Until Subaru decided to bring their Subarist idea of what Tribeca means, TRIangle Below Canal Street would have exclusively remained as the moniker of a revived district in NYC. Now, this Japanese carmaker of quirky WRC winning cars that have a flat engine, frameless door windows and their unique kind of all-wheel drive wants Tribeca to mean something else. Like all quirky world championship-winning cars, Subaru has its band of fiercely loyal followers. So, the thought of introducing a mid-size 7-seater SUV so that Outback owners can move up to something bigger is as contentious among the Subaristas as the annual model year changes to front grill and tail.
Today’s Tribeca owners will be spared the controversy of the previous ’06-’07 “B9” Tribeca. Introduced in other markets, the B9 Tribeca had a 3-liter flat-six, the nacelle-propeller blade design front end and rather unusual treatment to the D-pillar shape. A slightly revised variant of it was to be sold, rebadged as a SAAB 9-6, but GM’s sale of its shares to Toyota and Subaru’s parent, Fuji Heavy Industries, put an end to any more badge engineering of Subaru for GM’s SAAB. SAAB then revised its plans to base its SUV on the Tribeca and in mid-2007 introduced the 9-7x based
on the Chevrolet Trailblazer and GMC platform instead. The Tribeca is targeting those who prefer a stylish and capacious SUV with the driving dynamics of a European sports sedan.
At close to 2 tones, Subaru was wise in upgrading the ’08 model to a new 3.6-liter six with dual variable valve timing. It’s up by 11 bhp and 32 ft.-lbs. of torque over the 3.0-liter flat-six, which was ok in the B9, but overwhelmed when packed to full capacity. Even with power increased to 256 horsepower (191 kW) Subaru claims a 10% better fuel economy while using regular unleaded fuel (the 2006 and 2007 use premium). The ’08 gets a revised five-speed automatic transmission that does nifty throttle blips during manual downshifts and has quicker shifting response with
less hunting between ratios. The final result was the reverse, fuel economy suffered severely to gain the better drivability.
Still based on the Outback/Legacy platform, it already hints the driving characteristics Subaru wants the Tribeca driver to expect. Revision to the D-pillar and rear-window design seems to take its look from a RAV 4. Not only is it nicer, but it also helps aid driving visibility as do the larger, reshaped rearview mirrors. The front has the new look uniform to all Subaru’s, though it has drawn criticism in some North America quarters as looking like the defunct Chrysler Pacifica. The rear has some revisions that make it look like the popular Lexus RX. Interior styling is unchanged with its swooping cockpit, but the second-row seats have been redesigned for more room and easier access to the third row. Made in Lafayette, Indiana, the Tribeca’s spec sheet has the specifications that matches its Japanese and German/North American transplant; MacPherson independent struts up front and double wishbones out back, superb stereos and multiple driving safety electronic programs to enable the enthusiasts’ driver to enjoy the Tribeca’s abilities. In the United States, Subaru’s television ad campaign for the Tribeca featured the ’77 hit “Dust in the Wind” by progressive rock band Kansas. It shows the Tribeca passing the competition, turning them into dust. Which did not happen.
“Beauty relative to the eye of the beholder.” That was my diplomatic tag line when I was first asked by the C! team what I had thought of the new facelift of the 2008 Subaru Tribeca. I was one of the big fans of the B9 Tribeca’s original design… the intriguing “B9” designation has been dropped too by the way. The B9 looked very much like a baby Porsche Cayenne with the appropriate boxer flat-6 engine at its heart. The original Tribeca looked outstanding – even characterful – inside and out. The real problem wasn’t its design but its powerplant. The silky smooth 3.0 liter flat-6 made 245bhp and 219 lb-ft of torque, which mated very well with the Outback 3.0R but was considerably burdened by a whopping 792 lbs. (360 kg) of additional weight in the B9 Tribeca! So naturally, the performance was very disappointing in such a vehicle.
