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The 2013 Subaru Tribeca is a mid-size crossover that's pitched toward a more urbane crowd—the kind who's more likely to be wearing Cole Haans than Keens, as the name hints. It's quite the opposite for Subaru's better-selling, ever-outdoorsy Outback wagon. While the Tribeca is only slightly larger than the Outback wagon (which is much more fuel-efficient), the Tribeca's advantage is that it offers three rows of seating--to fit up to seven.
In reality, no matter how hard we try to see the appeal of the Tribeca, it's difficult to see why a shopper would choose the Tribeca over the Outback for any reason other than that third row. When it was originally introduced, the Tribeca offered a far swoopier, edgier, and more flamboyant design (and was larger than the Outback), but for 2008 the Tribeca was given a plain-Jane refresh that effectively made it more anonymous on the outside while keeping its curvy, once-futuristic cockpit. With a larger Outback bowing a couple of years ago, both models are about the same size. And the existing Tribeca design impresses as smooth and decent-looking yet carefully calculated so as not to offend anyone, while the interior makes more of a impression, for better or for worse. It's a little dated, with its space-robbing contours and overuse of matte-metallic surfaces.A 256-horsepower, 3.6-liter flat-six engine and five-speed automatic transmission remain the only powertrain for the Tribeca. With symmetrical all-wheel drive sending torque sent to all four wheels, you get confident, respectable performance, but it's not quite up to par with the rest of this class—especially now that some models like the Ford Edge have far higher power ratings and six speeds. With EPA ratings of just 16 mpg in the city and 21 on the highway, the Tribeca is far thirstier than base Outbacks. Compared to other taller crossover, the Tribeca has one valuable asset: It drives like a lower, leaner vehicle than it is around corners, with better steering than most other vehicles of this type. And it's great for winter snowstorms, with its 8.4 inches of ground clearance and standard AWD.
In terms of interior space and packaging, there are many crossovers on the market that do it far better than the Tribeca, although for a model that's at the small end of mid-size it's roomy enough for growing families and has a footprint that's pretty easy to park. Third-row occupants will need to haggle for space, as the second-row bench slides fore and aft several inches (and adjusts for rake). Front seats are comfortable and supportive, but the slow curves of the instrument panel cut into knee space. Ride quality is good—as well as top 3.6R versions of the Outback—although interior materials are no longer a standout in any way.
Even many years after its introduction, the Tribeca remains one of the safest picks among crossovers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave it Top Safety Pick status again last year, though we recommend the rear-view camera system for driveway visibility. A brake-override system has been added for 2013.
The 2013 Tribeca is carried over essentially unchanged from 2012, so there's nothing especially new or noteworthy in its feature set. There is one key difference, though: While last year there were Premium, Limited, and Touring trims offered, this year it's only offered in its mid-range Limited trim. That means all a long list of equipment like power heated front seats, fog lamps, leather, and roof rails are now standard.