2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca Limited 7-Passenger
The 2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca Limited 7-Passenger is the company's first vehicle to offer a third row of seating, and it manages to hit the mark more than it misses. The exterior styling is a key exception, but from inside, the driver and passengers find themselves in hospitable surroundings, although third-row legroom is very limited.
The Tribeca can be optioned with a nicely executed navigation system and rear-seat entertainment package but, unfortunately, does not offer Bluetooth or any satellite radio preparation. Electronic chassis-control systems do a very good job of getting the engine's ample power to all four wheels, making this largest Subaru a relatively nimble around-town handler.
As a new entry in the crowded crossover SUV segment, the 2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca has its work cut out for it, and its rendition of Subaru's new corporate nose treatment won't help its cause. Overall, the exterior design seems somewhat slapped together, an unhappy combination of current fads and ungainly proportions. Well equipped in Limited trim, the 2006 Tribeca has a base price of $37,695, with minor options pushing our test car's sticker to a little less than $40,000. Whether the lure of decent value can overcome the Subaru B9's unconventional appearance remains to be seen.
The 2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca draws kudos for the layout and design of its cabin. In contrast to the exterior, the bold strokes of the interior enhance a feeling of comfort. The organic curves of the dashboard aren't a completely new idea, but the uninterrupted flow from door to door wraps around the driver without the claustrophobic feeling this approach sometimes creates. The Limited trim level includes leather upholstery for all three rows of seats and a six-CD in-dash changer in place of the standard single-disc unit. Seating is comfortable throughout, with power adjustment for the front and, notably, a moveable second-row arrangement that allows easier access to the third row as well as almost 8 inches of fore-aft adjustment. Alas, the third-row seats are really only suitable for small children regardless of the position of the second row, as legroom is almost nil. However, they fold completely flat and, in conjunction with the 60/40 folding second row, make for a wide array of cargo configurations.
Up front, the driver is afforded the usual commanding SUV panorama, made more dramatic in the Tribeca by the windshield base's distance from the wheel and the thin door sill out of elbow's reach. A tilting and sliding moonroof came standard with our car's Limited package. One curious feature we couldn't quite fathom was the small triangle of glass at the base of the A-pillar, in front of the side mirror. Perhaps intended to improve front-corner visibility, it doesn't in practice and seems like an unconfident flourish.
Subaru's designed some very unique styling cues into the B9 Tribeca.
The jumble of design cues continues down the Tribeca's profile: headlights melting from hood to fender, exaggerated waist contour, trendy bulges around the wheel openings, a curious faux-bumper cutout wrapping around the corners, and the acute angle of the rear quarter windows, which leaves an awkward stretch of sheet metal between the glass and taillights. This curve at the bottom of the trailing edge of the rear windows is known as the Hofmeister kink in BMW circles, but Subaru has turned it into a full-blown fetish. And the new Subaru grille is the clincher of the B9 Tribeca's styling woes. This basic shape was, to our eyes, done much more successfully on both the Nissan Murano and the Infiniti FX35.
For all its exterior foibles, though, the Tribeca's electronic interior systems were among the most intuitive we've tested. The Limited package also includes Subaru's touch-screen navigation system, normally a $2,000 option. Destination entry was painless, thanks to a full keyboard with predictive listing, and the road coverage seemed complete. The system also controls or displays information for the audio system, the trip computer, and when maintenance is needed. Controlled by a large central click knob, six hard buttons, and a zoom switch, the crisp color screen is mounted effectively for keeping a peripheral eye on the road. Steering wheel buttons offer easy adjustment of the basic audio functions.
Also part of the Limited setup is the rear-seat ceiling-mounted DVD player and screen ($1,800 as an option), which was similarly easy to use. The 9-inch wide-screen-format monitor is manually lowered to the desired viewing angle and provides a good picture even for the grainy black-and-white classic to which we treated passengers on a highway drive.
The rear DVD entertainment system features a wide-format screen, a remote control, and wireless headphones.
Notable by their absence among the available gadgetry were Bluetooth connectivity and satellite radio prep. If the Tribeca is to compete for technophile buyers, these options will need to make the list. On the plus side, a portable audio player or video game console can be plugged into the rear-seat system, a feature we think every car should offer in one way or another.
A handy drawer in the back of the center console provides a space for two included wireless headphones and the DVD player's dedicated remote control. There's also a knob for a separate climate-control fan, a simple nod to rear-seat comfort. A storage quibble we had was with the front overhead sunglasses holder; it was too shallow for our particular wraparounds, which would be a frustrating discovery for a new owner. These same polarized shades also partially washed out the displays of the digital secondary gauges, however, so maybe an investment in some aviators for driving wouldn't be too much to ask.
Like all Subarus, the 2006 B9 Tribeca offers permanent all-wheel drive. Featuring electronically controlled torque distribution and stability control, the chassis feels solid and planted under all on-road driving conditions. Particularly useful for tight urban maneuvering, the torque split is biased slightly to the rear wheels (55 percent vs. 45 percent going to the fronts) when normal grip is available. Traction control intervenes when any of the wheels start to slip, and Vehicle Dynamics Control reduces power or brakes individual wheels when a deviation from the intended path is detected. During our testing, dry roads were the order of the day. The Tribeca's minimal body roll allows for relatively spirited cornering, with the steering's self-centering feel drawing particular notice. Making a 90-degree turn from a stop, the Tribeca pulls itself around, then seems to straighten out almost on its own.
Part of the reason this large, tall vehicle inspires confidence from behind the wheel is its relatively low center of gravity. Subaru's usual horizontally opposed engine configuration, albeit with two more cylinders than we're used to, means a shorter, wider engine that can sit lower in the chassis. The Tribeca can therefore offer more than 8 inches of ground clearance without giving much away in the handling department.
The B9 Tribeca's automatic transmission had difficulty finding which gear it should be in.
While the three-liter flat-six produces ample power via active control of its four valves per cylinder, the automatic transmission can stumble in making the most of it. It hunts on freeway grades and was frequently caught out at the foot of San Francisco's steep hills. A sequential manual shift mode is available, which isn't inspiring but warrants use if only for determined gear selection.
The engine's exhaust note is pleasantly reminiscent of the similarly sized flat-six in the 1993-era Porsche 911, blasphemy notwithstanding. The problem is that it sounds at 4,000rpm like the 911 near its redline and doesn't feel torquey enough at lower engine speeds. The Tribeca manages to return EPA-rated fuel economy numbers of 18mpg in the city and 23mpg on the highway.
Beyond its all-wheel drive and traction control, the 2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca is outfitted with a nice group of standard safety features. Antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution are par for the course, although the pedal feel was a little spongy, and smooth stops took more practice than usual. Also expected is the array of supplemental restraints: dual-stage air bags for the front seats with passenger-side occupant detection and driver-side seat position sensor, side-curtain air bags for the outside second-row passengers, and seat-mounted front side-impact air bags. Other standard safety features include daytime running lights, an energy-absorbing collapsible steering column, the LATCH child seat-belt arrangement, and tire-pressure monitoring. Three-point seat belts and adjustable headrests are present for all seven seating positions.
Subaru's new-vehicle warranty basic protection is good for three years or 36,000 miles. Seat belts are specifically covered for the vehicle's lifetime, albeit with qualifications. Power train protection goes for five years or 60,000 miles, rust perforation protection for five years. Towing necessary for a warranty-covered failure is included.