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Used Mazda Tribute review: 2001-2003


There’s no denying that the four-wheel drive segment has been the real growth part of the market in the last decade, just about every carmaker has raced on to the bandwagon with their own version of the all-powerful, all-purpose, go anywhere vehicle. Mazda was no different and introduced its Tribute four-wheel drive in 2001.

While they all get lumped in together and described as a four-wheel drive there are so many of them now, and vary so widely that it’s wrong to call them all four-wheel drives.

The Americans call them SUVs — Sports Utility Vehicles — and that’s probably a better term to describe them as they’re really not four-wheel drives in the traditional sense.

The Mazda is really is an all-wheel drive wagon with an intelligent all-wheel drive system and reasonable ground clearance that will capably handle some pretty rough conditions, but in essence it’s an urban wagon conceived for family transport rather than belting around the bush.

Model watch

Because they are expected to be able to do everything SUVs have the toughest design brief of all.

Their real purpose in life is to transport the family, with everything a modern family on the moves needs to carry. They must also be comfortable, handle like a sports car on the road, and bound over rocks off the highway. Add now you can add miserly fuel consumption to the long and growing list of demands from buyers of these modern day superhero cars. It really is an impossible brief for designers.

The Mazda Tribute fits into the compact SUV class, a medium-sized wagon that delivers quite roomy and comfortable accommodation for a family of five along with the gear they need to carry.

Its high ride height provides the broad view of the road, and its safety benefits., That’s one of the appealing features of this type of vehicle.

The Mazda’s four-wheel drive system, better described as all-wheel drive, is an on-demand system that is biased towards the front wheels in normal use, but sends drive to the rear wheels when it senses the front wheels slipping.

For off-road use there’s a dash-mounted switch that activates a coupling to lock the system in four-wheel drive with the torque split 50-50 front and rear.

The system, along with generous ground clearance and approach and departure angles gave the Tribute the capacity to go quite a long way off the black top.

Power was delivered by either a 2.0-litre double overhead camshaft, 16-valve four-cylinder engine or a 3.0-litre double overhead camshaft, 24-valve V6.

Running at its peak the four cylinder produced 97 kW at 5400 revs, while the V6 boasted 149 kW at its 6000 revs peak.

Tribute buyers had the choice of a five-speed manual gearbox or four-speed auto, and all had the on-demand all-wheel drive system.

Under the wagon skin the Tribute had a combination of MacPherson Strut front suspension and multilink rear, along with power-assisted rack and pinion steering, which gave it good road manners and a comfortable ride.

Mazda offered the Tribute in four models, the Limited 2.0 and 3.0 models, and the Classic and Luxury 3.0 versions.

The Limited 2.0 got the four-cylinder engine and manual gearbox, along with steel wheels, tilt steering wheel, velour trim, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, air-conditioning, power windows, remote central locking, CD sound, driver and passenger airbags and immobiliser.

When you stepped up to the 3.0 you got the V6 engine and auto trans, and ABS. If you went for the Classic 3.0 you also got alloy wheels, sunroof, roof rails and cruise, but tick the Luxury 3.0 box and you drove away with leather, and rear side airbags.

In the shop

Mazda build quality means there’s not a lot that goes wrong with the Tribute. It’s stitched together quite well so look for things that tell a story of misuse or neglect.

Because they’re mostly used for family transport they tend to suffer from high traffic so look for wear on trim, floor coverings and seat belts, and look for damage caused by youngsters playing up.

Also look for a service record for a level of confidence the previous owner has taken care of the car. Few will have reached the mileage a timing belt change is needed – that’s only on the four cylinder as the V6 has a chain – so you will be facing that in the next year or two.

It’s worth doing the usual checks underneath just to make sure it hasn’t been beaten up off road, but few will have seen anything but the urban black top so there shouldn’t be any trouble there.

Reports have been filtering in about problems with the gearbox casing splitting at around 100,000 km.

In a crash

Dual front airbags across the range provide good crash protection in the front seat, with standard side airbags adding protection for rear seat passengers in the Luxury 3.0.

Owner's view

Ashley Manning drove a 2003 Tribute Luxury 3.0 for two and a half years and in the 52,000 km he did in it had nothing major go wrong with it apart from two small warranty claims being the sunroof switch and a small coolant leak which were repaired hassle free. He says the standard tyres were a bit weak in the sidewalls and he staked two of them in the time he owned it. He also says the temporary spare was a pain. The performance of the engine was very good, but it was a bit thirsty averaging 12.9 L/100 km. The other gripe with the engine was when you start it hot or stone cold it would rev very high which he didn't like on a frosty morning and the throttle was very sensitive and made it very hard to accelerate smoothly on takeoff at any time. The word luxury was used a bit loosely in the title, having leather seats and two more airbags over the classic model is not a big jump in features to gain the luxury tag. Basically the Tribute did all he ever asked of it and was typically well built being a Mazda. After trying unsuccessfully to sell it privately ended up trading it for $24,500. Some dealers offered as low as $19,000 for it.

Look for

• roomy and comfortable accommodation

• good build quality

• thirsty V6

• quite capable off-road

• resale slipping with fuel crisis putting buyers off

• good road view from high vantage point

The bottom line

Well built compact all-wheel drive wagon with the road manners that will see it at home in town and out.


Year Price From Price To
2003 $2,310 $5,830
2002 $2,640 $5,830
2001 $2,640 $5,830

View all Mazda Tribute pricing and specifications

Pricing guides

Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
Highest Price

Range and Specs

Limited 2.0L, ULP, 5 SP MAN 4X4 $2,640 – 4,070 2001 Mazda Tribute 2001 Limited Pricing and Specs
Classic 3.0L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO 4X4 $3,740 – 5,500 2001 Mazda Tribute 2001 Classic Pricing and Specs
Luxury 3.0L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO 4X4 $3,960 – 5,830 2001 Mazda Tribute 2001 Luxury Pricing and Specs
Graham Smith
Contributing Journalist


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