2014 Subaru Tribeca Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
May 22, 2014

The 2014 Subaru Tribeca is a solid choice if you're a family who needs all-weather handling, but its old design and poor fuel economy may leave you looking elsewhere.

Take the Subaru badge off the 2014 Tribeca, and you might not be able to recognize this family-size crossover. Oddly, it has little in common with the more rugged, wagon-like Subaru Outback, which might be one of the most recognized family vehicles in some parts of the country -- and it hardly looks like a Subaru (but that's another story, really).

For years, the Tribeca has been a sort of Black Sheep of the Subaru lineup, occupying a parallel trajectory that attempts to duck Subaru's traditional outdoorsy crowd–instead ending up completely anonymous. As what has been the brand's least successful vehicle by sales numbers, the 2014 Subaru Tribeca sticks around for one more year, chasing a more urbane customer–one who's more conservative and upscale.

The Tribeca carries one advantage–it offers seating for up to seven in a pinch. It's hard to see, otherwise, why anyone would choose the Tribeca over the Outback--unless the third row really is a deal-breaker.

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When it was launched, the Tribeca was given flamboyant design that looked almost alien, but that was part of its charm. An exterior refresh came in 2008 that glossed the car in more conservative design, making it more anonymous on the outside, while it maintained its curvy, once-futuristic cockpit. A new Outback debuted a couple years later, growing in size to nearly match the larger SUV. The Tribeca's design is neat and smooth, and it's in no way offensive–while the interior looks a little more space-aged, for better or worse. It's a little dated, and the interior seemingly chooses form over functionality, at least for now.

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 the class. 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 models, the Tribeca has one valuable asset: It rides and handles really well, and overall 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.

Going by 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.

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 was added in 2013.

The 2014 Tribeca is carried over essentially unchanged since 2012, so there's nothing especially new or noteworthy in its feature set. With this model, you get fog lights, 18-inch wheels, power driver and passenger seats, and heated front seats all standard. You'll also get Bluetooth hands-free connectivity for the stereo, a moonroof, full leather upholstery, rear climate control, and roof rails.

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2014 Subaru Tribeca

Styling

The interior appearance of the 2014 Subaru Tribeca is polarizing; but on the outside it's about as bland as new crossovers get.

Back when it was launched, most of a decade ago, the Tribeca was given flamboyant design that looked almost alien--and that was part of its charm. Somehow that didn't agree with those in high places, and an exterior refresh came in 2008 that nipped and tucked the Tribeca to a far more conservative look, making it more anonymous on the outside--all as it maintained its curvy, once-futuristic cockpit.

That duality remains today--and a reminder that a complete interior redesign is far more complicated and costly than exterior cosmetics. Today the Tribeca remains smooth and decent-looking, even handsome. For better or worse, the interior looks a little space-age, a little dated.

The 2014 Tribeca remains about the same size as the Subaru Outback, but with a design that's calculated so as not to offend anyone. Especially from the front, its styling is generic to the point of invisibility. It might not even register as a Subaru to some.

The interior makes more of a impression, for better or for worse. There's a little too much matte-metallic plastic; and it's a little dated, with its space-robbing contours and overuse of matte-metallic surfaces. But the details of the design are handsome, with extensive ambient lighting adding a touch of sophistication.

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2014 Subaru Tribeca

Performance

The Tribeca is confident but not all that quick with its six-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive; it handles great, though.

The powertrain in the 2014 Subaru Tribeca is tried-and-true: a 256-horsepower, 3.6-liter flat-six engine and five-speed automatic transmission. Altogether, with symmetrical all-wheel drive sending torque sent to all four wheels, the Tribeca delivers performance that's confident and respectable, yet not quite up to par with the rest of this class—if you compare to rival models with available V-6 engines or turbo fours and six-speed automatics.

That aside, the Tribeca is a responsive, agreeable vehicle, and compared to other taller crossovers it simply handles better—as if it were lower and leaner. That's due in part to the lower center of mass afforded by Subaru's horizontally opposed (flat) engines, and because the suspension doesn't allow a lot of excess body motion. But its steering is also better than the current norm for crossovers.

There's just enough of a nod to ruggedness in the Tribeca. Thanks to standard all-wheel drive and 8.4 inches of ground clearance, muddy trails or deep winter snowfalls should be no problem.

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2014 Subaru Tribeca

Comfort & Quality

Those in the second and third rows may have to seek mediation if you plan to use all the seating spaces.

There are many crossovers on the market that do it far better than the 2014 Subaru 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 makes parking quite easy. 

Accommodations in the front and second-row seats are impressive, with comfortable and supportive front seats (although the swooping curves of the dash cut into knee space). Second-row seats are nicely contoured and just fine for adults.

On the other hand, third-row occupants will need to haggle for space, as the second-row bench slides fore and aft several inches (and adjusts for rake). Better hope that those in the second row aren't too long-legged.

The Tribeca is a relatively quiet vehicle, but like many crossover designs of its time, it's a little lacking on noise and vibration as you move to the rearmost seats (you'll hear a little more road noise back there). Ride quality is good—as well or better as in top 3.6R versions of the Outback. But we tend to prefer the interior materials and trims you get in the Outback, actually. In the Tribeca, they're no longer standout.

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2014 Subaru Tribeca

Safety

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

The Tribeca remains one of the safest picks among crossovers, and that's held even for many years after its original introduction.

Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock brakes and various other electronic systems, as well as six airbags--although it's worth pointing out that the third-row airbags don't cover the third-row positions. Last year, a brake-override system feature was added.

Outward vision can be challenging, especially for short drivers, so we recommend the available rearview camera system.

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.

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2014 Subaru Tribeca

Features

The Tribeca isn't priced all that competitivel, although its one remaining trim level includes a lot of standard features.

The 2014 Subaru Tribeca carries forward with a feature set that hasn't changed much in years. Last year, the lineup was trimmed down, with base Premium and top Touring models dropped in favor of a single Tribeca Limited trim.

With this model, you get fog lights, 18-inch wheels, power driver and passenger seats, and heated front seats all standard. You'll also get Bluetooth hands-free connectivity for the stereo, a moonroof, leather upholstery, 50/50-split third-row seats, rear climate control, and roof rails.

Options are limited, although you'll pay extra if you want the navigation system and reverse camera; a 385-watt sound system, another option, adds ten speakers and satellite radio.

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2014 Subaru Tribeca

Fuel Economy

Even compared to other manageable three-row vehicles, the mileage of the 2014 Subaru Tribeca isn't all that.

The look and feel of the 2014 Subaru Tribeca aren't the only dated aspects; this vehicle is also living in the past with its mileage ratings. Most crossovers the Tribeca's size now get at least a mile or two more out of each gallon.

The Tribeca is the brand's heaviest and least fuel-efficient model, and it shows. The EPA rates the Tribeca, which is only offered with a six-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive, at 16 mpg city, 21 mpg highway, for a combined gas-mileage rating of just 18 mpg. 2014 Outback versions with the same six-cylinder engine get 17/25 mpg; and the Outback offers a more efficient base four that achieves 24/30.

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