New & Used Subaru Tribeca: In Depth
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The Subaru Tribeca is a large crossover that seats up to seven and offers a third row. Even though it’s been on the market since 2006, the Tribeca has been one of the slowest selling cars for Subaru. It competes with cars like the Ford Explorer, but some think it may have trouble competing with even its own sister models: the Forester and Outback.For more details on the Tribeca, read our review of the 2014 Subaru Tribeca; to see how the 2013 Tribeca stacks up against its rivals, try our comparison tool.
When it was introduced, the Subaru Tribeca was meant to take Subaru beyond its outdoorsy roots and offer an entry for more upscale, urban buyers who were opting for Ford Edge, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, or Nissan Murano alternatives. There were originally both five- and seven-seat versions, and the lines of the 2006 model were--to put it charitably--a departure for the brand, with an oblong center grille, winglike side grille sections, and oval headlights.
It may have been named after the trendy New York City neighborhood of cast-iron lofts and upsale stores, but the horrified reception to the first Tribeca design ensured a speedy facelift, which was launched for 2008. The Subaru Tribeca has changed relatively little since then. The Tribeca may now be the most generic appearing crossover on the market, with little to identify as a Subaru--for good or for bad.
The Tribeca's overall package has changed little since its original introduction, but the powertrains were improved in the 2008 update. Originally it packed a 245-horsepower, 3.0-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine, but that year it gained a 256-hp, 3.6-liter version that felt considerably stronger and more responsive from a standing start—and is about 10 percent more fuel-efficient. The 3.6-liter also uses regular fuel while its predecessor required premium. All Tribecas have been equipped with all-wheel drive, as well as a five-speed automatic transmission with manual mode.
Inside, the Tribeca's dash features a very curvaceous instrument panel that wraps down between the driver and front passenger, setting a very different theme than you'll find in other Subaru vehicles. Tall people should beware that front-seat legroom is surprisingly limited. The second row of seating in the Tribeca is a bit flat but good for adults; however the third row is simply too tight for all but smaller occupants and rather difficult to get to (even considering that the second row slides fore and aft many inches). The cabin is considerably quieter and more refined than were the Outback and Legacy models before their comprehensive 2010 redesign.
Overall, the Tribeca is tuned for the road rather than the muddy fields and dirt tracks that the Outback relishes. The Tribeca rides firmly but quite well, and handles much like a car, albeit one with a quite high seating position. Performance from the flat-six is good, but it never feels particularly fast, and even on newer models fuel economy isn't likely to rise above the upper teens.
Subaru had introduced a few changes to the suspension, and upgraded navigation and sound systems for 2007, but the changes were more extensive for 2008. Third-row access was improved slightly, as was rearward visibility—which is challenging on any of these models without the rear camera system. The instrument panel and trim, while attractive and even award-winning, isn't quite as delightful up close as it's full of hard plastic pieces.
Safety has been a Tribeca strength since day one. It's one of the safest vehicles in its class, with top marks from the IIHS. With regard to other types of standard and optional equipment, the Tribeca has been good but not class-leading. You'll find power heated seats standard on most models, but base Premium models opt out of many desirable features.
For 2013, Subaru has pared the Tribeca down to a single mid-range Limited trim, which includes power heated front seats, fog lamps, leather, and roof rails, and three-row-only configuration. A new brake-override safety system was also added, and all 2013 Tribecas use the 3.6-liter, 256-horsepower six-cylinder boxer-layout engine.