Tuesday, August 21, 2007

2008 Subaru Tribeca

2008 Subaru Tribeca

It takes a big man to own up to his mistake. And an even bigger one to fix it right away. Once Pontiac let loose the Aztek, it kept it in production for five painful years. The same happened with the AMC Pacer, which ran for six. The Ford Edsel went three. But when Subaru over-extended its drawing talent on the pucker-lipped Tribeca snout two years ago, it figured it out right away and went to work.

Hence the all-new, all-new Tribeca. It gets not just a new exterior with a more mainstream grille but a bigger engine and a smoother transmission, too. It’s the fastest redo in the West.

The new exterior is inoffensive but now runs the risk of being lost in the crowd, with a conformist look that sets it far apart from its predecessor, for better or worse.

Underneath that exterior, particularly under the hood, are significant improvements. An all-new 3.6-liter flat-six replaces the 3.0-liter. The engine is bored and stroked to get the extra 600 cc. An active valve control system varies cam timing on both the intake and the exhaust side (the 3.0 engine had active valve control on the intake only).

The engine now makes 256 hp at 6000 rpm and 247 lb-ft of torque at 4400, all on regular gasoline and all from the same external space as the 3.0-liter of last year. The 3.0 made 245 hp at 6600 and 215 lb-ft at 4200 but required super unleaded gas.

The five-speed automatic also is improved, with a new torque converter and control unit, plus a reduction of internal friction. As a result, downshifts are much faster, and hunting between gears is reduced.

We spent a long day driving a Tribeca over several hundred miles of interstates, mountain roads and stop-and-go suburban streets and found it mostly pleasant, by the standards of the class. There’s less lean and flop in transitions, and the 255/55R-18 all-season tires don’t protest until they’re really pushed hard. The power rack-and-pinion steering with engine-speed-sensitive variable assist and four-wheel disc brakes vented in front felt well matched to the task. The shifter in sport mode even matched engine revs on downshifts, which is cool.

We’d call the handling good. It wove through the mountain blacktop with what felt close to aplomb for something this tall, but it’s not as responsive as the Mazda CX-9 or the Acura MDX, which are both aimed at the performance end of the segment.

The Tribeca does have standard all-wheel drive, where most offer it as an option or not at all. It also has seven-passenger seating, which is not offered by everything in the class, and its artistically wavy dashboard stands out.

So it’s good in a field of good crossovers. Which leaves us where? In a big, big field.

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