What it Is
Mazda Tribute Hybrid Preview – 2007 Detroit Auto Show: From a business point, it makes sense: Start with one of your partner’s vehicles, in this case the Ford Escape Hybrid, rework the styling a bit, add your own badges, and introduce yourself to shoppers everywhere as a brand invested in gas/electric technology. Talk about taking the easy way out. With the stylish and turbocharged CX-7 and seven-passenger CX-9 gracing the Mazda stables, one can see little reason to carry on with the Tribute, unless it’s just cheap and easy to rebadge a Ford and, of course, if it lets you tap into the hybrid market. That’s what we’re betting.
Why it Matters
Taking advantage of its relationship with Ford, Mazda finally enters the hybrid scene, which opens it up to a growing number of environmentally-aware buyers. The company hasn’t released fuel economy data for the 2008 Tribute Hybrid, but we can borrow numbers from Ford. The 2007 Ford Escape Hybrid, which shares its powertrain with the 2008 Escape and 2008 Mazda Tribute hybrids, was estimated by the EPA to return 36 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway in front-wheel-drive trim, and 32/29 mpg in four-wheel-drive guise. We’ve found those numbers to be a bit optimistic, but they’re useful for comparison, and even with a fudge factor rolled in, real-world fuel economy is usually better than gas-only competitors.
What’s Under the Hood
At the heart of the 2008 Mazda Tribute Hybrid is a 2.3-liter, 16-valve, dual overhead cam four-cylinder engine that’s good for 133 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 124 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,250 rpm. That doesn’t sound like much for an SUV, but the numbers get better when you factor in the hybrid system’s 70-kilowatt battery and the 330-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery under the rear load floor. It adds up to a combined 155 horsepower, and with that electricity comes instantaneous off-the-line oomph. The Tribute Hybrid is a full hybrid, meaning that it can operate solely on electric power in certain situations (up to 25 mph), and allows the gas engine to shut down while coasting or stopped. A CVT transmission is standard.
What it Looks Like
If you’ve seen the 2007 Mazda Tribute, chances are the 2008 model won’t shock you with its styling. It is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, carrying the same general shape with a bit more flair here and a reworked angle there. Up front are fog lights and a contoured hood that feeds off the outer edges of an egg crate grille, which itself is set off by a chrome bar and sizeable Mazda badge. The flanks include noticeably arched wheel wells housing 16-inch alloys, while the tail features a bumper pad to assist with loading and glass that opens separate from the tailgate.
If you’re interested in the 2008 Mazda Tribute Hybrid, you’ve got a number of choices to make. Besides selecting which particular hue you’d like your Tribute dunked in, you’ll have to decide if you want front- or four-wheel drive, and if you’ll go for the entry-level Touring model or the more upscale Grand Touring version. Each features a thoroughly revised interior with up to 66 cubic feet of cargo space, multiple storage compartments, front-side and side-curtain airbags, and seating for five.
What Mazda Says
Mazda’s senior vice president of quality, research and development, Robert Davis, is proud of the new Tribute Hybrid and his company’s environmental record. “With virtually all new Mazda vehicles sold in the U.S. earning either low emission vehicle (LEV) or ultra low emission vehicle (ULEV) status, protecting the global environment is a long-standing concern of ours. The Tribute HEV (hybrid electric vehicle) is the next step towards strengthening Mazda’s environmental efforts.”
What We Think
Mazda needs to make up some ground in the hybrid arena. The 2008 Tribute Hybrid is a decent start, though it’s not about to cause a stampede of shoppers to rush local dealerships for what is essentially a Ford Escape, one that hasn’t even been redesigned to any great degree. It’s still a five-passenger SUV, and even with the hybrid powertrain, we’ve experienced a realistic figure of about 25 mpg, which equals or comes up short in comparison to the new crop of more powerful four-cylinder crossovers. The result is a warmed-over Ford, when what would have been more appealing is a unique Mazda product, like a hybrid CX-7.
Photos courtesy of Mazda and Thom Blackett