In another feat of brand engineering for the automotive industry, the 2008 Mazda Tribute HEV shares body and engine with the 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid and the 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid. HEV stands for hybrid electric vehicle.

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The Tribute does have some distinct design touches that make it a Mazda, such as the smoothed trapezoidal grille.

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The engine in the Tribute HEV is exactly the same as that found in the Ford Escape Hybrid, a 2.3-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine assisted by a hybrid system that lets the car operate as an electric vehicle for short distances.

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Mazda lists this Eco badge as standard equipment on the Tribute HEV's sticker, which got us wondering if you could order it as an option on the standard Tribute.

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The Tribute has a very practical body style, with room for five and some cargo. But it differs drastically from the look of Mazda's other models.

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As a small SUV, we found the Tribute easily maneuverable in an urban environment.

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The rear seats of the Tribute fold down, creating plenty of cargo room.

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A feature also seen on the Escape and the Mariner, the rear glass on the Tribute can be opened separately from the lift gate, allowing quick access to groceries or other small items.

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Although the control configuration is the same as in the Escape and Mariner, Mazda clads the center stack and console with its signature gloss-black paneling.

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The Tribute has a tight turning radius, but it's not very stable during high-speed cornering. We also found no mention of electronic stability control in its equipment list.

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As a hybrid, the Tribute HEV uses a continuously variable transmission. It accelerates very smoothly without the usual gear shifts felt with standard automatic transmissions.

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The tachometer on the Tribute has a green area where the needle sits when the engine is off and the car is running under electric power.

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Cabin electronics are extremely limited in the Touring version of the Tribute HEV, but we did appreciate that the single-CD player reads MP3 discs and displays track information.

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The display can also be set to show file names and song titles.

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We found the audio quality generally poor with the stereo in the Tribute HEV Touring. The Grand Touring model can be upgraded for a better audio system.

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The radio display shows radio data when its available, such as call letters, but it is a standard AM/FM system, with no HD.

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There is a convenient audio input at the bottom of the stack, letting you plug in an MP3 player.

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As with the Escape Hybrid and Mariner Hybrid, the Tribute HEV has an AC outlet, made possible by an inverter and the high-voltage hybrid system in the car.

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