2008 Subaru Tribeca Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
May 29, 2008

The 2008 Subaru Tribeca is mainstream now, in style and performance.

TheCarConnection.com's editors researched a wide range of road tests of the 2008 Subaru Tribeca to write this definitive review. TheCarConnection.com's resident experts also drove the 2008 Subaru Tribeca to help you decide which reviews to trust where opinions differ, to add more impressions and details, and to provide you with the best information.

The 2008 Subaru Tribeca crossover has a new nose, a new tail, a new engine, and a more mainstream appeal as it sidles into the new model year. The Edsel-looking grille and the former B9 middle name are gone; the new 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 sports new three-quarter windows, a reshaped rear valance, and bigger taillamps. It looks more like the Chrysler Pacifica, but it's better than the strange details it wore as a new 2006 model.

The 2008 Subaru 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. Not only does the new engine get better fuel economy in real-world driving at 16/21 mpg, it also produces better power in the same cycle and on regular unleaded gas versus the old engine's premium thirst.

Teamed to a heavily revised five-speed automatic that weighs 10 pounds less than before, the Subaru Tribeca should beat 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 Honda Pilot and the Chrysler Pacifica--but those vehicles don't share the Tribeca's high-dollar engine sounds. All-wheel drive is standard, and there are 8.4 inches of ground clearance, but real off-roading isn't the goal here--just all-weather performance.

Review continues below

Little has changed inside the Subaru Tribeca, where a space-age theme throws its cozy semicircular arms and arrays of soft, blinking graphics around the driver and passenger. The Tribeca is snug, though. In five-passenger editions, the second-row seat slides to and fro 8 inches, giving limolike legroom. Big grab handles make third-row access, on three-row Tribecas, a lot easier for kids, too.

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.

7

2008 Subaru Tribeca

Styling

At Subaru, 2008 brings a more mainstream look to the Tribeca—and it’s all for the better.

The 2008 Subaru Tribeca has been redesigned inside and out to combine a distinctive interior with a more conservative exterior.

On the nose of the Subaru, 2008 brings a front grille that’s gone from bizarre to bland. It is the styling aspect on which most reviews read by TheCarConnection.com offered opinions. Edmunds calls it "a more conservative face," while Car and Driver thinks "Subaru should have called it the Chry-beca" thanks to its close resemblance to the Chrysler Pacifica.

To improve visibility in the 2008 Subaru Tribeca, the automaker added larger side mirrors and redesigned rear windows and pillars. Mother Proof notes this has the added benefit of better access to the third row: "Now you can get back there from either side of the car instead of just one."

The inside is where the 2008 Subaru Tribeca really stands out. Car and Driver writes, "[the] gauge cluster and climate control dials are...handsome." Kelley Blue Book says, "the wave-shaped dashboard visually delights," though adds "its severe curve places some...controls at odd angles from the driver." Mother Proof likes the interior lighting, noting that "the nighttime ambient lighting scheme...is a sight to behold."

Other features are not designed so well in the Tribeca, such as Subaru’s LCD information screen at the top of the center console. Kelley Blue Book points out that in the Subaru, 2008’s digital readouts "can fade when viewed through polarized sunglass lenses." Other reviewers dislike the low-contrast white/light-silver text on silver buttons of the controls.

TheCarConnection.com flew to Palm Springs last spring to drive this new Subaru; 2008’s Tribeca crossover is improved with its new nose, new tail, new engine, and more mainstream appeal. The Edsel-looking grille and the former B9 middle name are gone; the new 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 sports new three-quarter windows, a reshaped rear valance, and bigger taillamps. It looks more like the Chrysler Pacifica, but it's better than the strange details it wore as a new 2006 model.

7

2008 Subaru Tribeca

Performance

The 2008 Subaru Tribeca offers smooth acceleration and a confident, if soft, ride.

With standard all-wheel drive, a more powerful engine, and a ride tuned for comfort, the 2008 Subaru Tribeca is a good all-weather family hauler.

In this Subaru, 2008 brings revised styling and changes to the engine and transmission for improved performance and efficiency. Car and Driver reports it's "a more flexible and tranquil drivetrain, with improved throttle response...and better performance with lower operating costs." Part of those lower costs includes the fact that the engine now runs on regular gas versus the older model's need for premium. Edmunds finds "the once laggardly Tribeca is now as quick as most of its peers...with the Tribeca's 0-60 mph acceleration times dropping from 9.5 seconds to 7.8." Kelley Blue Book notes the "new shift points programmed into the automatic transmission lessen the number of gear changes required when climbing hills."

