Junkyard Gem: 2004 Mazda Tribute LX


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Once our current century was underway, the prime directive for carmakers doing business in North America was plain: build SUVs or die. Mazda was late in developing its own SUVs, despite having been a major player in the small-pickup game here since the Mazda Proceed went on sale with Ford Courier badges in 1972, but selling Ford Explorers badged as Mazda Navajos during the first half of the 1990s bought the company some time. Mazda and Ford worked together to develop a shared platform for a compact SUV; this resulted in the Ford Escape and the Mazda Tribute, both debuting as 2001 models. Today's Junkyard Gem is one of those first-generation Tributes, found in a Colorado self-service yard recently.

2004 was the final model year for the original Tribute and Escape designs; both got a facelift for 2005 and went to a substantially updated second generation for 2008.

The Tribute was built through the 2011 model year, after which it was replaced by the CX-5. All Tributes sold in North America were built at Ford's Kansas City Assembly Plant, where Fairlanes, Falcons and Mavericks were born in the old days.

Our reviewer felt that the '04 Tribute was more fun to drive than its CR-V and RAV4 rivals, though it couldn't match the Jeep Liberty when driven off-road.

This is a midlevel LX model, so it has the 3.0-liter Ford Duratec V6 engine, rated at 200 horsepower and 195 pound-feet, plus a column-shifted four-speed automatic transmission as standard equipment. The base DX model got a 2.0-liter Ford Zetec straight-four and a five-speed manual transmission.

The MSRP for the front-wheel-drive Tribute LX for 2004 was $22,182, which comes to about $36,773 in 2023 dollars. Its Escape counterpart, the XLT, listed at $22,655 ($37,558 in today's dollars). The Mercury-badged version of the Escape, the Mariner, didn't appear until the 2005 model year.

The SUV with the soul of a sports car, a claim that meant something coming from the creator of the Miata, RX-7, 323 GTX and MX-6 GT.

It's what makes winter… cool. Mazda kept using the "Zoom-Zoom" slogan all the way through 2015.

Mazda built the Japanese-market Tribute at the Hofu factory in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Don't try this at home!

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