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The Tribeca is Subaru's mid-size crossover—a little larger than the automaker's rugged Outback wagon, and as the name hints, a little more urbane in purpose.
That's the idea, but in reality it's hard to see why to choose the 2012 Subaru Tribeca over the Outback if they're beside one another at the dealership. While at the time of its original launch, or even when it last got a major overhaul, for 2008, the Tribeca was not only larger but more advanced and luxurious than the Outback, but now they're about the same size, and the Tribeca's only key point of differentiation is its third-row seat—which the Outback, and many other crossovers its size do not have.
Updates to the Tribeca in recent model years have been kept to a minimum. In its current iteration, the Subaru Tribeca looks sleek and curvy, but not overtly so, and its styling details—at least on the outside—feel carefully calculated to offend no one. While the exterior of the Tribeca is quite unremarkable, the interior makes more of an impression. The curvy, once-futuristic cockpit-like interior of the original model remains; Its heavy-handed use of matte-metallic-finished plastics also feels very 2005, but its ambient lighting still adds a classy touch.
The 2012 Subaru Tribeca is powered by a 256-horsepower, 3.6-liter flat-six engine, with torque sent to all four wheels via a five-speed automatic transmission and a symmetrical all-wheel-drive system. Performance from the flat-six engine is respectable, but it's not up to par with some of the other strong V-6 crossovers in this class, like the Ford Edge. Gas mileage isn't especially good for this class, with the Tribeca returning 16 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway. But push the Tribeca hard into a corner and you'll find one of the Tribeca's best attributes: It has good body control and better steering than most other vehicles of this type. Plus, 8.4 inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive can make this all-wheel-drive vehicle pretty impressive in deep snow.
There's nothing particularly noteworthy about the Tribeca's packaging—though it does fit three rows into a manageable footprint that's pretty easy to park. Inside, the second-row bench slides fore and aft and adjusts for rake, so it's easy for adults to get comfortable; but they'll also have to balance precious legroom with the third row. In front, the seats are supportive and actually come with some side bolstering, but some will find the curvature of the dash to cut in on knee space. Otherwise, ride quality is smooth and controlled, with the same standards of refinement as in 3.6R versions of the Legacy and Outback.
We feel confident in saying that the Tribeca is one of the safest picks among mid-size crossovers; it's scored excellent marks in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) crash tests and was a Top Safety Pick for 2011. For 2012, Subaru has redesigned the head restraints; side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags for first- and second-row passengers but not for third-row passengers remain standard. We still do recommend the rearview camera option, though.
The 2012 Tribeca remains offered in Premium, Limited, or Touring trims, with the touring model gaining a moonroof, a navigation system, and a reversing camera, all as standard features. The base Premium is generously equipped, too, with fog lights, 18-inch wheels, power driver and passenger seats, and heated front seats.The Subaru Tribeca looks, inside and out, like a slightly more upscale take on the family wagon of our day—the mid-size crossover vehicle. That's to say, it's a little sleek and curvy, but not overtly so, and its styling details—at least on the outside—feel carefully calculated to offend no one.
It hasn't always been this way. When the Tribeca was first introduced about five years ago the model had a trend-setting snout, with rounded headlamps and a 'winged' grille inspired by Subaru's aircraft history. Turned out the design was very much love-it-or-hate-it (more the latter), so the Tribeca underwent a major overhaul for 2008, with a more conservative, anonymous front end that shoppers seem to like better.
While the exterior of the Tribeca is quite unremarkable, the interior makes more of an impression. A curvy, overtly futuristic (read, already feeling dated) cockpit-like interior of the original model remains; it's a handsome setup in the details, and its ambient lighting is especially extensive. But some might find a bit too much matte-metallic trim, and away from the instrument panel the interior feels nice but unremarkable.
- Top-notch safety
- Handles like a car
- Sliding second row
- AWD and good ground clearance for snow
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- Dashboard design feels dated
- Low fun factor
- Subpar fuel economy
- Tight legroom in front
- Very small third row