Although we were happy with the navigation system's route guidance and ability to handle complex routing, we found a few problems. First, the points-of-interest database won't list all the nearby locations in a category. You have to start entering the name of a place to see a list. So you can't list all the Chinese restaurants within a few miles--you have to actually know the name of the place you want to eat. Also, if you want to cancel route guidance, you have to dig down through a couple of menus to find the button. Canceling route guidance should always be easily accessible.
The Tribeca's stereo showed some promise at first, but we uncovered a few things we didn't like about it. Of the features we liked, it has an auxiliary input jack right next to a 12-volt output in the console, XM satellite radio, and a six-disc in-dash changer that reads MP3 CDs. But oddly enough, the stereo wouldn't display ID3 tagging information from our MP3 tracks, even though it had a nice LCD on which to do so.
And although the stereo had nine speakers, including a subwoofer, audio quality was only so-so. The sub gave the audio depth, which was nice, but many tracks we played rattled the speakers at medium to high volume. The mids and highs also didn't really stand out with this system. It seemed like the 160-watt amp didn't do a good job of delineating which frequencies went to which speakers.
At this top trim level, our Tribeca also came with a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. The screen resolution looked good on this system, which mounts on the ceiling. It comes with a remote that controls everything except volume, and wireless headphones. And while we weren't crazy about the audio quality of the stereo when playing music, it sounded very good playing a movie.
Our Tribeca also came with a rear-view camera. The rear display on the LCD used an overlay of colored lines behind the car, indicating distance. As we've noted with other Subarus we've reviewed, the company doesn't offer Bluetooth cell phone integration.
Under the hood
The 3.6-liter boxer six-cylinder engine puts out 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque, and you can feel the effect of these specifications behind the wheel, as the Tribeca lunges forward with the slightest touch of the gas pedal. In fact, it's almost too responsive, as we had trouble creeping forward in heavy traffic--the Tribeca wanted to jump.
The engine's power is transmitted to all four wheels through a five-speed automatic. The transmission made its shifts smoothly and unobtrusively, even when we mashed the accelerator for passing or climbing a hill. Sport and manual gear-selection modes can be activated by pushing the shifter to the left. We didn't notice a big difference in Sport mode, and after trying out the manual mode, we pretty much forgot it was there.
The Tribeca comes with all-wheel drive, a standard feature on Subarus. In general, the Tribeca felt sure-footed going around corners, not that we really pushed it hard in the turns--this is an SUV, after all. But in quick lane changes at higher speeds, it felt almost as nimble as the Infiniti FX45.
We were happy with the performance of the Tribeca, except when it came to fuel economy. The EPA rates it at 16mpg in the city and 21mpg on the highway. In lengthy bouts of freeway driving at speeds around 70mph, we saw a maximum of 17.5mpg, while our observed average for city and freeway was 16.5mpg. A sixth gear might have helped on the freeway, but this mileage is mostly due to the engine displacement. As of this review, emissions ratings haven't been published for the Tribeca.
Our test car was a 2008 Subaru Tribeca seven-passenger Limited, which bases at $33,595. Rear-seat DVD entertainment and the navigation system came together in a package for $4,200. The wireless headphones were an extra $86, while the XM satellite radio added $398. Along with the $645 destination charge, the total comes out to $38,924.
We like the technology in the Tribeca, but there are some serious flaws. We also enjoyed driving this car--it was fast and nimble, suitable for handling crowded city streets, fast-moving freeways, or deserted mountain highways. But we weren't pleased with the fuel economy. With the seven-passenger configuration, legroom was cramped in the middle row. As an alternative, the Land Rover LR2 costs about the same, and gives you off-road capabilities and Bluetooth cell phone integration. We recently reviewed the Mitsubishi Outlander, which costs substantially less, has more cabin tech, and gets better mileage.