Model tested: 2008 Subaru Tribeca 3.6R Premium – five seat – $58,990
Ride & Handling, Interior refinement, Build quality, Fuel efficiency.
Needs more power, Faces tough competition, built for the American market.
-by Alborz Fallah
Subaru has now established itself as one of the most reliable and proven brands in the world. Differentiating from the rest of the Japanese makers via their All-Wheel-Drive system, the Japanese brand is now well and truly at its best.
But, and I say but with extreme emphasis, the people in charge of Subaru’s exterior designs need to be lined up against a wall and ran into by every single ugly front end the brand has ever made, and there are a few of them.
Take the bug-eye Impreza 2000-2002 for example, 6 years on and even today Subaru owners hang their heads in shame knowing the company put the world’s ugliest front end to such a marvellous car.
The engineering work that goes into every single subie is above the fold, and that is a result of years and years of refusing to give in to temptation to build front-wheel-drives.
All other mainstream Japanese manufacturers decided a long time ago that in order to make the most money, front-wheel drive was the way to go, not Subaru, it’s either done the right way, or it’s not done at all, similar to BMW, no such thing as a front-wheel-drive BMW.
However the upcoming Toyota funded ‘affordable sports car’ will be rear-wheel-drive, which should pose an interesting dilemma for Subaru.
But enough about the brand, lets get back to the car. The first Tribeca that came out was unanimously labelled as the ugliest SUV on the road (bar SsangYong’s contributions).
One has to wonder sometimes how some car designs get approved. Manufacturers spend millions on focus groups and research before a car goes into production, so how then, did Subaru think the car was going to appeal to anyone except the visually impaired?
Pages: 1 234
But it wasn’t even a big problem, it was simply the front headlights, they looked like they came from a 1960s Datsun. To put it bluntly, the front-end made a quality car feel mundane and repulsive.
The main issue with the original Tribeca design was its target audience. Americans. If you’re smart enough, you may even work that out from the name, Tribeca stands for “Triangle Below the Canal”, a neighbourhood in lower Manhattan, New York (and yes, the car is built in the States).
However the original Tribeca was not much of a sales success over there, even the Americans questioned the styling.
Thankfully someone at Subaru put on their glasses and sent the front back to the drawing board. The original Tribeca came to Australia in late 2006 and already, there is a new one. A much prettier one.
Others have criticized Subaru for turning the front end into a generic SUV face, but, what would they prefer? The original? I don’t think so.
The new Tribeca isn’t just a facelift though, the MY08 model has a few other goodies too, firstly it’s powered by the biggest engine Subaru has ever made, a 3.6-litre boxer which puts out 190kW of power and 350Nm of torque.
This is a big step up from the 3.0-litre unit (180kW/297Nm) used in the MY07 model. While the power has gone up, fuel economy has come down to 11.6 litre per 100 kilometres (12.4 previously).
The Tribeca marks a big change for Subaru, for so long the brand had been limited to the Impreza, Outback, Forester and Liberty. The Forester is the best seller of the bunch and the Impreza’s higher spec WRX and STi variants carry Subaru’s flag high and mighty. With the introduction of the Tribeca, Subaru is one step closer to offering a complete range.
So just how good is Subaru’s attempt at a large SUV? Originally the Tribeca was put up against everything from the X5 to Ford’s territory but these days, it’s pretty much directly pitted against the new Mazda CX-9, so it has a lot to live up to.
Although the CX-9 starts at just $49,990, to measure apples with apples, one must compare the luxury CX-9 variant, which starts at $57,265, to the seven seat Tribeca Premium which retails for $60,990.
To be frank, the CX-9 wins on paper, it arguably looks better, has more power (204kW and 366Nm of torque), is also an AWD, has a six-speed transmission (compared to five for the Tribeca) and you can’t overlook those giant 20 inch rims (standard)!
Recent figures show the CX-9 outselling the Tribeca by around 2 to 1, but then again Brittany Spears outsells Moby by 24:1 and that doesn’t make her any better!
Mazda and Subaru are both known for their build quality and reliability, so there are no arguments there. The choice between the CX-9 and Tribeca is a hard one and I believe it comes down to personal taste, the new Tribeca will most likely keep better resale value but the CX-9 does nudge it out in a beauty contest.
Not a single one of my passengers managed to sit inside for more than 30 seconds before saying something about the interior. The centre console pushes out in an odd way, as if it has a point to prove. But it all blends in quite well.
The aircon temperature is displayed inside the actual climate control knobs while the stereo is perhaps the best ever in a Subaru. The seats are comfortable, but can do with a little more side support.
After you’ve tuned the stereo to your liking, you can have a play with the onboard computer which lets you check everything from on-the-fly fuel consumption to your next scheduled oil change.
Premium variants also get a rear seat DVD entertainment system with two sets of wireless headphones.
The only problem with the interior is the overuse of silver, which might not stand the test of time.
Ride and handling is improved over the previous generation, a result of recalibrated rear suspension. Putting the car through the regular Brisbane route around Mt Nebo showed some promising results, limited body roll for a car this large and a comfortable ride. However one issue that was clearly evident was actual performance.
Despite the increase in power and torque, it still has a kerb weight of 1888kg so even with just me in the car, it feels a little sluggish. Official 0-100km/h time is 8.9 seconds, which for a Subaru, is a bit slow (but a big improvement over the old car’s 9.8).
During my week with the Tribeca, my own car, a Subaru, was spending some time at a specialist Subaru mechanic undergoing some major modifications, during the week I popped in to check on the work and the second I got there, both mechanics rushed out to see the new Tribeca.
The workshop had just ordered two Tribeca engines from Japan, apparently they will be twin-turbocharged and put into an Impreza shell! Which should be interesting.
The head mechanic spent a good ten minutes looking at the engine, his response? The engine appears to be extremely well put together but Subaru could easily fit a turbocharger in there.
With an additional 30-40kW and 50-60Nm of torque from a turbo, the Tribeca would be much easier to live with. Although, I am sure it was considered and the extra fuel consumption ruled it out.
In charge of getting the power to the wheels is a five-speed automatic transmission (no manual offered), which is lacking an extra gear. Much like the WRX can do with a six-speed manual, the Tribeca can do with a six-speed auto.
At least the five-speed has been significantly improved over the previous model, giving much smoother gear changes and no more gear-hunting issues. Subaru has changed the internal clutch layout and improved the gearbox by allowing 4th to 3rd and 3rd to 2nd downshifting simultaneously.
Safety is taken care of by ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Dual front, side and curtain airbags, VDC (Vehicle Dynamics Control with Traction Control – ESP), Xenon HID headlights and more.
A great active safety feature is the standard rear vision camera which displays marker lines indicating distance and car width, as well as the edge of the rear bumper. If you’re thinking about buying a large SUV, this is a crucial and potentially life-saving system if you have little ones.
The Tribeca has received a five out of five safety rating from the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) so you can be assured it’s as good as it’s going to get.
At the end of the day, Subaru has tried very hard to differentiate the Tribeca in the overcrowded SUV market, and if the sales figures are anything to go by, a 97% increase in sales (Feb 07 to Feb 08) would suggest the new shape has hit the mark.
Engine: 3.6-litre six-cylinder
Power: 190kW Torque: 350Nm Top speed: N/A Safety: ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Dual front, side and curtain airbags, VDC (Vehicle Dynamics Control with Traction Control – ESP), Xenon HID headlights and more. 0-100km/h: 8.9 ANCAP rating: 5 Turning circle: 11.4 metres Fuel tank: 64-lires Fuel consumption : 11.6 Fuel type: 95 RON