Starting with all-wheel drive, the Tribeca is loaded with technology, giving drivers the latest in all-weather safety and performance. The Tribeca earned the highest possible rating in NHTSA federal crash tests, with five stars in the frontal and side-impact tests for both the driver and front-seat passenger; and a four-star rating in the tests for rollover resistance.
For 2008, Subaru drops the odd B9 suffix from the Tribeca name. More important, the 2008 Tribeca gets new styling that's less controversial than last year's.
A larger, more powerful 3.6-liter six cylinder engine on the 2008 Tribeca replaces last year's 3.0-liter six-cylinder. Also new for 2008, the transmission has been re-tuned, the rear suspension settings have been revised, and there's a new wheel design. Inside, a tilt-and-slide feature for the second-row seats has been added.
We've found the Tribeca to be a joy to drive, comfortable and practical. The new engine gives the Tribeca the power it needed. In short, we'd list the Tribeca as a buy. It's comparable to the Highlander and Murano, and that's high praise indeed. And we no longer have to offer explanations for the styling.
Subaru Tribeca 5-Passenger ($29,995); Tribeca 5-Passenger Limited ($32,595); Tribeca 7-Passenger ($30,995); Tribeca 7-Passenger Limited ($33,595)
If the original grille went too far in being different, the new grille and front end may go too far in trying not to offend. The grille is wider and taller, and the smaller grilles flanking the central grille are gone. The front of the hood line is raised, and the headlights are lowered and more horizontal. Subaru says the new front end visually widens the vehicle. We think it looks alright but makes the Tribeca look too much like a Chrysler Pacifica.
Along the sides, the body panels are mostly vertical, though not slab-like; their expanse is broken by mild fender blisters circling properly proportioned tires and wheels. Beginning at the trailing edge of the front door and even with the door handles, a soft crease grows as it moves rearward, giving the rear portions substance before ending in the wraparound taillights. An understated character line etched into the doors and running between the wheel arches draws attention to the matte-black rocker panels and subtly reminds the observant of the Tribeca's 8.4-inch ground clearance. The steeply raked windshield and A-pillars pull the eye up and over the tall glass house to a spoiler laid atop an acutely angled back window.
While the previous front end was controversial, the rear end was odd, too. That has changed as well. What was once a strange combination of an airy top half with a ponderous bottom half has been better integrated. The waist line that wrapped around the vehicle and created the upper/lower tension is gone. The license plate frame has moved up, and the split tailgate has given way to a one-piece liftgate. The new design is better looking, but again, more like that of various competitors.
Overall, the new design is less controversial but it's also less distinctive. It won't be a deal breaker like the last design, but you might not be able to recognize a Tribeca as easily.
We found getting in and out easy. We didn't have to climb up into it; we simply opened the door and sat down. Once underway, the relatively high seating position allowed us to check traffic several cars ahead. Outward visibility is slightly compromised by the thick A-pillars (on each side of the windshield), the trend as automakers design vehicles to better protect occupants in violent rollovers. More than once, we overlooked a pedestrian or another car at an intersection because the pillar blocked our vision. With the 2008 restyle, the rear pillars are thinner, making the view out the rear a bit better than it was before.
Once buckled in, all the controls fell right to hand, and the gauges and panels tasked with communicating important information did so quite naturally. Well, maybe the fuel and coolant temperature gauges weren't completely intuitive, tucked away in the lower outboard corners of the instrument cluster and utilizing LEDs in lieu of the analog style. But we liked the large tachometer and speedometer, which were easy to scan. Arms and hands rest naturally on nicely textured surfaces with the requisite buttons and levers where they should be. Steering wheel-mounted supplemental controls are styled into the sweep of the wheel's spokes. The shift lever's SportShift slot, which allows the driver to manually select the desired gear, is properly placed to the driver's side of the primary gate.
The rounded center stack extends into the cockpit for easy access to its controls and features. The primary audio control knob is centered within ready reach of the driver and front-seat passenger. The heating and ventilation controls are really cool, with big knobs that feature digital readouts. The front passenger's air conditioning temperature control knob is thoughtfully positioned facing the passenger. The stereo handles MP3 media, and includes an input jack in the center console. An elaborate information screen and (optional) navigation system display are centered in the upper half of the dash with controls that are accessible to both the driver and front passenger.
