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2007 Subaru B9 Tribeca Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

In a day long ago, Malcom Bricklin, importer of the notorious Yugo, had the great idea of bringing a quirky little 4-wheel-drive Japanese sedan, made by a company called Fugi Heavy Industries, to the US. Styling was a bit odd, to be generous. The boxer engine and all-wheel-drive engineering was unconventional, but effective. I remember being surprised to see some of those early Subarus used as police cars in Snow Mass, Colorado. All-wheel-drive cars were rare in those days and Subaru’s competence in the Rocky Mountain snows was amazing.

Fuji Heavy Industries has been in the airplane business since the early part of last century and they currently make components for Boeing. That aviation experience has influenced both the engineering and styling of Subaru cars. We can see that influence in the styling of this week’s test car, the B9 Tribeca crossover SUV. The aviation engineering influence is also reflected in Subaru’s insistence on using a horizontally-opposed engine configuration in all its vehicles. With pistons going in opposite directions a lower center of gravity and better balance are attained.

Tribeca shares a platform, though considerably altered, with the successful and respected Legacy and Outback. Built in Subaru’s Lafayette, Indiana plant Tribeca has 45% US/Canadian content. The engine and transmission come from Japan. The fit and finish of everything is first-rate.

As the delivery guy pulled around the building to hand it over to me I marvel at the unconventional styling. I liked it from my first look at the Detroit auto show a couple of years ago. Tribeca was just introduced as an ’06 model. The nose flows gracefully into the flanks then becomes upswept to the rear suggesting the shape of an airplane. Some of my friends and neighbors are off-put by the brash mesh grille which reminds me of an exaggerated Saab grille from the 60s, sort of like a great big pucker.

This is the easiest vehicle to slide into and out of that I’ve had in a long time. The door openings both front and rear are large and high. I don’t have to duck or step too high, just slide right in. For ingress and egress Tribeca gets a solid A. The doors, hatch and hood all close with a solid quality thunk. Comfort inside is excellent as well. Seats are firm and generous. Materials are of excellent quality and designed with a soft touch. I especially like the fan and temperature controls, large round knobs with four ridges around each circumference. The knobs don’t turn they just rock back and forth with a light touch of the ridges. The style of the dash is dramatic with its swoopy lines and unconventional shapes. I love it.

Rear seats, second row that is, are comfortable and firm with reclining backs. The third row seats, barely accessible, would be cramped and claustrophobic for anyone other than little kids. I hope never to be stuck back there. I’d freak out.

The cargo area is well designed with an easily managed cargo net and a short rubber mat, both optional. The tailgate lifts and closes with a light touch as well. With both rows of seats folded nearly 75-cu-ft of cargo space becomes available, and that’s without the front passenger seat folded, since it doesn’t.

The hood, too, has an ultra-light feel, almost as if it’s made of titanium. It’s probably just a great balance with the struts. Under the hood is one of those elements making Subaru unusual - the power unit - traditional Subaru, horizontally opposed, 6-cylinder with dual overhead cams, 4 valves-per-cylinder and sequential multi-port fuel injection making about 250 horsepower and 215-lb-ft of torque. Displacing 3.0 liters the boxer engine has a wonderful rhythm, like other Subaru engines I’ve experienced. Acceleration is good, not exceptional. With a 10.7:1 compression ratio premium fuel is recommended but not required. You may get enough better fuel mileage with the higher grade fuel to justify the additional cost. We appeared to make about 20.5 mpg average during our test week during which we used just one tank of fuel. The fuel tank is only 16.9 gallons so the cruising range is about 320 miles. About three more gallons in the tank would be better, I think.

Getting the power to the road is a slow-shifting 5-speed automatic transmission. It has a manual mode but the shifts are so slow it’s not particularly gratifying to do one’s own shifting. The trans is calibrated for maximum fuel mileage but on full throttle will go nearly to red line before shifting. Fuel mileage is estimated at 18 in the city and 23 on the highway. Zero-to-60 time is a modest 8.9 seconds. And, of course, Subaru’s famous and fabulous symmetrical all-wheel drive system, a part of all Subarus, with standard traction control will keep you moving no matter how inhospitable the road surface becomes.

About the only thing I didn’t like about the Tribeca is the automatic door lock system. I don’t mind the car locking its doors automatically when we take off down the road though I’d really rather make that decision myself. But when we stop to get out, only the front doors unlock. So when I go to put something in the back door, which I do regularly, the damn thing is always locked. I have to fumble around for the fob or open the front door to unlock it from there. In browsing the manual I found no way to disable the system. That would be a deal breaker for me. But I’m perhaps a bit too curmudgeonly on that subject. I owned a Ford once with that character fault and it annoyed me for years.

Tribeca comes in two trim levels, Base and Limited, and buyers have the choice of 5 or 7-passenger versions in each level. Prices begin at $29,995 for the Base 5-passenger and go up to $33,495 for the Limited 7-passenger. Our test vehicle is the Limited and includes the entertainment and navigations systems so our base sticker is $37,295. Options on this one include: cargo package with a spot light, net and tray for $142, an auto-dimming inside rearview mirror with compass and a security shock sensor for $293, a front bumper underguard, bumper cover and floor mats for $325, and the Special Edition Package of chrome wheels, mesh grille and XM satellite radio for $1995. Altogether, this one will run you about 40-grand, give or take whatever your dealer negations might generate.

Tribeca has garnered five-star (best) ratings in all of NHTSA’s crash criteria, but four stars for rollover protection.

Subarus have a reputation as being bullet-proof and dependable but warranty coverage is only 3years/36,000 miles – nothing special. The powertrain is covered for 5 years/60,000 miles and rust through for 5 years/unlimited mileage. The usual restrictions apply.

Overall, the Tribeca is a great product for Subaru. Anyone looking at vehicles in that mid-size CUV, or SUV category would do well to take a look at this one. For my money it compares very well to the Lexus RX 350, Nissan Murano and their ilk, and it has its very own unique style and personality.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved