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Expert Reviews 1 of 14
By Joe Wiesenfelder
July 15, 2005
Late to the sport-utility-vehicle party with its B9 Tribeca, Subaru brings no innovation to the category, but the company took the right approach in terms of the vehicle's size, construction and . . . Subaru-ness.
The five- or seven-seat vehicle is car-based, or has unibody construction, and it's relatively lightweight and space-efficient. Compare this to the Volkswagen Touareg, another latecomer, which is sized and priced in the same ballpark but was designed for full offroad capability. This makes for higher weight and lower fuel economy. It also seems to rob the Touareg of some of the additional interior space that is usually a strong point of unibody vehicles compared to truck-based, body-on-frame SUVs.
In this premium/luxury SUV class, I favor the Acura MDX, a cars.com Best Bet for its strong ratings in many areas. I will continue to compare the B9 to the Touareg as well because sometimes you need to know the wrong approach to appreciate the right one. Especially now that truck-based midsize and full-size SUVs (and their voracious appetite for fuel) have fallen out of favor, Subaru clearly has taken the right approach. Though its six-cylinder horizontally opposed engine has only 10 horsepower more than the base Touareg's V-6, the B9 is nearly 1,000 pounds lighter and thus quicker and more efficient.
The 3.0-liter six-cylinder is the only engine available, and the largest of Subaru's three engine sizes. It's teamed with a five-speed automatic transmission that's geared for quick launches from a standing start and decent oomph around town. When it's time to pass on the interstate, however, the B9 isn't going to win any awards. The accelerator is reasonably responsive, and kickdown lag is acceptable. The engine idles a bit rough — a quirk I've noticed with Subaru's 4-cylinder as well.
Equipped with standard electronically controlled all-wheel drive and an electronic stability system, the B9 has more than enough foul-weather mobility for the vast majority of buyers. It also has the feel of smaller Subarus: grounded, nimble and reasonably balanced, front to rear. The turning circle is tighter than average at 35.4 feet. I wasn't able to induce wheelspin on wet or dry pavement, even with the stability turned off. The SUV feels like a Subaru in another way: While the brakes work fine in regular driving, the pedal requires too much pressure to induce full-force braking, as in a panic stop.
The B9 comes in base and Limited trim levels, with either five or seven seats. I drove a seven-seat Limited, which includes leather upholstery. The SUV sits relatively low, which makes for ease of entry; step rails are unnecessary. The standard power driver's seat has a cushion height adjustment. The steering wheel tilts but lacks the telescoping adjustment that helps drivers of different statures distance themselves properly from the airbag. Otherwise, headroom is good, even with the standard moonroof, and legroom is particularly generous thanks to a long seat track. Those who sit close to the wheel will find the center armrest too far back.
The interior design is interesting, but the materials quality isn't as high as it's become in recent generations of the Legacy. To continue the comparison to the Touareg . . . there is no comparison. Volkswagen's interiors are among the finest in the automotive industry, and the Touareg is no exception in terms of design, materials quality and general luxury appointments.
The B9's ergonomics are mostly good, but I found a peculiar first: a vent in the dashboard that blew in my right eye so consistently that I thought it would dry out. Why didn't I close it? I couldn't. I could find no adjustment or shutoff of any kind. It's a mysterious center-mounted vent above the regular air conditioning vents and aft of the optional GPS-based navigation system's touchscreen.
If you go for a test drive, give the rear seats careful scrutiny. First, it's too easy to underestimate the second-row legroom: Each section adjusts fore and aft by means of a bar under its seat cushion, but the seats don't go back all the way unless you pull an orange lever low on the front corner of the seat. This is to protect third-row occupants' legs, as the seat moves right up against the third row. In this position, row-two legroom is decent but not exceptional, and the floor is higher than I like. The floor hump is nice and low, but the center seating position is raised and rigid. The backrests adjust, but the adjustment levers are hard to reach. I also noticed that if the 60-percent side of the 60/40-split second row is positioned forward, it robs the 40-percent side of shoulder room.
Entry to row three is aided by a tilt-and-slide feature on row two, but only on the curb side. In terms of entry and accommodations, the two-seat third row is for children or little people. The floor is only a few inches below seat level, and legroom must be stolen from the sliding second row. In this class, cramped third rows are common — including the MDX's standard third row. The Touareg offers no third-row seat. Apart from the quirky orange lever, Subaru handled the folding seats well. You need not flip the cushions forward or remove the head restraints, as you must on the Touareg. While the seats themselves are split 60/40, the backrests are split 40/20/40 for greater flexibility.
Here's a comparison of the B9 and Touareg, custom built to show the differences.
cars.comparison: Latecomer SUV Models
2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca 7-Seater
2005 Volkswagen Touareg V6
Base List Price*
Maximum Seat Count
Second-Row Fore/Aft Adjustment
Curb Weight (lbs.)
Passenger Volume (cu. ft.)
Cargo Volume (min./max., cu. ft.)
Max. Towing Capacity (lbs.)
Roof-Rack Capacity (lbs.)
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway, mpg)
Fuel Tank Capacity (gal.)
250 @ 6,600 rpm
240 @ 6,000 rpm
219 @ 4,200 rpm
229 @ 3,200 rpm
Wheel Size (in.)
tilts & telescopes
front and outboard rear
Active Head Restraints
One-Touch Power Windows
Auto-Dimming Rearview Mirror
Basic Warranty (years/miles)
Corrosion Warranty (years)
Roadside Assistance (years/miles)
Manufacturer data *For base seven-seat model; for five seats, base list price is $30,695.
The B9 stands up well to the Touareg, and even the MDX, though the latter offers more interior volume without being substantially larger. Still, by offering a version with five cloth seats and fewer features, Subaru's cost of entry is a good $6,000 lower, which opens the class up to even more buyers.
The X factor for the model is its bizarro exterior styling. You get to form your own opinion. As for me, I think it looks pretty malignant for a car called B9.