When ordered, the touch-screen navigation system includes a rearview camera, a great safety and convenience feature. When the driver shifts the transmission shift into Reverse, the navigation system's center LCD display shows what the color camera detects within its field of vision behind the vehicle. Reference lines help guide the driver. In everyday use, rearview cameras make parallel parking easier and quicker. A rearview camera can help alert the driver to hazards that are difficult to see otherwise, such as a child sitting on a tricycle behind the vehicle. Also available is rear park assist, which uses ultrasonic sensors mounted in the rear bumper to detect objects behind the vehicle and emit an audible beep that increases in frequency as the vehicle gets closer to the object behind it. Our preference is to have both features, both for convenience and safety reasons.
The second row is more comfortable than it looks at first, which we discovered on a day-long, round trip between California's Central Valley and the Bay Area. The seatbacks can be reclined. Indeed, we never even thought about comfort while riding in the back seat for more than an hour, indicating it was roomy and quite comfortable. The second row is one of the most flexible we've seen
The last engine was merely adequate, but the new engine makes the Tribeca competitive in a class filled with excellent V6s. We found the new 3.6 H6 offers responsive power. Only slight pressure on the gas pedal brings up sufficient power for passing. Shifts up and down are managed almost invisibly; even when executed manually through the SportShift there is only the slightest interruption in the energy flow. Speaking of the manual characteristics of the SportShift, the Tribeca will shift up a gear at engine redline; it will not, however, drop down a gear without the driver tapping the lever forward.
Fuel economy isn't a standout feature, however. The Tribeca earns an EPA rating of just 16/21 mpg City/Highway.
The more time we spent with the Subaru Tribeca, the more we liked it. Not that it didn't impress us from the get-go. Multi-lane, divided highways passed under its impressively quiet tires as smoothly and as rapidly as did winding, switchback-laden two-lanes.
Subaru revised nearly all the suspension settings for 2007 and tinkered with the rear suspension again for 2008. The result is a smooth-riding vehicle with true crossover traits: SUV functionality with a carlike ride.
Credit for much of the Tribeca's smoothness belongs to the high degree of refinement Subaru's engineers have achieved in development of the horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine. Credit for the Tribeca's nimble handling goes to the relatively low center of gravity that comes with that essentially flat engine placed low in the chassis, a trademark Subaru engineering feature. The Tribeca is bigger than it looks and in close quarters it feels that way, but on the road it handles surprisingly well. The Tribeca tracks through tight, left-right-left transitions with little body lean and inspires confidence at high speeds that you wouldn't experience in any of the truck-based SUVs. The steering is accurate, though a little slow.
We felt the brakes weren't ideal, or at least not to our liking; brake feel wasn't truly linear and somewhat spongy. And the steering column is offset a smidgen to the right, toward the centerline of the vehicle. A lot of vehicles have imperfectly located steering wheels, but we were surprised to find this in a Subaru.
All-wheel drive comes standard, and Subaru is a leader in this technology. Subaru's all-wheel-drive system makes the Tribeca an excellent choice when the weather turns foul or conditions become slippery, whether it's snow or ice, or a muddy, unpaved road, or a rainy, oily backroad or on-ramp. Under normal conditions, it sends 55 percent of the power to the rear, to provide a handling optimized rear-drive bias. The system also acts as an active safety feature even on dry pavement, helping to reduce skidding in corners and aiding the driver in controlling the vehicle. Subaru's all-wheel drive is your friend.
When our time with the Tribeca came to an end, we were sorry to see it go. We could see ourselves owning the Tribeca and being quite content with life as a one-car household.
The 2008 Subaru Tribeca has all the right feel of control and dexterity, plus impressive hauling capacity for people and things. The new engine makes it competitive in an increasingly tough midsize SUV/CUV class, and the revised suspension tuning adds to its refinement. Subaru's all-wheel drive technology is thoroughly debugged and proven. The revised styling makes it more attractive.
Tom Lankard filed this report from San Francisco after his test drive on the coastal roads north of the Bay Area and California's Central Valley, with Mitch McCullough reporting from the Wine Country and Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago.