Mazda Pays Tribute to Sport Utes
2001 Model Line Intros SUV
by Jim Bray
Mazda has finally jumped into the SUV market.
The Japanese carmakers first Sport Ute is the 2001 Tribute and,
judging from the test drives in which I participated, its a fine unit
thats surprisingly apt off road.
A Mazda media junket to Vancouver, British Columbia, to premiere its 2001
model year lineup was my first opportunity to see the Tribute up close, and
I was quite impressed.
Tribute is a cute ute, a small SUV in the vein of Toyotas
RAV4. It comes in two basic configurations: a four banger, 5 speed manual and
a V6 with a four speed automatic. Both offer front and four wheel drive, though
4WD is optional on the entry level DX.
We tried the V6 automatic on a challenging mountain road
followed by a street course. Unfortunately, I wouldnt know real four
wheeling if a clod of dirt hit me in the face, so I tagged along with another
journalist during the trek up and down the mountain.
We were faced with steep grades covered with loose rocks and small boulders,
some minor mud holes, and generally went all over hells half acre. I
would have turned back at the first sign of an unpaved hill, but we were invited
to test the Tributes mettle, and metal, so I shut up, held on, and let
my new friend bounce the beast along.
According to the assembled writers (since Im a 4WD neophyte) the Tribute
is one heck of an off roader. I heard comments bordering on amazement that
Mazda would have the guts to let us go nuts on such a challenging
course, and admiration that the Tribute would do so well, even with its standard
Later, I took the Tribute on the street circuit, which is where the lions
share of its buyers will drive it, and found it a comfortable and capable
on roader. The 3.0 liter V6 engine has plenty of pull, it handles
fine, and the interior is roomy and well thought out.
In short, it appears that Mazdas Tribute is a proficient performer whether
you keep it in suburbia or head for the boonies.
The trip also gave us a chance to drive the B4000 pickup
(whose 4.0 liter V6 engine pumps out 210 horsepower enough to propel
the truck along at breakneck speed), as well as the 2001 Millennia and Miata.
of course, has always been a hoot, and the 2001 model has been tweaked to make
it even more fun. I got to drive the 2000 model before parking my posterior
in the new one, and I have to admit I liked the 2001 Miata appreciably more
than last years.
A big part of the reason is the new seats, which felt as if theyd been
designed for my Pillsbury Doughboy-like body. Theres also
an extra 15 horsepower (to 155) from the 1.8 liter four and a modicum of additional
torque. The bodys stiffer, too, which I noticed while throwing the 6
speed manual-equipped joy toy through some twisty bits at about
double the posted speed limit.
Id forgotten just how much fun such open top motoring can be
The 2001 Millennia is Mazdas top of the line offering. Its
equipped with a 210 hp, 2.3 liter Miller cycle double overhead
cam V6 engine and there is an abundance of changes both inside and outside
The Miller cycle is basically an adaptation of the supercharger
(whereby extra air is pumped into the engine to increase its power output)
and Mazda says it gives the power of a larger V6 with the economy of a smaller
one. I dont know about the economy (I only drove it for about half an
hour), but the power is certainly there and its very smooth power,
Mazda says the new Millennia has had its torsional rigidity
strengthened by nearly a third, thanks to some structural upgrades below the
surface, so its now stiffer and more stable. There are plenty of upgraded
creature comforts inside, too, all of which make for a very nice vehicle
With the Tribute added to its line, Mazda thinks it has something to offer
just about anyone looking for well-equipped and competitively priced mainstream
wheels. Judging by the new and/or improved models I drove, they may be right.