Also new for the 2008 Subaru Tribeca is a redesigned rear suspension, which, according to Kelley Blue Book, "helps improve handling while yielding an impressive 8.4 inches of ground clearance." In reviews read by TheCarConnection.com, reviewers regarded the suspension as tuned more for comfort than sport. Edmunds finds "Subaru's standard all-wheel drive provides ample grip in any weather" but also notes that the 2008 Tribeca has "modest handling limits...slow steering and noticeable body roll around corners." Car and Driver sums it up as "a very well-balanced, stable, and confidence-inspiring ute."

TheCarConnection.com adds that the 2008 Subaru 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 hp to 256, and torque has risen from 215 pound-feet to 247. Not only does the new engine get better fuel economy in real-world driving at 16/21 mpg, it makes some wonderfully high-dollar noises. All-wheel drive is standard, and there are 8.4 inches of ground clearance, but real off-roading isn't the goal here--just all-weather performance.

8

2008 Subaru Tribeca

Comfort & Quality

As a five-passenger SUV with good cargo capacity, the 2008 Subaru Tribeca excels; add more passengers, and the comfort level drops noticeably.

The 2008 Subaru Tribeca offers comfortable accommodations for most with some caveats: a cramped third row and outward visibility problems.

Little has changed inside the 2008 Subaru Tribeca, where a space-age theme throws its cozy semicircular arms and arrays of soft, blinking graphics around the driver and passenger. The Tribeca is snug, though. As a mid-size crossover, the 2008 Subaru Tribeca is not as large as other SUVs with three-row accommodations. As a result, the third row is cramped for all but small kids, and while the second row moves fore and aft 8 inches, it, too, becomes cramped when making room for the third row. Edmunds complains that the second row "although fine for kids, lacks the legroom and hip room that larger, taller adults need." The second-row seats do recline and are split 60/40. In five-passenger editions, the second-row seat slides to and fro 8 inches, giving limolike legroom. Big grab handles make third-row access, on three-row Tribecas, a lot easier for kids, too.

In front, it's a nicer affair. Kelley Blue Book applauds "the wide front seating, which also features adjustable lumbar support for both the driver and passenger." They also praise the "Excellent fit and finish," saying the "appealing materials and an uncommon dash design are the hallmarks" of 2008 Subaru Tribeca. Some drivers, however, may find the lack of a telescoping steering wheel a problem, like a reviewer at Cars.com: "it only tilts...my arms grew sore from stretching to reach the wheel."

Problems with visibility crop up in some reviews. Cars.com notes that "Over-shoulder visibility is decent, but the Tribeca's large A-pillars can hide pedestrians and even cars when they're on the right-hand side."

Finally, Mother Proof finds "plenty of functional storage in the Tribeca," including many cup holders and storage bins.

10

2008 Subaru Tribeca

Safety

Even without third-row curtain airbags, the 2008 Subaru Tribeca earns high ratings in impact tests.

With the highest ratings in front- and side-impact tests, standard full-time all-wheel drive, and a full complement of safety systems, the 2008 Subaru Tribeca is one of the safest crossovers on the market.

According to Edmunds, every 2008 Subaru Tribeca "comes with [ABS] with brake assist, traction control, stability control and a rollover-sensing program." Cars.com reports that "side curtain airbags are also standard, but they only deploy over the first and second rows." This is something to consider if you plan to transport children in the third row. Side airbags are available only for the front row, as well.

Mother Proof takes issue with the child car seat LATCH connectors inside the Subaru: 2008’s Tribeca has “two sets of connectors in the second row's outboard seating positions [that] are practically inaccessible...why didn't they give us some LATCH connectors that are actually useable?"

9

2008 Subaru Tribeca

Features

While most buyers of base models will be satisfied, the fact that the DVD entertainment system and rear air conditioning are available only in the cramped seven-passenger version of the Subaru 2008 Tribeca may be a deal-breaker.

Features are extensive in this Subaru; the 2008 Tribeca comes fairly well equipped, though at a high starting price.

In addition to Tribeca's standard safety features, all-wheel drive, and powertrain, other standard equipment on the Subaru 2008 Tribeca includes 18-inch alloys, dual-zone automatic climate control, "power front seats, full power accessories, cruise control, a CD/MP3 player with auxiliary input jack, a 7-inch LCD display screen and keyless entry," reports Edmunds.

Limited trim adds, among other things, a moonroof, roof rails, leather, better speakers, an in-dash CD player, HomeLink, and front seat heaters with memory for the driver seat. In seven-passenger models, it adds a 50/50 split third row and rear climate controls with air conditioning.

Kelley Blue Book says notable options for the Subaru 2008 Tribeca in base trim include XM or Sirius Satellite Radio, reverse assist sensors, auto-dimming mirror, and remote start. For the Limited trim, options include GPS navigation, rearview camera, and rear-seat DVD system (on seven-passenger models only).

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8.2
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 7.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
Safety 10.0
Features 9.0
Fuel Economy N/A
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