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.
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.
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.
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.