Two of the most popular vehicles to hit the market recently have to be the new sport-utes from Mazda and Ford, the Tribute and the Escape. These new generation minitrucks illustrate where the small truck industry is now, most of it taking over from the car market. Indeed, the numbers are out now, trucks are beginning to outsell cars and that, in almost any size or category. What's more, sport-utility trucks are showing out as the most popular of all trucks. The problem was that there were only very few smaller versions of those vehicles in the past, most of them being based on pick-up trucks. Until the arrival of the Japanese Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, we could say that this segment of the market was held mostly by Jeep with its Cherokee and Suzuki with its smaller Sidekick (to become the Vitara). But now, the game is different. Other manufacturers are getting involved in the business. And Ford is probably the most important one since it is tackling the matter on two sides, one with its American truck division, the other with its Japanese division called Mazda. The outcome became very simple, both brands would have their own vehicle but they would share many components. Thus were born the Ford Escape and the Mazda Tribute.
What's common and what's not?
Obviously, the base platform of both trucks is the almost the same. Wanting to attract more car buyers, this duo is not of the body on frame variety but of the car platform type. Basically, the two mini-trucks are front-wheel driven but for both, it is possible to obtain an all-wheel drive system that works with a clutch pack at the end of the front to rear driveshaft. The vehicle will run as a front-wheel drive car but if there is any difference of speed between the front and the rear wheel speed, the clutch pack will engage the rear wheels. Two engines are available in both cars, a base 2.0 liter four-cylinder Zetec mill also found in the very popular Ford Focus and this one is available with the five-speed manual transmission. The other engine is a powerful 200 hp dual overhead cam V6 usually found under the hood of a Ford Taurus. And yes, that goes for the Mazda too! The six only comes with a four-speed automatic. Up to now, everything seems equal. Since both cars share the same platform, everything underneath is very similar except for spring ratings that are slightly different, being softer on the Mazda. You see, Mazda wanted to give its Tribute a more conservative attitude with more car-like manners while Ford kept the "truck" aspect, an image that it can really carry.
Same shell, different look
Now, this argument is even more obvious from the exterior. Though both vehicles have the same shell, one can easily see that the Escape carries a tougher truck look, mostly from the front point of view while the Tribute has more chrome and a grille identified to the brand. Also, while the Escape is mostly trimmed in matching colors, the Mazda is trimmed with chrome. The only body available is the four-door station wagon with a rear hatch. <b>And a different interior</b> Once again, since both mini-trucks are built on the same platform and structure, one can notice many similarities even in the interior. But trimming and details are very different. The instruments on the Escape are sportier with a white dial and black number while the Mazda is more conventional. Also, the Mazda has more trims reminding us of a car interior. Front bucket seats are common to both makes and our testers included a center console that I found sometimes annoying since I kept hitting my elbow on it while driving. Also, radios were different and the Tribute had a radio which volume knob was exactly in line with the shift lever when it was in. Drive! As far as space is concerned, both offer good interior space at the front and even at the rear with large opening doors, something the competition does not always have. But for the cargo area, I felt it was a little short, mostly if four people must travel with their luggages on long distances. Otherwise, the visibility is very good.
On the road
Mazda and Ford want us to believe that the Tribute and the Escape behave differently on the road. That's what we tried to find out with two comparably equipped vehicles. To tell the truth, the difference is not that obvious at the beginning. But with time, the Tribute did stand out as more of an automobile though the Escape was not uncomfortable too. I think that the appearance has a big role to play in what we think of the cars. Sportier people will go for the Escape. More reserved customers will choose the Tribute. We tried only V-6's (since the four banger was not yet available) and we found that we could reach the 100-km/h (62 mph) mark around the nine-second mark. But passing speed was even faster (80 to 120 km/h in some six seconds) In other words, they were safe and reassuring vehicles. Only complaint, the engine was a little noisy under acceleration. But don't we expect and even want that to a certain extent? The transmission worked as smooth as expected but we could not test the all-wheel drive system like we wanted. For that, we will wait for the snow to fall! Braking was safe and short but as far as fuel consumption is concerned, my city-only driving yielded a mere 18 miles to the imperial gallon or 16L/100 km. The Escape/Tribute can do a lot better on the highway but my driving was on short distances with abrupt accelerations in a colder weather than expected. Think of a 28 to 30 mpg on the highway All in all, once again, choosing between the Mazda Tribute and the Ford Escape is mostly a matter of taste. Personally, I'd go for the Escape because I like trucks and I like their rugged looks. But the Tribute also pleased me very much with its fine appearance and minute detail. Ah! Decisions, decisions!