Mother Proof's view

Photo of Kristin Varela
Former Senior Family Editor Kristin Varela blends work and family life by driving her three tween-teen girls every which way in test cars. Email Kristin Varela

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning: It’s cold out, and I had to put on socks for the first time in four months – a huge bummer because I painted my toenails Vixen Red last night and now I can’t enjoy them. On top of that, my morning newspaper was mysteriously missing, mucking up my usual routine of attempting to catch up on current events. I do this so I can pretend to participate in real live adult conversation, assuming I run into any real live adults who want to discuss something other than the upcoming preschool pumpkin festival. Moving on to break my fast with O.J. and Peanut Butter Puffins, I discovered that the Puffins had all been eaten (well, all but a lonely five of them), and the nearly empty box had been returned neatly to the shelf. Because I promised myself I wouldn’t do anything else until I got this review wrapped up this morning, though, I’m going to have to push through – no morning paper, no Puffins and all grumpified and such. That’s your official disclaimer before reading further.

Despite having a pro list that’s an entire page long and only three cons for the 2008 Subaru Tribeca, this crossover still leaves me feeling underwhelmed and uninspired. It’s been updated since last year, and the car’s “schnoz” (as it was referred to when we reviewed it before) has been given a little nip-tuck so it looks much less schnoz-like. Rear visibility has been improved, as has access to the third row. Now you can get back there from either side of the car instead of just one. This was a complaint of ours in the past, but honestly, no matter how easy it is to slide the second row forward, kids will prefer to muck up the seats with their muddy shoes by climbing over the top of them any day – which is why you should always get leather seats that wipe clean.

Also as part of its “redesign,” the Tribeca’s name has been streamlined from B9 Tribeca to simply Tribeca. Semantics, I say. If they really wanted to improve this crossover, why didn’t they give us some Latch connectors that are actually useable? The two sets of connectors in the second row’s outboard seating positions are practically inaccessible. They’re wedged deep within the seat bight, and the leather seats are too stiff for you to maneuver your fingers around to position the hooks properly. Also, despite having standard side curtain airbags, they only extend to protect passengers in the first and second rows. Many other three-row crossovers have a curtain airbag available back there, but not all do. Apparently, before you purchase a Tribeca you’ll need to have a serious conversation with your kids’ other parent to decide which of your children are most expendable – they can sit in the third row. In the Tribeca’s defense, Subaru spokesman Dominick Infante said there’s enough superstructure in the third row that the side curtain airbag isn’t needed there.

OK, despite my grumpy complaints, there are several nice things that I did appreciate in the Tribeca. Let’s start with the nighttime ambient lighting scheme whose color is shockingly similar to my Vixen Red toenails. I’m really not superficial enough to match my car to my nail enamel, but seeing this baby lit up at night is a sight to behold. I also appreciated the dual power outlets and auxiliary jack in the center console, along with the little notch for the power cords to slide through so they don’t get pinched.

There’s plenty of functional storage in the Tribeca, including two cupholders with corresponding junk holders next to them for the driver and passenger to organize loose accoutrements. There are in-door storage bins with cupholders, and two more cupholders in the center armrest for second-row passengers. A hidden slide-out storage bin near the bottom of the center console is a great place for second-row passengers to store stuff, as well. I also liked the 50/50-split folding rear seats, and I loved the smooth feel of this car while driving and the reliable all-wheel drive for which Subaru is known.

In a day when manufacturers are tricking out new cars with entertainment systems with live television, doors that open almost magically, lights and windshield wipers that turn on without human prompting, and seats that swivel, disappear, reconfigure and fold electronically, the once-futuristic cockpit design of the Tribeca is getting old fast. Subaru better start thinking a bit further into the future before it gets left in the dust.

OK, off to the store to buy some Puffins.

*For more information on the 2008 Subaru Tribeca and its safety features, visit With questions or comments regarding this review, write to


Latch Connectors: 2

Seating Capacity (includes driver): 5/7


Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample


Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great

Fun Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove On): Good Times


Base price: $33,595

Price as tested: $44,240

Engine: 256-hp, 3.6-liter H-6

Fuel: 16/21 mpg

Length: 191.5″

Width: 73.9″

Turning Radius: 18.7′

Cargo space: 8.3-74.4 cu. ft.

NHTSA Crash-Test Ratings

Frontal Impact

Driver’s side: 5 Stars

Passenger’s side: 5 Stars

Side Impact

Front occupant: 5 Stars

Rear occupant: 5 Stars

Rollover resistance: 4 Stars

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