2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review

2008 Subaru Tribeca Premium Review & Road Test

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.

CarAdvice rating:

-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.

2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review

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.

2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review

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?

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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.

2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review

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.

2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review

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.

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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.

2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review

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.

2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review

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.

2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review

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.

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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.

2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review

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.

2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
2008 Subaru Tribeca Review

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



  • Captain Mainwaring

    Subaru got some Greek stylist guy with a surname beginning with ‘Z’ fron Alfa Romeo, and he must have been a con-man because all he did was flip the Alfa front end upside-down and call it a Subaru. It didn’t work. It turned the bug-eye Impreza into something even worse, and the ‘why do we need this?’ Tribeca into a re-run of the ‘flying vagina’ Edsel. Subaru sacked him, but they should have done that before they hired him.
    Now we have Subarus with Chrysler front ends, and the company is controlled by Toyota. Subaru’s future looks like a dark place, but we won’t miss the ‘DOOF DOOF’ of the stereo every time an older one goes past.

  • BHB

    I think the writer should do a bit of study.

    “The Tribeca marks a big change for Subaru, for so long the brand had been limited to the Impreza (and its derivative, the Outlander), Forester and Liberty. ”

    He may learn that:
    Forester is a derivative of the Impreza.
    The Outback & Tribeca are derivatives of a Liberty.
    And that the Outlander is a Mitsubishi.

    Sadly, Subaru have stopped making the Magna, and Mitsubishi are now producing a P76.

    • http://none Bloke

      Not sure if they removed it, but there isn’t anything there about about ‘Outlander’, only Outback!

  • Duck

    The interior looks groovy!

  • Andrew

    The centre console looks like a bit of melted cheese drooping down but otherwise it seems to be a marked improvement on the previous model.

  • Alex

    the original looks like a nissan micra SUV – in other words ugly!

  • No Name

    A vast styling improvement over the outgoing model. And a little exclusivity as well. Nice

  • http://. Naughtyius Maximus

    GOOD QUESTION BY WRITER – “…..did Subaru think the car was going to appeal to anyone except the visually impaired?”

    NM response……arent Subbie and Toyomota trying to work out what size bed to get and produce silly designs. Ah the pain of looking at it!

  • http://www.caradvice.com.au/ alborz

    You’re right BHB, I did mean outback there not outlander, all fixed up, thanks for pointing it out.

  • Reckless1

    There are some SSanyongs that are far prettier than the first of this, and a far better vehicle for purpose as well :)

    The new design is better, but a drover’s dog could not have designed something uglier.

    What is surprising, is that cars are produced by more than just the designer, there are plenty of others that have to sign off before it is built.

    Then again, the industry is littered with such glaring mistakes, take the home-grown AU for another example. One really bad model finished off the Falcon, which is now in its death throes – it will breathe its last when fuel gets to $2.00.

  • jamison

    its medicore styling…

    but its “prettier” than the previous one… but thats a given.. a car smash looks prettier than the first one.

    Toyota Stylers, have been given more freedom actually… so hopefully back to “inspired” designs when the next models come out… Subaru looks to benefit from it…

    The old WRXs, werent lookers either… admit it… great cars.. but their performance made there fans blinded from the appearance…

  • Andy

    This yank tank actually looks and feels decent. I came across one while looking thru the new Impreza (don worry, ended up with a Mondeo) and the interior feels top notch. I’m pretty sure this car would sell better if Subie had actually promoted it. I haven seen a single ad for this car anywhere. The CX-7 u mentioned, on the other hand is fast becoming Eddie Everywhere.

    And yeah lastly, Cx-9 doesn work on me coz i felt the proportions were perfect on Cx-7. Now if only Subie sold Diesels in these.

  • http://evo Frugal One

    YUCK! [sorry ricky]

    Cheers

    F-0

  • Eddy The Expert

    Original Tribecca = Flop

    Solution?

    Take one aborted Saab 9-6X (developed as another saabaru rebadge) and simply apply Subaru badges and change the grille slightly. (notice the Saab shaped headlights)

    How else do you think Subaru could afford to change the look off the car so much and so quickly?

    Anywho, better looking as a Subaru than a Saab.

