2008 Subaru Tribeca review: 2008 Subaru Tribeca

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.4
  • Cabin tech: 7.0
  • Performance tech: 8.0
  • Design: 7.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The route guidance and ability to enter multiple waypoints in the 2008 Subaru Tribeca's navigation system are very useful features. Performance-wise, the car doesn't lack for power and proves very maneuverable. Critics of the previous model's looks will be happy at the styling change.

The Bad We weren't particularly impressed with the stereo's audio quality, and the system doesn't display ID3 tags from MP3 CDs. The navigation system doesn't make it easy to find points-of-interest, and canceling route guidance could be easier. Fuel economy isn't very good.

The Bottom Line The 2008 Subaru Tribeca is enjoyable to drive, and incorporates a few good tech features. However, it also has some real flaws, which could affect your long-term satisfaction with the car.

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In a nod toward conformity, Subaru gives its 2008 Subaru Tribeca a stylectomy, so now it looks like every other SUV (or crossover, if you want to call it that). While we like the unique design of the old Tribeca, too many others thought it was ugly, and they will appreciate the change. Along the way, Subaru gave the Tribeca a more powerful engine, while the interior uses the same clean and curvy design we saw in the 2008 Subaru WRX.

When the Tribeca was dropped off at our offices, we thought they gave us a Nissan by mistake. But no, the badge was definitely that of Subaru. The Tribeca seems to copy a few different cars in its bid for acceptance, including the Lexus RX330 and the BMW X3. The result is a perfectly fine-looking SUV, but one that you could easily lose in a parking lot among all the look-alikes.

Our test Tribeca was the top-of-the-line Limited edition, with seven-passenger seating, rear-seat DVD entertainment, and navigation. The new engine is a powerful one for Subaru. It's a 3.6-liter boxer six-cylinder, which is a big improvement in displacement over the previous model's 3-liter engine.

Test the tech: Navigating the triangle below Canal (Tribeca)
When we got the car, our errant thoughts turned toward where the name "Tribeca" came from. Looking beyond Subaru's marketing efforts, our Web research turned up that Tribeca is an abbreviation of "Triangle Below Canal," an area in Manhattan below Canal Street. With that information in mind, we decided to bring the Tribeca to its namesake.


We were able to define an almost triangular route with the navigation system.

Well, almost. Subaru didn't give us the car long enough for a crosscountry drive, so we found our nearest Canal Street, in South San Francisco. As there was both a North and South Canal Street, the Tribeca's navigation system didn't find our destination when we just entered "Canal." So we settled on entering "N Canal," which it found right away, and we set one end of the street as our destination. Once we got there, we zoomed out the map a bit so we could outline a triangle to the south of Canal.

One thing we like about the Tribeca's navigation system is the ease with which it let us set up complex routes. Starting from one end of Canal Street, we used the map to set our first waypoint at the other end of the street, defining the top of our triangle. Then we chose to add another waypoint using the map, and found a likely intersection for the bottom point of our triangle, down at Spruce and El Camino. After that, we made our current location the next waypoint, then chose a spot in the middle of the triangle to mark as our final destination. The Tribeca's navigation system let us look at our waypoints and destination on the map or in a list format. In the list screen, we could easily delete, reorder, or add waypoints.

The navigation system calculated our route, and told us to drive down the street. The voice guidance informed us as we arrived at our first waypoint, then abruptly told us to take a left, on the route to our next waypoint. We liked the graphics that showed us each upcoming turn, but sometimes it felt like the map was a little slow in keeping up with our position. However, the voice guidance was right on.


Oh, happy coincidence--our final destination point has tasty pastries.

We maneuvered through all three waypoints under voice guidance, then headed for our final destination at the center of the triangle. When we got there, we discovered, to our complete joy, that the Tribeca's namesake location, at least in California, was an Entenmann's Bakery outlet. A couple of coffeecakes later, we got back in the Tribeca and headed back to the office.

In the cabin
Although the exterior of the Tribeca was redesigned to iron out any radical looks, the interior retains and refines its sweeping curves. The feeling from each front seat is that you are contained in a space-age pod--the Tribeca does a good job of bringing in a some concept-car flair. This extends to the cool-looking climate-control dials, which have a display in the center of each one showing the temperature setting.

The LCD is embedded in a vaguely trapezoidal enclosure, which helps reduce glare. There are buttons for the audio system and the LCD on the center stack, but destination entry and other navigation functions are made through the touch screen. This setup is problematic, as the screen is a reach from the driver's or front passenger's seat. You have to lean way forward to touch the buttons.

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  • Trim levels Ltd. 5-Pass.
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