Mazda looks after the cars for right-hand drive markets, while US built models are for left hand drive countries. Both cars are essentially the same, but Mazda is launching the Tribute in the UK with some subtle differences, which means it could make more sense as a company car for a user chooser.
The first is an entry-level 2WD version - let's face it, how many SUV drivers need four-wheel drive? And in any case the four-wheel drive Tribute stays in 2WD mode unless the electronics detect slippage at the front end.
So it's possible to choose a Tribute without the extra weight of a drive shaft and centre differential, which improves on-road performance, fuel consumption and emissions.
There are two trim levels for the 2.0 litre models - GXi for 2WD and 4WD models and higher-spec GSi for the 4WD Tribute. A smooth 3.0 V6 auto is available in one high-spec version with leather seats as standard, but expect to pay for the privilege with high fuel consumption.
CAP Network believes the Tribute's residual values will reflect those of the Maverick at around 37 per cent of list price for 2.0 litre models after three years/60,000 miles, a poorer performance than the Toyota RAV4 and Land Rover Freelander.
Predictably, the top 3.0 litre model will attract a 35 per cent BIK tax rating from the outset of the new rules, while the 4WD models will be taxed at 28 per cent. The 2WD model falls into the lowest tax band at 26 per cent for 2002/03, and it will be interesting to see how drivers take to an SUV with virtually no off-road ability to avoid punitive tax rates.
At the moment there is a gap in the range - SUVs with their heavy bodies and high fuel consumption are particularly suited to turbodiesel engines. Although there is no diesel confirmed for the Tribute, the Mazda MPV will be getting an oil-burning motor next year and it seems inconceivable that the Tribute and other cars in the range will not receive the engine eventually.
The philosophy behind the Tribute is clear, as most SUV drivers favour a comfortable car with a high driving position, and are not prepared to sacrifice on-road manners or off-road ability they will never use.
From a personal perspective I prefer the Mazda 'family' face at the front of the Tribute compared with the Escort-on-steroids front end design of the Ford Maverick.
The Tribute's interior is almost identical in design, except for a Mazda steering wheel and different audio system. The car offers excellent visibility and the 2.0GSi model I drove had comfortable seats and was easy to master. The 2.0 litre engine is quiet under normal driving but does make itself heard when worked hard thanks to its maximum torque coming in at the dizzy heights of 4,500rpm.
Acceleration is leisurely, but the ride quality is excellent and the Tribute corners more like a large estate car than a tall 4x4.
Its four-wheel drive system operates continuously without the need to engage it manually, but only drives the front wheels under normal conditions, automatically transferring drive to the rear when necessary.
There is a dashboard-mounted switch to lock the centre differential should the car be taken off road, and added to a reasonable amount of ground clearance should surpass most people's requirements for off-road driving.
The Tribute is a prime example of the latest generation of 'soft-roaders' and offers a roomy and comfortable car-like driving experience. We suspect the Tribute will be a rarer sight than the Ford Maverick, providing a degree of exclusivity for user choosers, but there must be a diesel for company car drivers to choose a version which will not end up making them pay high tax rates.