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.
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.
- Sliding second row
- Strong safety ratings
- Good ground clearance for snow
- Handling and maneuverability
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- Subpar fuel economy
- Dated interior design
- Tight third-row seating
- Tight legroom in front