Versus the competiton:
Editor’s note: This review was written in June 2007 about the 2008 Subaru Tribeca. Little of substance has changed with this year’s model. To see what’s new for 2009, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
Not since the Pontiac Aztek has an SUV been so heavily criticized for its appearance as was Subaru’s B9 Tribeca when it debuted. For 2008, Subaru has replaced the controversial grille that became the crossover SUV’s defining characteristic, tweaked its overall appearance and increased the size and power of its horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine. Subaru has also dropped the B9 portion of the model’s name.
The updates make the Tribeca a better SUV than it was before. However, significant ergonomic and visibility problems and an only-adequate new engine mean that even though the styling blunder has been corrected, the Tribeca still has some catching up to do in the midsize-crossover segment.
The Tribeca has a four-wheel independent suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars. While the crossover’s body roll is fairly noticeable when cornering, the other side of the coin is a comfy, smooth ride that was appreciated during a drive from Chicago to Windsor, Ontario, and back. There’s a concrete portion of Interstate 94 along this route that has a tendency to make a vehicle’s suspension oscillate up and down annoyingly, but the Tribeca resisted this tendency admirably.
Subaru increased the Tribeca’s standard horizontally opposed six-cylinder from 3.0 to 3.6 liters for 2008. The new engine makes 256 horsepower, which is a modest increase over the previous engine’s 245 hp, and a more substantial increase in torque to 247 pounds-feet (up from 215 pounds-feet). As with all Subarus, all-wheel drive is standard.
The previous B9 Tribeca, while not underpowered, wasn’t especially quick. Even though the new model has a more powerful engine and its curb weight is essentially unchanged, acceleration isn’t remarkable at higher speeds. The Tribeca does have plenty of pep in city driving, though.
The Tribeca’s five-speed automatic transmission includes Subaru’s Sportshift clutchless-manual mode, which lets the driver control gear changes when desired. In normal operation, it shifts smoothly and kicks down quickly when needed. During the jaunt to Canada, most of the driving was on the highway at speeds approaching 80 mph, and the Tribeca averaged 21 mpg.
All-disc antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution are standard, and they’re up to the task of stopping this two-ton crossover. The brake pedal, for its part, has a natural feel that doesn’t ask the driver to accommodate any quirks the way some cars do.
The swoopy dashboard styling carries over from the B9 Tribeca, and while it’s different from anything else on the market, it doesn’t sacrifice ease of use in the name of fashion; all of the controls you readily need, like the ones for the air conditioning and stereo, are well within reach. The dash styling is a bit heavy on silver-colored trim, but at least it doesn’t look cheap.
A few issues with the vents (yes, the lowly vents) cropped up during my test. The vertical vents in the middle of the dashboard can’t be turned off individually, and the horizontal one atop the dash seems destined to be used as a spot for a coffee cup, leading to an inevitable spill into the ventilation system.
The optional leather seats are firm but were comfortable for the duration of the long drive. What made for some discomfort, though, was the lack of a telescoping steering column; it only tilts. I’m 6-foot-1, and I usually find myself adjusting the driver seat far backward to achieve a comfortable distance from the pedals. Once in position, I had to extend my arms farther than I’d like to reach the steering wheel, which made for a sore upper back after a few hours on the road. Sliding the seat forward to reduce the distance between myself and the wheel eased the soreness, but doing this reduced leg space. Even though this is a problem some owners won’t encounter, it would be easily correctable with a telescoping steering column or adjustable pedals. Over-shoulder visibility is decent, but the Tribeca’s large A-pillars can hide pedestrians and even cars when they’re on the right-hand side of the SUV.
The second-row seats can slide forward and back, and they recline. The seat cushions are split 60/40, but the backrest is split 40/20/40. This allows long items like skis to be carried inside the SUV without compromising passenger comfort, as two people can sit on either side of the cargo. The second row is spacious, with lots of legroom for tall adults, and the leather seats are firm like the front buckets. An optional 50/50-split third-row seat increases the Tribeca’s occupant capacity from five to seven.
Optional features include a power moonroof, remote start, a touch-screen navigation system, a rearview camera and a rear-seat entertainment system with a 9-inch screen that includes two wireless headphones and a remote control.
Standard safety features include side-impact airbags for the front seats, an electronic stability system and active head restraints for the front seats. Side curtain airbags are also standard, but they only deploy over the first and second rows even though the Tribeca can have an optional third-row seat.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded the Tribeca five stars for its frontal crash-test performance. That’s the highest rating possible and indicates a 10 percent or less chance of serious injury.
Five-person Tribecas have 37.6 cubic feet of cargo room, and folding the backseat flat raises the total to 74.4 cubic feet. The seven-seat Tribeca has only 8.3 cubic feet of space behind the third row, which can fold flat into the floor when not in use. More important, the Tribeca has a low floor, which makes it easier to load luggage into it. The crossover can tow up to 3,500 pounds when properly equipped, which is competitive for its class.
As the saying goes, you only have one chance to make a first impression. That applies in the car world, and Subaru now has an uphill battle to get consumers who may have been turned off by the B9 Tribeca’s looks to reconsider the updated Tribeca. With the range of choices consumers have in its class, you might even say it’s an impossible battle.