Thursday, August 23, 2007

2008 Subaru Tribeca - Features

2008 Subaru Tribeca2008 Subaru Tribeca

I had considered buying a Tribeca a few years ago, but the awful front end scared me away. Subaru has fixed that to the point of now being fairly nondescript, which I like much more than the B9. The large wheels and tires make it seem more premium, too but it still retains enough Subaru quirkiness to make it stand out. Its stronger, six-cylinder boxer gives enough for a family hauler—not sporty, but it’s no dog either. The transmission seems well matched to the engine, and passing is not a problem in this large station wagon. Ours also had a strange rustle coming from the rear cabin. Not good.

Inside is typical Subaru, with function overriding beauty. A sea of molded plastic wraps around the front to the sides. Nothing on the dash says “Wow! I’m glad they thought of that.” Nor does it say, “Why the heck did they put that there?” It’s plastic and it looks like plastic. No chicanery here. However, there’s no MPG readout, which is common on many cars, and helpful for people with limited math skills.

I can’t say I like the new schnoz, but the reworked flat-six (also new for the 2008) finally has the low-end grunt the Tribeca always deserved. Horsepower isn’t up a huge amount, but it feels a lot faster off the line. Kudos to Subaru for addressing the critical issue of acceleration while leaving alone the Tribeca’s greatest asset, the swanky interior.

I had a chance to drive the revised Tribeca back-to-back with the new-for-2008 Toyota Highlander, one of the best sellers in the mid-size segment in which the Subaru competes. The facelifted Tribeca feels (and is) far quicker than the original despite its modest gains in horsepower and torque, and offers superior steering and road feel compared with the new Highlander.

But the Toyota trumps the Tribeca where it counts: A four-wheel-drive Highlander starts more than $2000 less than the Subaru, has much more passenger space in both the second and third rows, offers more horsepower (270 vs. 256), accelerates quicker, and gets better fuel economy (17/23 city/highway vs. 16/21). With competition like this, it looks like the Tribeca is destined to remain a low-volume player.

Screwy styling, weird packaging, a nearly useless third row—these are just a few reasons to dislike Subie’s star-crossed SUV since its launch a couple of years back. But the one reason that turned me off most was its lack of power, and that’s why I was pretty interested to see whether or not the Tribeca’s 2008 power infusion could win me over. The boxer engine always felt overwhelmed, especially during passing maneuvers or accelerating onto the freeway. Unfortunately for Subaru, 11 hp does not a fix make. Yes, there’s more usable torque (32 extra lb-ft, actually), meaning the low-end feels less lethargic, but it’s otherwise a same-old, same-old. At least the nose job means it looks a lot better.

I was never appalled by the B9’s nose or rear. I thought it looked unique—if anything it looked like an Alfa, and who would complain about that, right? The revision is not more tasteful, just more appealing to the masses. The IP stack is wonderful. The smooth aluminum texture is very high-end looking. The gauge cluster and climate control dials are equally as handsome.

Too bad the dashboard can’t be shortened a little. The aforementioned items are designed and done so well. But, the upper-center area of the dash is a big, gaping area of nothingness.

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