Review: 2008 Subaru Tribeca
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
On sale only since the 2006 model year, Subaru's first 7-passenger sport-utility vehicle, the B9 Tribeca, is already getting a makeover.
For 2008, the Tribeca loses its less-than-attractive, snouty face, adds more power to its 6-cylinder engine and updates its rear suspension and automatic transmission for better ride and performance.
And that pesky "B9" in the name — which refers to an internal company code for this SUV — is dropped.
Thankfully, though, the best things about the Tribeca — its artfully designed dashboard and top, five-out-of-five-stars crash test ratings — are retained.
No price increase
At the start of the 2008 model year, the base, five-passenger, 2008 Tribeca was priced just under $30,000, which was a meager $20 increase over the base, 2007 Tribeca and was actually $55 less than the starting price for the original, 2006 Tribeca.
Shoppers seeking a 7-passenger Tribeca at the start of the 2008 model year could see a price break of some $1,600, because starting MSRP has dropped to just under $31,000 for 2008 from 2007. This price also is lower than the original, seven-passenger, 2006 Tribeca price.
Subaru officials said nearly half of Tribecas sold have had third-row seating.
Still, shoppers can find lower-priced SUVs with three rows of seats, in part because so many other brands offer two-wheel-drive versions.
In contrast, the Tribeca, like all Subarus, comes standard with all-wheel drive.
Thus, a shopper can find a 2008 Toyota Highlander with a starting retail price of more than $27,000. This is for a 7-passenger, two-wheel-drive model with 270-horsepower V6.
Even a 7-passenger Highlander with all-wheel drive and same, 270-horse V6 has a starting retail price of around $29,000, which is a tad less than the Tribeca's.
No wonder Subaru officials aren't expecting annual sales of 18,000 to increase after the 2008 revamp.
New one looks better
But I didn't love it, either. And I have to admit that removing that snouty, weird design at the front of the 2008 Tribeca is a good thing, because at the least it won't distract the way the previous one did.
Too bad, though, that the new grille and headlights seem so close to the new styling that Chrysler put on its redesigned, 2008 Chrysler Town & Country minivan. From the front, the Tribeca could double as a Town & Country sibling.
In fact, on one occasion, I walked past the test Tribeca in a shopping mall parking lot because I mistook it for a Chrysler minivan!
The Tribeca's rear end is redone, too. But for some reason, it reminds me of another vehicle — this time the Hyundai Santa Fe.
Inviting interior styling
This translates into quite comfortable front-row seating, though side bolsters on the front seats of the tester were so firm I noticed them each time I slid onto the seats.
Driver and front passenger also must contend with sizable metal pillars at each side of the windshield.
But the Tribeca's flowing dashboard design still looks great. It's so swoopy, I wanted to touch its graceful lines every time I got inside the vehicle.
Controls are good-sized and easy to understand. The only thing that's missing is a knob for tuning the radio. Instead, the Tribeca features an up/down button that can be tedious to use.
Fit and finish inside the test Tribeca was excellent.
But second-row space in the Tribeca isn't great. Legroom is just 34.3 inches, which is less than that of many competitors. For example, the 2008 Highlander features a full 4 more inches of legroom in the second row.
The Highlander also is wider than the Subaru and thus provides an additional 2 inches, at a minimum, of shoulder room in the second and third rows.
The Tribeca's third-row seats sit right on top of the floor, so be sure to watch as you drop down — really down — onto them. The cushions are flat and don't provide as much support as I'd like, so you can feel a bit of a jolt as you first settle down.
And if you think legroom is less than generous in the second row, wait until you experience the meager, 30.9 inches of legroom in the third row. Even someone my size — 5 feet 4 — can find that last row a bit confining as knees are forced up, near your face.
Ride is up off the pavement
As a more car-like, crossover SUV that's not riding on a truck platform, the Tribeca offers rather easy entry. I just lifted myself up a bit and set myself on the front- and second-row seats.
The third row takes a bit more effort to get into, because there's little foot space between the second-row seat tracks and the wheel well area of the vehicle.
At least for 2008, Subaru added new grab handles to help people keep their balance. The second-row seats slide forward easier now, too.
Engine upgraded slightly
But now, the new, larger-displacement boxer, 6-cylinder engine is a 3.6-liter unit with 256 horses and improved get up and go. Torque has jumped to 247 lb-ft at 4400 rpm compared with the previous 215 lb-ft.
This power is immediate. In fact, I could push my head back into the head restraint at startup if I didn't modulate pressure on the gas pedal.
The only transmission is a 5-speed automatic with shift-it-yourself Sportshift that has been refined some from the previous Tribeca. In the tester, shifts were impressively smooth.
Odds and ends
In fact, it provides a rather nimble, commendable ride with exemplary road manners combined with some road feel that doesn't punish passengers.
Some road noise and road impact sounds came through at times, though.
Fuel mileage is rated at a ho-hum 16 miles per gallon in city driving and 21 mpg on the highway by the federal government.
All safety equipment is standard on the Tribeca including electronic stability control. But head curtain airbags work only for front- and second-row passengers.