Tuesday, August 21, 2007

2008 Subaru Tribeca Road Test

2008 Subaru Tribeca

Subaru's crossover has a new nose, a new tail, a new engine and a more mainstream appeal as it sidles into the 2008 model year.

But wait, isn't the Tribeca only three years old? And while we're at it, what happened to the B9 middle name-the one that reminded us to make a doctor's appointment?

It sounds sinister but really, it's the best thing that could have happened. In its third model year, the Tribeca's been revisited in the mode of those low-budget shows on Oxygen or A&E, where women are kidnapped off the streets and forced to ditch their wardrobes and acquire some serious fashion sense dictated by the ubiquitous "Girlfriend!" and her ubiquitous gay sidekick.

The Edsel grille (the handiwork of designer Andreas Zapatinas, who also seems to have disappeared) is gone. And so is the B9 tag. Now the Tribeca wears a resculpted front end that's much more streamlined and mainstream. The grille's tucked neatly into the front bumper, while new headlamps give it a wider appearance and a much broader appeal. And along its sides, the Tribeca also wears new three-quarter windows, a reshaped rear valance, and bigger taillamps.

It's so mainstream it looks a lot like Chrysler's Pacifica, we say, or looks a lot more like an SUV, Subaru says. Either way, it's good move for the Tribeca, which in every other way already was an interesting alternative to the Pilots and Muranos of the world.

The Tribeca's new 3.6-liter flat-six engine is more than half a liter larger than before. Subaru says power is up from 245 horsepower to 256, and torque has risen from 215 pound-feet to 247 lb- ft. Not only does the new engine get better fuel economy in real-world driving, it also makes better power in the same cycle and does so on regular unleaded gas versus the old engine's premium thirst.

Teamed to a heavily revised five-speed automatic that weighs ten pounds less than before, the Tribeca should top its former track numbers of 8.5 seconds to 60 mph, while top speed will remain around 130 mph. That's a tick or two slower than vehicles like the Pilot and the Chrysler Pacifica-but those vehicles don't share the Tribeca's high-dollar engine sounds.

The Tribeca's all-wheel-drive system returns, and it still doesn't have a low range. But tooling around toasty Palm Springs in search of Starbucks, it's hard to find a real need for the system, which is biased to send 55 percent of its torque to the rear wheels until traction needs change. In other muddier instances, the Tribeca's traction has felt better than average, and its 8.4 inches of ground clearance is as good as any truck-based SUV. It can tow 3500 pounds, too, if you're inclined to pull things up inclines.

Subaru found some areas to improve in the rear suspension tuning, although the differences were nearly impossible to detect on the road. The Tribeca started out as composed as a resumé, anyway, and its ride is the most carefully balanced element of its character-pillowy, not billowy.

Little has changed inside the Tribeca, where a space-age theme throws its cozy semicircular arms and arrays of soft, blinking graphics around the driver and passenger. The occasional sense of being on a hot date with R2D2 can be dimmed right out with the lighting knob if you're not so open-minded.

A longer spell inside the cockpit reveals how snug the Tribeca can feel. It's a stretched Outback, after all. In five-passenger editions, the only issue you'll notice is the driver tunnel being a little skimpy - my right knee rested permanently against the center stack. But the second-row seat slides to and fro 8.0 inches, giving limo-like leg room. And for 2008 the second-row seat gets tilt-and-slide controls, and a new assist spring that makes moving the seat around a lot easier. Big grab handles make third-row access, on three-row Tribecas, a lot easier for kids, too.

Amidst all the changes, one of the most important features of the Tribeca remains the same. With its anti-lock brakes, traction control, and curtain airbags again standard, the crossover keeps its five-star safety ratings and its status as one of the NHTSA's top picks in its class.

With its social ills cured-the nose and name properly manscaped into oblivion-there's little holding the Tribeca back from any well thought out shopping list. More cautious? Sure. But it's better for it.

No comments:

Related Articles