2013 Subaru Tribeca Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
July 23, 2012

Good all-weather handling and strong safety ratings are reasons for families to keep the 2013 Subaru Tribeca on the list of contenders; but a dated design and low gas mileage could prove hard to overlook.

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.

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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.

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2013 Subaru Tribeca

Styling

The 2013 Subaru Tribeca is rather anonymous, but its distinctly different interior will polarize.

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 now about the same size.

The existing Tribeca design impresses as smooth and decent-looking yet carefully calculated so as not to offend anyone. Especially from the front, its styling is generic to the point of invisibility. It wasn't also so; when the Tribeca was launched for 2006, it had a "winged" grille design on its front snout that was said to have been inspired by Subaru's aircraft history, as well as a curvier (and memorable and well-integrated) front-end design. Some panned the styling, and sales were slow; so for 2008 the exterior was given its present look.

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. Like the rest of the Tribeca, that look is now somewhat dated. The details of the design are handsome, with extensive ambient lighting adding a touch of sophistication. Still, many may feel that there's just too much matte-metallic plastic.

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2013 Subaru Tribeca

Performance

The Tribeca handles quite well and has all-wheel drive standard, but its powertrain is no standout.

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.

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. That's due in part to the lower center of mass afforded by Subaru's horizontally opposed (flat) engines. Yet with 8.4 inches of ground clearance and standard AWD, the Tribeca is great for winter snowstorms or muddy trails.
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2013 Subaru Tribeca

Comfort & Quality

The 2013 Tribeca can hold up to seven, but those in the second and third rows may have to seek mediation.

There are many crossovers on the market that make better use of interior space than the 2013 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 a total of eight inches (and adjusts for rake). If no one's all that tall, you can fit up to seven. 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 and trims are no longer a standout in any way.

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2013 Subaru Tribeca

Safety

The Tribeca hasn't been crash-tested in years, but it has a good safety kit.

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, although the federal government hasn't tested it under its revised ratings system introduced a couple of years ago.

The Tribeca includes anti-lock brakes and various other electronic safety systems, and six airbags, although it's worth pointing out that the third-row airbags don't cover the third-row positions.

We recommend the rear-view camera system for driveway visibility, as outward vision can be challenging for shorter drivers. A brake-override system has been added for 2013. 

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2013 Subaru Tribeca

Features

A higher starting price compared to other mid-size crossovers makes the Tribeca a harder sell, but you do get a lot of features even in base guise.

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.

As such, fog lights, 18-inch wheels, power driver and passenger seats, and heated front seats are all standard, as well as Bluetooth hands-free connectivity for the stereo, a moonroof, leather upholstery, and roof rails. A 50/50 split third-row seat back and rear climate-control system are included, too. The optional 385-watt sound system comes with ten speakers and satellite radio tuning. A navigation system with reverse camera remains optional, too. 

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2013 Subaru Tribeca

Fuel Economy

The gas mileage of the 2013 Tribeca is nothing to boast about--even compared to other manageable three-row vehicles.

Even if shoppers can get over the somewhat dated look and feel of the 2013 Subaru Tribeca, the mileage figures on its window sticker might be cause for disappointment.

With only a six-cylinder engine on offer, the Tribeca is the brand's heaviest and least fuel-efficient model, and it shows. The EPA rates the Tribeca at 16 mpg city, 21 mpg highway, for a combined gas-mileage rating of just 18 mpg. The highway mileage especially is now below the best in the class, and while mid-size crossovers with six-cylinder engines and all-wheel drive are never going to match the fuel economy of compact crossovers.

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7.6
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Styling 7.0
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Comfort & Quality 8.0
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Fuel Economy 6.0
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