The American built Subaru Tribeca hasn't been a big hit for the Japanese brand, but it does represent a great package for anyone looking for a comfortable seven-seater SUV.
Having launched with a rather quirky shape back in 2006, the Subaru Tribeca was widely acclaimed as a nice car, but moderately underpowered and not all that attractive. It took Subaru just over a year to respond, updating the vehicle late 2007 with a more sophisticated and appeasing design whilst upgrading the engine from a 3.0-litre to a 3.6-litre.
The changes were well received but Tribeca sales haven't ever really picked up. In 2010, only 1,123 buyers opted for a Tribeca, giving it a 1.3 percent marketshare of the growing medium-SUV segment.
These days the only variant you can buy is the top of the range Tribeca Premium 7-Seater for $56,990*. A well-built reliable Subaru SUV with good looks and a powerful engine for that price is a good proposition, so why doesn't it sell better?
Perhaps it's partially the reputation it gained when it launched in its initial shape, as there is nothing like a first impression to the market. Or, perhaps it's the lack of a diesel option that has hurt sales, either way, the Tribeca is heavily underrated. Subaru only offers the Tribeca with a 3.6-litre petrol six-cylinder boxer engine that produces 195kW and 350Nm of torque. That's more than adequate to get the big SUV moving from 0-100km/h in a very respectable 8.9 seconds.
The downside to moving an SUV that weighs nearly 2 tones (1950kg kerb weight) with a big powerful engine is fuel economy. Thanks in part to a five-speed automatic, the official fuel usage figure for the Tribeca is 11.6L per 100km. During my week with a Tribeca test car, we got it as low as 11L/100km. That's a reasonable figure if you're comparing it to a petrol Ford Territory, but it doesn't stand a chance against the diesels.
As a daily family vehicle, the Tribeca is an extremely pleasant car to own. It's fun to drive and simple to park. It's comfortable to sit in, has seven seats (of which the last two are best used for kids only) and has more than enough power to get around town and casually cruise on the highway with ease.
The SUV driving position makes commanding the Tribeca an enjoyable experience and because it's a Subaru, it tends to be agile and corners with enthusiasm. That's perhaps the biggest draw card of the Tribeca, whilst it looks big and American, it drives like a Subaru.
Behind the wheel the five-speed automatic does a great job of using all the engine's power, it shifts with ease and is generally always in the right gear when driven around town. Nonetheless, one can feel that an extra gear would come in handy when cruising on the highway.
The interior is also very different to any other Subaru on sale today. Its modern centre instrument design is not the common Subaru family look, it incorporates the temperatures inside a rotary switch that allows for a very usable dual-zone air conditioning system.
The car's onboard computer is relatively handy, it can keep a track of your service intervals, show you comprehensive fuel economy figures and also manage your satellite navigation. The Bluetooth system on our test car didn't seem to be fully integrated into the car's audio system, as in, although it gave the option for Bluetooth audio streaming, there was no option in the stereo to enable the incoming stream.
The phone Bluetooth connectivity though, is quick and easy to setup and provides clear sound for both parties.
The nine-speaker Harman Kardon sound system is a delight, providing fantastic clarity and ample bass for a genuinely good music experience. However, there is no native support for iPod/iPhone/USB connectivity, that means a traditional auxiliary input is all you get. Which is unfortunate, given the base model Forester has Bluetooth audio streaming and can take an iPhone or USB by default.
Given that Subaru Australia only offers the Tribeca in a single variant, pretty much everything is standard. Full leather interior, sunroof, a rear DVD screen for the kids, 18-inch alloy wheels, a reversing camera (strangely there are no sensors, only a camera), sat-nav and a full complement of safety features including dual front, side and curtain airbags plus electronic stability program (ESP). As a package, it's hard to fault.
There is plenty of storage room both inside the cabin and also in the boot. The reversing camera makes parking easy and is a necessity as rear-vision through the cabin isn't all that great.
From the outside the Tribeca is actually a good looker, the bold front styling asserts a bit of aggression whilst the rear complements the overall masculine design. Side-on, it looks very much like an SUV designed for Americans, which has, surprisingly, translated well for the Australian market.
Over the last few years there has been an increase in the number of seven-seater vehicles that have entered the market. The Tribeca competes with everything from a Captiva 7 to a Pajero and the new Ford Territory. In that regard it has some stiff competition, mainly as it's not offered in a diesel. Even so, it's a worthy vehicle if you enjoy Subaru's well known ride and handling characteristics as well its commitment to safety.
If you don't need a seven-seater medium-SUV and can afford to lose a bit of room, the Subaru Forester and Outback both offer fantastic packages with better fuel economy and the choice of a diesel engine.