  • Wheelnut

    Given to look of the current Subie Impreza.. and the couple of models before that.. The 02 Bug-Eye Impreza looks more attractiuve and alot more uniform with the rest of the car. Infact I’d say it looks more modern particularly when compared to the one with wings

  • passing by

    I like the exterior of this model Tribeca way more than the old one. However the interior leaves a lot to be desired – I strongly dislike the slopping dash (looks like something from a French car in the 70′s), and the seats in the base model have very little support (made for fat Americans). They should refit better seats for Australia. Definitely needs a darker interior and dash redesign.

    Subaru are also about 3 years behind now with their auto transmissions – all premium autos should be 6 speeds, with 5 speeds as a minimum in the base models. Sports models (wrx and STi) are desperately in need of a DSG gearbox (I personally am holding off upgrading my 99 wrx until Subaru provide one! and I cannot wait much longer). And how about the 4 speed autos in the new impreza and forester.. I mean.. seriously! Stakeholder Toyota should assist Subaru asap with their tranmissions.

  • harry

    Disgraceful styling, looks likes a mad dog’s breakfast, and I totally with ^ gear box selections across the range are Shite. Wake up Subaru… there are probably thousands of potential buyers waitng desperately to replace their older Subies, but, if like me, they’ll give up and select other makers. We wait silently for some smart designs.

  • Casey

    I’d take a CX-9 any day, at least they look like they were styled this century. Sorry Suby, as good as you may be, this is average at best.

  • http://caradvice.com.au OSU811

    Casey if you actually took the time to drive both cars back to back, you would find the tribeca superior to drive
    , it rides better , the gbox is smoother, it handles better because its constant awd not part time like the mazda, the engine sounds better (boxer layout), mazda has little bit more power but in this style of family car the tribeca has more than anough and has plent of bottem end torque, also tribecas new shape is lell likely to date as quickly as the oversyled mazda..

  • http://caradvice.com.au OSU811

    and a big advantage especially with fuel prices going higher and higher is the tribeca is much better on fuel than the cx9 and runs on std unleaded fuel..

  • Duck

    OSU811, is right u know!

  • Fenno

    Another “Claytons” 4wd (the 4wd you have when not having a 4wd) that fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. This car is about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

  • Baji

    OSU811 i’d have to disagree. Yes the tribeca rides a lot softer but at the expense of more body roll. The mazda rides a lot stiffer but it was designed that way from the ground up to embrace the so called “zoom zoom” philosophy. The subie is not quite sure about what it wants to be. Its too firm to be a true luxury vehicle, and too soft to be a sporty vehicle. I believe the mazda to be the better handling of the two, and its transmission is just as smooth if not better. The mazdas shift points are a lot better as well and it doesn’t hunt for gears as much. The mazda engine is a lot more responsive and i find is a bit more powerful. But yes it does use more fuel. honestly i think the looks are all subjective. To each his own.

  • http://foolkit.com.au nick

    i am test driving one now – and it is growing on me. FENNO – a very funny post but a tad off the mark. Value for money this is one very good sensible family soft-roader. I have been a BA falcon wagon sorta guy with three toddlers and this is a car we would look at. A stylish really safe kid carrier with lots of great features for your $. Handles so well, nimble for its size and brakes on a pin. My only grip is its too quiet and all I hear is the transmission, so it sounds like Im driving a stylish sewing machine. Looks as great as a conservative family car can – even tho I want to buy the alfa 159 estate ….mmmmmm now thats a car. pity its only got room for the shopping.

    yes – drive it for the weekend before bagging it people.

    Oh yes my wife rightly points out ‘looks like lexus ‘cept only a third of the price and it doesnt talk at you all the time – god I hate overly chatty GPS units dont you?’

  • JJC

    We just purchased a 2008 Subaru Tribeca and was disapointed to find that Subaru Sat Navigation system has been substantially degraded.
    The “blurb” given to new purchasers includes a booklet with the front cover labelled “Subaru” & suggesting that the vehicle contain “WheriS” navigation with “Version 13″ software.

    But don’t be fooled, they have removed entirely such essential items as:- School zone warnings, Red light & Speed camera alerts etc. Worst of all the new cars have the old Version 13 software rather than Version 14 which was released in December 2007.

    Subaru dealers are not interested to discus this deplorable situation.

    What do you reckon can be done to overcome this problem??

