front: Disc; Rear: Drum Overall length: 174.9 inches Overall width: 81.3 inches Overall height: 70.2 inches Curb weight (lbs.): 3,233 lbs.

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