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2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca Photo

2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca - Review

 
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Future Cars: Other Makes (5/16/2005)

Subaru’s  U.S. team just has to rue the ungainly name tagged on their swoopy, stylish new crossover ute. Sure, the surname Tribeca brings with it globally cool images of haughty supermodels and film festivals and good rustic Italian food. But that all too descriptive middle name states what’s obvious after a short drive in the B9.

Yes, though they’re pitching it as a “progressive” SUV, this new Subaru is as inoffensive as the average Indianan that screws ’em together out there in West Lafayette. (Thank God Axl Rose is long gone, or our whole lead would be shot.) It really wants to be as outré as the Nissan Murano was back in the day, but it so closely resembles in profile that it just blends into the current SUV landscape. And it wants the benefits of symmetrical all-wheel drive and flat-six engines to make other SUVs seem decrepit, but it can’t muster the speed or an obvious handling advantage to draw attention to those unique bits of hardware.

What the Tribeca does is no small feat, though. It gives this small-means player an urbane alternative to the suburbane Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. The Tribeca’s a big step forward in size and sophistication for Subaru, even if it’s a little narrower and tighter than those top-ranked crossovers.

Hardware in store

2006 Subaru Tribeca

2006 Subaru Tribeca

Enlarge Photo
Part of the reason it’s a little narrower and tighter is that the Tribeca’s chassis is spun from the basic platform of the Legacy/Outback. It’s been stretched and stiffened: Subaru says it’s 22 percent better in terms of twisting and 55 percent better when it comes to resisting bending forces than its ancestors. Who can complain with numbers like that? My own resistance to bending has markedly increased this year, but not that much. At 4155 pounds in base form it’s no lightweight, but Subaru has done things like using an aluminum hood to reduce weight.

The extra heft over the Legacy/Outback plays out in the Tribeca’s performance envelope. It’s outfitted with the 250-hp, 3.0-liter flat six that formerly was the sole province of those other vehicles, and here it takes 8.5 seconds to get to 60 mph, a tick or two slower than vehicles like the Pilot and the Chrysler Pacifica. Subaru also says it reaches a top speed of 130 mph. It doesn’t feel perky, but there’s a rippling, high-dollar sound emanating from the flat six that probably masks some of the speed the Tribeca does build.

The transmission — five-speed automatic only — is coupled to an all-wheel-drive system without a low range. Its all-wheel-drive system is biased 45/55 percent to the rear. Ground clearance is SUV-good at 8.4 inches. So is it better called an SUV or a crossover? Despite the lack of low range, there’s no front-drive version and it sits up pretty high. We’ll be liberal like most of the intended drivers and let it be a sport-ute. (That nagging question is why we at TCC put crossovers, SUVs, and wagons all in one review category — too many blurry lines.) The Tribeca can tow 3500 pounds, too.

The Tribeca sounds utterly conventional underneath its skin. It’s a well-tuned set of springs and struts and control arms. The ride is the most carefully balanced element of its character — pillowy, not billowy response is the order of the day. Too, the steering is SUV-safe — no drama, not much involvement either, but predictable responses. Its handling is all the more surprising given its overall size and the treads it wears. Those 18-inch wheels seem awfully big for a Subaru, don’t they?

A nose is a nose is a nose

That skin, and particularly that prow out front of the Tribeca, is intentionally styled to make you think “different.” It’s the least SUV-ish thing about the Tribeca. In fact, it’s downright Alfa Romeo.

Even the radically infused lines temper down on repeated viewings, though. You’ve seen the individual elements, just not completely wedded in this shape. Remember when SUVs weren’t so much styled as folded, riveted and vaguely waterproofed? Chief stylist Andreas Zapatinas has draped the Tribeca in a taut SUV profile and that wacky Alfa-like nose, with a C-pillar that is pretty familiar now after the Murano and A-Class and X3.

2006 Subaru Tribeca

2006 Subaru Tribeca

Enlarge Photo
While the outside’s a little been-there, the control room is more avant-garde and inviting all at once. It swoops around its occupants and coddles them like the arms of St. Peter’s while looking like cross-sections of Paris ’ Charles de Gaulle airport. The dash is dropped down a bit to keep it from feeling claustrophobic in there, but in dark tones of plastic, bright trim, and soft-touch controls, it’s as Lexus as you’ll find this side of Tokyo (or West Lafayette, for that matter).

It’s when you sit in the Tribeca for longer spells that you notice the interior room is a little snug. 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 the back of the front seats have roomy footwells arched in bright trim, the best detail in the whole of the cabin. Carrying four adults is the best and highest use here — it’s perfect for real-estate agents and city-dwelling hipsters without boomerang kids.

And it’s when you begin to imagine seven passengers and fold them mentally into the Tribeca where the picture fades. The front two rows have been sized for a 99th-percentile American male (meaning that 97 percent of you guys will fit swell inside), but the third-row seat is only big enough for a 50th-percentile Japanese male. And that Japanese dude better be shorter than 5’ 7” and a good sport — I could hardly wedge into the third row, and most kids we know would want some sort of enticement (think Happy Meal) to remain happy back there for long.

Stability control, active headrests, and curtain airbags are the cream of the safety crop, and they’re all here. But for its inclusion of all the safety gear, the omission of either flavor of satellite radio is maddening. How will all those traditional Subaru fans live without clear, crisp NPR broadcasts on their way through Monument Valley? Or Noe Valley? A navigation system will arrive in September for seven-passenger Limited vehicles and presumably can find its own way into the car.

What’s it all mean?

In a full year, Subaru hopes to sell 36,000 Tribecas. But they won’t say a word about the extremely likely Saab variant of the Tribeca platform. It’s supposed to arrive next year, but you can find out more about those plans in TCC’s Daily Edition.

It’s a big step away from Subaru’s past, but the Tribeca is also step deeper into brand schizophrenia. But who said schizophrenia doesn’t please the crowds? Granola types are entranced by the Forester’s carryall prowess, and hipster Asian kids in the L.A. suburbs have elevated the WRX into their pantheon of greatness. The Tribeca is the thinly veiled attempt to get diehard blue-staters to embrace the SUV revolution and it’s a smooth, capable alternative to the more mainstream Honda and Toyota offerings.

We’re betting for all those heretofore ignored by sport-ute mania, the Tribeca’s smaller stance and its name and its still-inherent Subaru-ness will be a good thing. Trust us, Deaniacs: the pangs of sellout guilt will pass.


 

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2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca
Base price:
$31,020–$38,320
Engine: 3.0-liter flat six, 250 hp/219 lb-ft
Drivetrain: Five-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 189.8 x 73.9 x 66.5 in
Wheelbase: 108.2 in
Curb weight: 4155 - 4225 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 18/24 mpg (est.)
Safety equipment: Anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes, stability control, side curtain airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags, all-wheel drive
Major standard equipment: Power windows/locks/mirrors; keyless entry; air conditioning; AM/FM/CD player w/ six speakers; power seats; cruise control; power moonroof
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles

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