This little SUV drives like a car, a cheap car that is. It's stable, noisy, and responsible. For a 2.0 I-4, it hits 80mph without flinch, considering the weight of this car, not bad.
The car is reasonably comfortable, especially the rear seats. Those are deep and wide, unlike many others of its class.
The interior feels cheap. More utility than anything else. The cup holders are many and yet only good for coke can tins. Anything bigger or taller than that is in danger of spill over any time. The plastic and the seat clothes are cheap and, but sturdy.
The noisy level is not low to say the least, and get worse as you drive faster.
The manual shifter is notchy, but precise. The engine seems to hesitate in its reponse, not as smooth as those on Nissan Mazima or Acura Integra/ Honda Accord. But it does seem to be consistent with the Mazda6 or even RX8 I've tried.
The real strong point of the Tribute for me is the handling and economy. It lives up to the name of Sports Utility Vehicle. Sports characteristics plus lots of Utilities. For one it handles like a car and drives like a car. For another, it's very spacious and tall inside. The seats are cheap yet reasonably comfortable because of their width and depth, in comparison to some of the other small SUVs I've tried. Leg rooms and certainly head rooms are very generous for this class of SUVs. Even on par with the much bigger brothers like Trail-Blazers and Pilot.
And this SUV is cheap, several grand cheaper than Honda CR-v or even its own sister Ford Escape.
But it doesn't give away from the outside. The exterior looks rather classy and not overly cute like CR-v or RAV4, in my judgement.
I just got mine basic I-4 manual 04 Tribute DX with only 9k on it today for 15K. Had I have more patience, I am sure I could have driven it home for 14K, which is totally unthinkable for the like of CR-V or RAV4.
The dealer is not exactly honest. I've only got one set of key with no manual. Being one of the largest dealership in the central coast area in California, this came as a shocker. I've bought 20 plus used cars before, most of them are a lot cheaper than this one, and yet, this is the very first time I didn't get the full key sets and manual. I think it's telling about Mazda's relationship with its dealers - no body seems to care. I learned all this after I signed the dot line. This really makes me hesitant to ever go for another Mazda after this one.
In summary, the Tribute I got is quite a catch for the money, with lots of useful space for people and cargo. As to the cheap material or lack of more sophisticated features, I guess for the money, I should complain too much. So I think if you like to drive (with a family, for a single person, this is too big I guess) and you don't like to empty your account ust for your ride, Tribute deserves a closer look. Many other SUVs I've tried over the years, large and small, don't have as much fun on the road. It's a very youthful spirited SUV indeed.