Subaru Tribeca – looking good

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The face that no one could love is gone.

The controversial front-end of the Subaru B9 Tribeca has been revised and now looks much like several mainstream vehicles, but perhaps most like a Chrysler Pacifica.

It’s merely a ho-hum change, but one that was needed. The previous Tribeca, on the market for two years, had an airplane-shaped grille that drew considerable criticism and derision. No doubt it cost Subaru sales. Any change was a good change.

Subaru also altered the rather ungainly name, dropping the “B9.” Now, for 2008, the mid-sized crossover is simply called the Tribeca.

Along with the new name and the new face comes an infusion of horsepower.

This is welcome because the Tribeca has been a fine example of a comfortable mid-sized crossover SUV with contemporary exterior styling, a pleasant ride, an upscale interior and a good seating position for the driver.

The 2008 edition comes with a new larger 3.6-liter horizontally opposed boxer engine generating 256 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque. It replaces a 3.0-liter engine that made 245 horsepower and 215 pound-feet of torque and had earned the tag of “sluggish.”

We delved back into our memory to carve out impressions of the previous Tribeca and the best we could do is remember that the initial offering lacked low-end torque — a bit sluggish off the line — with a tendency to run out of steam under heavy loads when high-speed merging or passing was demanded.

If our memory serves us we rate the new engine a definite improvement in those areas that needed improving. We had no call for criticism this time around, particularly when matching performance against the current Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, two models the Tribeca tackles head-on.

A new active valve control system that varies timing on both exhaust and intake together with a revised and recalibrated five-speed transmission that delivers faster shifts and quicker reaction time are responsible for better low-end response, Subaru says.

And regular octane gas is recommended for the new engine. Premium gas was recommended for the previous engine. Subaru said it was able to lower the octane rating through improved cooling efficiency.

Mileage ratings are the same as last year at 16 city, 21 highway. Be advised that 2008 EPA mileage is slightly less than 2007 (18/23) because of the EPA’s revised method of figuring gas mileage.

Other than its controversial nose, the Tribeca features modern styling.

Two years ago the styling was considered more radical than today. It seems that Subaru designers were actually on the cutting edge of new crossover design. Since the Tribeca was launched in 2005, the rounded, sculpted look has caught on in a big way. Examples include the Mazda CX-7 and CX-9, the General Motors trio of GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook and Buick Enclave and the Hyundai Veracruz.

The interior also has a modern appearance.

We have been intrigued by the dashboard layout, which has a refreshing quirkiness about it. We like the radical swooping design, which curves down into the center console, making a small M shape from door-to-door.

The curving stereo controls and the dual-zone climate controls immediately below are well marked and easy to use. The round climate control knobs toggle temperature and fan speed in precise fashion. The temperature is displayed large in the center of the knob. It’s a neat and effective idea.

The gauges are back lit for excellent daytime viewing. And the multi-colored lights are attractive at night.

The front seats are supportive and comfortable. And in our test car they came with perforated leather for better breathing quality, particularly in hot weather.

The Tribeca comes with an excellent navigation program. The software showed virtually all streets and highways in our area. The street name is prominently displayed along the bottom portion of the screen. Even the off-ramp on a four-lane road was displayed as “ramp.”

Although the Tribeca can be purchased with an optional third-row seat, it is useless except for the very young. And when in use, it robs legroom from the second-row passengers. But when the third seat is folded flat, the second-row seats, with a 30-70 split, can be slid back on a track giving passengers large-sedan space. The seats also recline for added long-distance comfort.

Reading lights, cupholders in the pull-down center arm rest and magazine pockets on the front seatbacks offer second-row passengers a comfort zone found in few mid-sized vehicles.

The third-row seat also robs the car of storage space, leaving only eight cubic feet between the seat and the rear hatch. Space expands to a generous 37 cubic feet with the seat stowed.

The Tribeca comes loaded with a lot of good stuff as standard equipment including such safety features as all-wheel drive, traction and stability control, antilock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, seat-mounted side airbags and side curtain airbags for rear-seat passengers.

The new Tribeca comes in at the same price points as the previous edition — $29,995 for the base five-passenger version and $31,995 for the seven-passenger. Add navigation and rear entertainment and prices can escalate toward 40 grand. Our seven-passenger test vehicle, without navigation and rear entertainment, came in at $34,500.

We recommend that if you don’t have to carry several children or grandchildren that you save the cash and opt for the five-passenger edition.

The Tribeca has been a solid mid-sized alternative to the likes of the Highlander, Pilot, Ford Taurus X and the Chrysler Pacifica. With the updated engine and front-end styling tweaks it is an even more attractive alternative, if more expensive.


Base price: $29,995; as driven, $34,495
Engine: 3.6-liter 6-cylinder boxer
Horsepower: 257 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 247 @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3/2
Turning circle: 35.4 feet
Wheelbase: 108.2 inches
Length: 191.5 inches
Curb weight: 4,182 pounds
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Maximum storage: 74 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16.9 gallons (regular)
EPA mileage: 21 highway, 16 city
0-60: 8.5 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Ford Freestyle

The Good
• Stylish interior with generous amount of standard features
• New face that we can love
• Loaded with safety features

The Bad
• New engine uses regular gas, but mileage is disappointing

The Ugly
• Pricey especially for the segment