It didn’t help that its primary market (USA) did not successfully embrace the Tribeca commercially. To Subaru’s understanding, the B9 was too adventurous in its exterior design, so with a leap of seemingly calculated faith, they redesigned the front end so heavily that there is no resemblance of the old crossover at all from the front. Was the facelifted Tribeca not good looking then? Well, it’s not ugly, but because the previous model was so dramatically engaging, the new ultra-conservative looks just look stoic and unimpressionable.
Thankfully the award-winning interior remained essentially the same but with some almost inconsequential changes where Subaru liberated a bit more overall interior space. I did like the additional center dash instrument cluster with real-time car data. Now back to the beef, the mechanicals. The new engine was healthily bumped up to 3.6 liters so I expected some big figure changes… what we got was an underwhelming additional 11bhp but thankfully, and more crucially, 32 lb-ft more of torque for better drivability. There are a couple of other bonuses though; the new engine requires regular unleaded fuel down to even 87-octane while the old engine required at least 92-octane to run optimally and the new engine is also supposed to be more fuel-efficient in the process as well. Subaru’s variable valve timing is now found on both the intake and exhaust side of the new 3.6-liter boxer engine; however, the 3.0-liter engine’s nifty variable valve-lift mechanism has been sadly depleted along with the 7,000 rpm redline and the nifty accompanying soundtrack.
The five-speed automatic transmission has also received some attention, there are taller ratios in 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th gear to match the new engine which, ironically translated to a very similar driving experience in the end compared to the old B9, though I admit that the shifting was a tad quicker and a smidgen smoother. Meanwhile, revised shift- mapping and a new torque converter did reduce the hunt from one ratio to another which did make the Tribeca more accurately eager while dicing around town. Its rev-matching downshifts are a nice touch too. The Tribeca’s new lighter transmission, like many cars lately, won’t hold 2nd gear to redline as it abruptly upshifts to 3rd which hurts outright performance runs but will save your transmission in the long run. I recommended keeping the gear knob on Drive for best overall driving results. Outright acceleration, not surprisingly, did improve to as much as a second from naught to 100 km/h. The brakes are strong and effective, though the travel was a bit long for my taste and could still have better feel.
The new Tribeca ultimately is a very good crossover alternative… one of the very best even for its time. It’s easily the best handling, most refined and balanced of the whole lot. My frustrations lie on its face which should have been left alone and its 3.6-liter engine, though smooth and willing, should be producing more Subaru-esque levels of verve to a tune of at least 280 bhp. In the end, it was a niche player that the all-new and significantly larger Ascent hopes to be where it couldn’t.
Specification – 2005 Subaru Tribeca B9
Engine: Flat-6, 2999 cc, dohc 24V, Multi-Port Injection, AVLS, AVCS, 5-Speed AT
Max power: 245 bhp @ 6600 rpm
Max torque: 219 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm
0-100 km/h (0-62mph): 8.9 sec.
Top Speed: 208 km/h (130 mph)
Fuel Mileage: 16 mpg City / 21 mpg Highway
Price as tested: (2005) US$ 32,800.00
C! RATING 8/10
+A strong promise, feature-rich, unique and characterful.
-Down on power, poor fuel economy, too tight for a 7-seater.
Specification – 2008 Subaru Tribeca
Engine: Flat-6, 3629 cc, dohc 24V, Multi-Point Injection, Dual-AVCS, 5-Speed AT
Max power: 256 bhp @ 6000 rpm
Max torque: 258 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
0-100 km/h (0-62mph): 8.1 sec.
Top Speed: 218 km/h (136 mph)
Fuel Mileage: 18 mpg City / 22 mpg Highway
Price as tested: (2008) US$ 33,150.00
C! RATING 8.5/10
+More thorough, more pep, slightly better than the original.
-Still poor fuel economy, high expectation – low delivery, still cramped, older model actually looks more endearing. The new Ascent replaces it.