With its 2008 redesign, I had hope for the 2009 Subaru Tribeca. On the outside, it's a fairly vanilla-looking crossover, but the interior is another story, with its funky center stack. On paper, I thought it'd be a fun car to drive, and I was excited to check it out. In reality, the Tribeca is a lot to handle. It tried to be innovative and clever in an attempt to make me like it, but it was just over the top.

With a price tag on my test car of $36,081, the Tribeca left me feeling like I should get more for the money. It didn't have a power tailgate, and it only had a single power sunroof and miniscule door storage. This made me wonder why I should consider the Tribeca over its family-mobile competitors.

The all-wheel-drive Tribeca feels a little stiffer on the road than your average crossover, and it seemed more in tune with the road than most crossovers I've driven. The six-cylinder engine accelerated just fine, and it never lacked for power. I had no problems merging onto the highway. My friend, however, thought it felt like we were riding in an old truck and didn't enjoy the ride.

There was a lot of wind and engine noise - more than I expected - in the Tribeca. This wasn't too bad when I was alone, but when the kids were in the Tribeca, it meant everyone had to whine a lot louder to be heard. My test car seated five, but the Tribeca is available with an optional third row. It costs more, but you'll be able to seat seven in the crossover.


The Tribeca got a vehicular nose job for the 2008 model year, and it certainly made the Tribeca more appealing to a wider audience. In a class with several design standouts, however, I wonder if Subaru didn't cut off its nose to spite its face.

For folks who don't want to make a major design statement with their car, the Subaru Tribeca hits the spot. If you still want a little spice, the fun Newport Blue Pearl paint job made up for the crossover's uninspiring shape. I loved the color and would have no other if the Tribeca were mine. After all, I had to rely on my Tribeca's lovely color to distinguish it from other crossovers. Again, that's not a bad thing if vanilla is your favorite flavor.

The Tribeca was easy to drive and maneuver around parking lots. My older kids had no problems getting in and out of the Tribeca, but younger children might have a difficult time. The step-in height was large for wee ones, and some smaller kids might need more assistance to get into the Tribeca than you're used to giving. They'll grow into the Tribeca as fast as they grow out of the jeans you bought them last week, so don't fret too much.


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

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


First off, I'm annoyed that the Tribeca doesn't have a telescoping steering wheel. This invention makes a world of difference for us shorter drivers, and I get a little annoyed when crossovers don't incorporate this fabulous feature.

There were a bunch of little issues with the Tribeca that added up to major annoyances for me. The jet-cockpit-inspired dash looks cool when you're peeking at it through the window; in reality, its metallic-looking plastic swoosh, which houses the center stack's buttons, is a problem. I couldn't read some of the buttons because they faced the passenger side; they're buttons the driver would use, not just the passenger. Another problem was the buttons were metallic-looking with white lettering on them that made them difficult to read. The metallic-colored plastic of the center stack also reflected sunlight; it wasn't blinding, but it glowed just enough to remind me it was there. I often found myself wishing for a cloudy day when I was test-driving this car.

The Tribeca's vents are droopy-looking rectangles that look weird. Their placement is odd, too, because the vents follow the swoopy lines of the center stack. The vent adjusters are also on a funky angle, and they kept getting stuck. You could get over this if you gave yourself some time, but who wants to spend time getting over their new car's vents?

A feature that I liked in the Tribeca was the cord pass-throughs in the center console. The center console houses two 12-volt outlets and an auxiliary jack for your MP3 player. You plug an MP3 player into the jack and feed the cord through a slot between the console and the lid; this allows the lid to close properly.

In the backseat, my kids' little hands operated the seat belt buckles just fine. I loved the width of the rear bench. The 40/20/40-split seat allowed for plenty of room between my two kids, and the flat bench easily accommodated their booster seats. Nice! The Latch connectors and the tether anchor were easy to access. In the backseat area, there are a set of cupholders in the center armrest and a bin in the rear of the center console for rear passengers to use. Shorter kids won't be able to reach this cubby, so you'll need to get everything squared away in the backseat before you leave your driveway. My kids really didn't have a lot to say about the Tribeca. They were fine in the back and thought it was ... fine.

There's another reason I'm not happy with the Tribeca: the pesky center hump in the backseat floor. Many cars we test now don't have this hump, and without it that's a perfect spot for a purse. I needed a spot to carry a foam-core board illustrating a science project, but I couldn't store it behind the front seats because of the hump. Hmph. That left me to put the board in the rear cargo area. The cargo area itself was just fine and had no shortcomings. If you put the optional third row in there, however, I'm sure it'd be a serious squeeze. If you're looking for a three-row crossover and plan on larger folks sitting back there for any length of time, I'd try out that third row during a test drive of the Tribeca to see how it really functions.


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

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


The Tribeca felt sturdy on the road. The brakes were terrific, and as I mentioned, the acceleration was good, so I had no worries about safely stopping or merging onto a fast-moving highway.

The 2009 Tribeca received a larger rearview mirror and rear-quarter windows, but it was still difficult to see out the back. A rear camera is available and might be worth the extra money.

The Tribeca has an electronic stability system and antilock brakes. It also has six airbags - front-, side-impact and side curtain airbags. The side curtain airbags cover the first and second rows, but not the third row, which is another little annoyance. Granted, the third row is optional, but can I get some safety love if I opt for the extra seating? I guess not, and that's a deal-breaker.


In Diapers: There's plenty of room for rear-facing infant seats in the backseat, as well as lots of cargo space for all the baby gear.

In School: The backseat's flat bench easily accommodated my kids' booster seats.

Teens: They'll have enough legroom in the second row, but they might not enjoy driving such a boring-looking crossover. Oh well, life's tough.