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Subaru's move into the SUV market with the introduction of the 2006 B9 Tribeca seemed like a natural progression for a brand that has long prided itself on its all-wheel-drive capabilities. And despite an overall downward trend in sales of gas-gobbling 4x4s, Subie's five- and seven-seater newcomer found plenty of fans--and customers--in its first year of life. For this review, Subaru let us play with a 2007 Subaru B9 Tribeca five-passenger Limited for a week.
Little has changed visually on the Tribeca for the 2007 model year: the car retains its Hannibal-Lecter-in-a-face-mask front end, and its unique curvy, futuristic interior. Also unchanged is the drive train, which couples a six-cylinder boxer engine with a five-speed automatic transmission, and endows the all-wheel-drive Tribeca with 245 horses. Its unmistakable styling and relatively nimble handling put the Tribeca in the class of urban--rather than suburban--SUVs: potential customers for the Subie will likely also be considering the Nissan Murano and the Lexus RX 350, rather than boxy offerings such as the Jeep Commander or the Nissan Pathfinder.
Apart from the styling of the front end, which had an indelible effect on our aesthetic sensibilities from which we are still recovering, we had few technophile gripes with last year's Tribeca. Among these were the absence of an auxiliary input jack (or dedicated iPod harness), the lack of satellite radio as an option, and the absence of a Bluetooth hands-free phone interface. We're happy to report that Subaru must have read our review and decided to act on two of the three: this year's Tribeca comes with the aux-in jack and XM satellite radio prewiring as standard.
You can't touch this navigation system
As it shares its platform with its seven-seater sibling, seating space and cargo room in the five-seater Subaru Tribeca are plentiful. Rear passengers are treated to the rare luxury of having fore and aft adjustments, as well as some reclining room. Up front, the view of the road is commanding, but three-quarter visibility is severely impaired by the presence of a huge D-pillar, which would be classified as an even huger C-pillar were it not for the inclusion of a triangular porthole-type window, which serves little function. The '07 Tribeca sports exactly the same intuitive and well-rendered touch-screen navigation display that we liked so much last year--destinations are easy to program using a predictive onscreen keypad, which defaults to an inside-out method of address entry: that is, it let us enter a house number first, followed by the street name, and then city. As this is the format that most addresses are given in outside of Japan, it makes for a far more logical and speedy entry process. Turn-by-turn instructions are precise and clear, as is the split-screen map, and dedicated hard buttons for zoom and instant voice guidance are nice touches that other nav systems would do well to emulate.
The nav screen offers a split view, but the LCD is a little far away for easy touch-screen use.
One gripe that we have with the system is that the screen often felt too far out of reach for both driver and front passenger, leading to us having to stretch out of our seat to program or reprogram the unit. While we have had some bad experiences with joysticks and all-in-one navigation remote controls, this is one occasion in which some kind of help would be useful. (An ideal solution is a voice-command system à la Honda's.) Another grumble we have with the Tribeca's nav unit is that the screen is set into the dash at an angle, which makes for some glare when the sun is astern, particularly when the sunroof is open. A lip on the top of the display does a pretty good job of keeping the screen shaded in most other situations. Navigation can be programmed by destination, by point of interest (POI), or by virtually dragging a crosshair to a point on the map. Other options include programming by previous destinations, memory points, and SOS. The POI database also includes a wide variety of retail stores, something we've come to depend on for impromptu errands.
As with many other in-dash multimedia units, the Tribeca's navigation touch screen doubles as an interface to control the car's audio system, and as an information display for vehicle diagnostics. The car's nine-speaker audio system is unchanged in its physical layout from that in the 2006 model. In addition to the six-disc MP3-enabled in-dash changer found in last year's model, the new iteration adds XM satellite radio prewiring and a generic auxiliary input jack for allowing playback from portable digital audio players. The Tribeca's futuristic dash caters to 21st century customers by featuring hard buttons for navigation of homemade MP3 discs, for which the system will also display full ID3-tag information. However, the player will not read WMA files.