    James

  • Mel Rodd

    I just purchased the Tribeca early 2007 model. The one the writer calls ‘ugly’. Well I beleive it looks great. Not only great looking, but unique as well. The shape is not like the generic SUV faces you see on the road everyday.

    So many times I’ve been stopped geting out of the car and people asking for a look. They often make the comment that it looks very similar to Porsche’s Cayenne. And I’d have to agree. It also has all the luxury you could imagine on the Premium model and for a 3.0L engine, it has enough power for a family car. My Tribeca is my dream car come true.

  • ASSEM

    am about to buy a tribeca, I like the car, but if any one can help with any info regarding reliability, spare parts prices, etc.

  • Bodger

    I think you are all a bit agressive on the design. The earlier model, the B9, was out there and I think very impressive. Those who seem the abuse its design should go back to the FJ and live the dream of a limpid in the ocean never changing over millions of years.

    Car designs are meant to evolve, and maybe in 10 years time you will look back and say that was a great design. However probably not. Carry on bottom dwellers.

  • Kriss

    Hi,
    I too have a tribeca which I do love. Servicing is very well priced.
    However, we have just had a terrible situation on our driving holiday to QLD. Whilst pulling out in front of semi (putting the throtle to the floor) the engine literally had a fit. It was as if it threw itself in to neutral and was reving really high. We bascially lost all power. My husband luckily pulled into the middle of the road so the truck could pass. We then could not get the car out of low gear. We tried everything. Every warning light was on on the dash. We turned the car off and re started and it seemed a lot better (lights were still on). We took it Subaru and they checked everything and said it was the transmission cellunoid? sp? The car is still “chugging” a bit at certain speeds. Has anyone else had something similar?
    Any other feedback would be appreciated!

  • Hellsfull

    Ugly as hell … yuck I woulnt think it would have good resale being built in the states. Subaru has lost the plot they use to make nice cars.

  • Igor Suto

    I have purchased the 2008 Tribeca Premium several months ago. I love the body shape, the ride, the atention to detail and the overall build and style of my Beca. The only critisicm I have is that the Navigation system doesn’t have school zone, speed/red light camera and speed zone warnings. Any run of the mill mobile GPS unit has this, why not a car that has everything else? Also the audio system lacks bluetooth connectivity for mobile phone pairing. Once again, much cheaper and inferior vehicles have this feature. Style and design are highly subjective, so not everyone will like everything. personally, this is the best car I’ve ever purchased. Oh and the wife loves it as well. There’s almost peace on earth.

  • MadMal

    Dam nice car but the 7 seat option can only really be considered for midget parents or those with legless children. Parents under 5’9″ who’s children have no feet should also look at it but for the remainder its just a joke.

  • Hung Low

    Kriss Says:
    November 18th, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    If its one of the solenoids in the transmission then its quite a big repair job depending on the gearbox design. Either the gearbox will need to be removed and repaired or they might have access to the solenoids from the sump. Either way hope its covered under warranty or else $$$$$$!

  • Steve-Poyza

    I liked the original. It was an interesting design and creative design. But so many people ae bland and want things to look bland too.

  • GWH

    If you top up the fuel tank and leace the cap loose, the engine can loose power and lots of lights come on and stay on.

    The manual warns about this.

    You need to reseat the cap and drive it for a while, when you turn on the ignition leave it in ignition “ON” for a few seconds before going to crank.

    This will eventually reset the system.

  • GWH

    If you top up the fuel tank and leave the cap loose, the engine can loose power and lots of lights come on and stay on.

    The manual warns about this.

    You need to reseat the cap and drive it for a while, when you turn on the ignition leave it in ignition “ON” for a few seconds before going to crank.

    This will eventually reset the system.

  • http://none Bloke

    Cant believe the price! definitely showing their Toyota influence there – way overpriced 4WDs

  • http://caradvise.com cdk

    Tribeca is probably the greatest handling SUV. The nav system is a total waste of money, it does not do anything right and comes thru with outdaed disc.
    Suburu does not help owners with the nav problems because they don`t make it. They should not sell what they don`t support.

  • http://caradvise.com cdk

    Tribeca is probably the greatest handling SUV. The nav system is a total waste of money, it does not do anything right and comes thru with outdated disc.
    Suburu does not help owners with the nav problems because they don`t make it. They should not sell what they don`t support.

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