The six-disc changer reads MP3 CDs, and ID3 tags show on the LCD.
From the front seats, the sound quality is decent at lower and midrange volumes--especially when enhanced with the digital sound-processing (DSP) interface accessible through the nav screen--but buzzy bass distortion kicks in when cranking the dial past halfway. Other dials that you can't crank past halfway are those used to control the dual-zone climate control in the front seats: both driver and front passenger get their own climate wheel, which contain a white-on-black digital display showing their selected temperature. Of all the innovative features of the Tribeca cabin, this was one of our favorites.
Boxer lacks punch
Like its 2006 forebear, the 2007 Subaru Tribeca Limited is motivated by a three-liter, six-cylinder horizontally-opposed engine that works up to a maximum 245 horsepower at 6,600rpm. These stats suggest that the Tribeca has some zing, and at lower speeds around town, the suggestion is confirmed. Steering response and handling on the all-wheel-drive Tribeca are far better than that of many other similar-size SUVs we've driven (likely due to the its low center of gravity, resulting from its flat-packed boxer engine being set low in the chassis), and well suited to in-town driving.
The six-cylinder boxer-style engine is a unique design, keeping most of its mass just above the chassis.
However on the freeway, it's a different story: despite the dramatic bleating noise that comes with a squeeze of the gas pedal, the Tribeca fails to live up to its soundtrack when called upon for midrange response. This is surprising, as even in standard shift mode (a sport mode is also available with a flick of the shifter), the five-speed auto transmission is tuned to hold each gear into relatively high rpms when accelerating. The EPA rates the 2007 Subaru Tribeca B9 Limited at 18mpg in the city, and 23mpg on the highway, which is also nearer to the figures for a CUV than full-size truck.
Five-star safety ratings
One of the key elements of Subaru's marketing campaign for the Tribeca is its top-class safety rating. In NHTSA tests, the car scored a maximum five stars for both frontal- and all-round side-impact ratings, and four stars for rollover safety. The latter has been upgraded for the 2007 model year with the inclusion of a rollover sensor, which continuously monitors the vehicle angle and deploys the side-curtain airbag when it detects that a rollover is imminent. Other active safety on the Tribeca comprises a backup camera complete with reverse-guidance lines, as well as a park distance control (PDC) sensor.
In a nice, high-tech touch, the backup camera paints lines on its display to indicate vehicle direction.
When turned on, the PDC emits a harsh warning note each time reverse gear is selected, then an increasingly frequent succession of beeps as the car nears an obstacle to the rear. We found it necessary to turn down the volume of the PDC speaker--located in the cargo area--to prevent us from grinding our teeth to powder each time we backed up. The 2007 Subaru Tribeca comes with a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile power-train warranty, and five-year/unlimited-mileage rust protection.
Our tester was a top-of-the-range Limited model, endowed with many standard tech and comfort features included in the sticker price. These included a six-disc in-dash CD changer, dual-zone climate control, heated seats, and a power moonroof. Our car also included GPS navigation with backup camera ($2,000) and a reverse assist sensor ($325). The cargo convenience upgrade ($167) and the Protection Group 1 package ($303) brought the total to $37,915, including a $625 destination charge.
There was a lot to like about the 2007 Subaru B9 Tribeca. Overall driving feel was great, and cabin electronics mostly met our high expectations. Although we would have liked a little more highway power, the Tribeca worked great for around-town driving. Through traffic its six-cylinder boxer engine gave us power when we needed it to jump into another lane. Its five-speed automatic transmission could use an extra gear, which would give it better fuel economy on the freeway. Subaru's all-wheel-drive system helped our overall performance rating of the Tribeca, which would have been merely average otherwise. Besides the long reach to the LCD, the cabin electronics were very satisfactory. We liked the nav system, and the stereo sounded good. Holding back our cabin tech subrating was the lack of Bluetooth phone support, putting this aspect of the car in the superior range. Finally, the car's all-wheel drive, side curtain air bags, rollover sensor, and backup camera helped give it a near-perfect score for safety tech.