2009 Subaru Tribeca Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
April 16, 2009

The 2009 Subaru Tribeca has a different personality than other mid-size crossovers, and it’s worth consideration for those who haven’t found the right look and feel.

TheCarConnection.com researched a wide range of road tests of the 2009 Subaru Tribeca to produce a comprehensive Full Review. TheCarConnection.com's resident experts also drove the 2009 Subaru Tribeca so as to bring you this succinct Bottom Line outlining reasons to consider the Tribeca or look to other models.

After getting a face-lift, a more powerful engine, and a retuned suspension for 2008, the Tribeca returns for 2009 with a new Special Edition package that will appeal to those consumers who like to feel like they are getting a deal.

Subaru’s 3.6-liter flat-six engine was all new for 2008 and continues as the sole engine for the mid-size 2009 Tribeca. It pumps out 256 horsepower through the standard all-wheel drive and a new lighter five-speed automatic transmission. The revisions allow the upgraded engine in the 2009 Subaru Tribeca to deliver better fuel economy, of 16 mpg city, 21 highway, and run on regular unleaded fuel rather than the previous generation’s super unleaded requirement.  Performance is adequate, although still a bit slower than its competitors like the Honda Pilot or Ford Edge.

The 2009 Subaru Tribeca’s 8.4 inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive might hint at off-road prowess, but real off-roading isn't the goal here—just all-weather performance. Push the Tribeca into a corner a little faster, and you’ll find its most redeeming quality: It handles with a verve unlike most other crossovers, with great body control and reasonably communicative steering.

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The Tribeca has a firm but smooth and controlled ride, and an interior that’s a step quieter than what we’ve become accustomed to from Subaru. The interior of the 2009 Subaru Tribeca has a weird space-age theme that throws its cozy semicircular arms and arrays of soft, blinking graphics around the driver and passenger. The cockpit design limits front seat roominess, though. In five-passenger editions, the second-row seat slides fore and aft 8 inches, giving limolike legroom. Big grab handles make third-row access, on three-row Tribecas, a lot easier for kids, too.

The 2009 Subaru Tribeca earns its status as an IIHS Top Safety Pick, with top "good" results in all crash-test categories. Anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, and side curtain airbags are all standard.

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2009 Subaru Tribeca

Styling

The muted, more mainstream look isn’t to everyone’s liking, but the 2009 Tribeca does a good job of blending in while maintaining its unique interior and personality.

The Subaru Tribeca rolls into 2009 with a year-old redesign that wears well.  It maintains its cockpit-like interior with a more conservative exterior that should appeal to additional buyers.

Subaru has had identity issues lately and the Tribeca is no exception. It launched with a front end that only a mother could love but was later redesigned with a more mainstream look. Most reviews read by TheCarConnection.com offer similar takes on the new look. Edmunds calls it "a more conservative face," while Car and Driver thinks "Subaru should have called it the Chry-beca" thanks to its close resemblance to the now-discontinued Chrysler Pacifica.

The inside is where the 2009 Subaru Tribeca really stands out. Car and Driver comments, "[the] gauge cluster and climate control dials are...handsome." Kelley Blue Book says, "the wave-shaped dashboard visually delights," though adds "its severe curve places some...controls at odd angles from the driver." MotherProof likes the interior lighting, noting that "the nighttime ambient lighting scheme...is a sight to behold."

To improve visibility in the 2009 Subaru Tribeca, the automaker added larger side mirrors and redesigned rear windows and pillars. MotherProof notes this has the added benefit of better access to the third row: "Now you can get back there from either side of the car instead of just one."

Other features are not designed so well in the Tribeca, such as Subaru’s LCD information screen at the top of the center console. Kelley Blue Book points out that in the Subaru, 2009’s digital readouts "can fade when viewed through polarized sunglass lenses." Other reviewers dislike the low-contrast white/light-silver text on silver buttons of the controls.

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2009 Subaru Tribeca

Performance

The 2009 Subaru Tribeca tackles its tasks with confident handling and good engine performance.

All Subarus come with all-wheel drive standard, but the Tribeca has the room, the power, and the comfortable ride that make this Subie the best suited as a family hauler.

Edmunds finds "the once laggardly Tribeca is now as quick as most of its peers...with the Tribeca's 0-60 mph acceleration times dropping from 9.5 seconds to 7.8." Car and Driver reports it's "a more flexible and tranquil drivetrain, with improved throttle response...and better performance with lower operating costs." Part of those lower costs includes the fact that the engine now runs on regular gas versus the older model's need for premium. Kelley Blue Book notes the "new shift points programmed into the automatic transmission lessen the number of gear changes required when climbing hills."

Edmunds finds "Subaru's standard all-wheel drive provides ample grip in any weather" but also notes that the 2009 Tribeca has "modest handling limits...slow steering and noticeable body roll around corners." The 2009 Subaru Tribeca features a recently redesigned rear suspension, which, according to Kelley Blue Book, "helps improve handling while yielding an impressive 8.4 inches of ground clearance." In reviews read by TheCarConnection.com, reviewers regard the suspension as tuned more for comfort than sport. Car and Driver sums it up as "a very well-balanced, stable, and confidence-inspiring ute."

TheCarConnection.com adds that Subaru’s 3.6-liter flat-six engine was all new for 2008 and continues as the sole engine for the 2009 Tribeca. It pumps out 256 horsepower through the standard all-wheel drive and a new, lighter five-speed transmission. The revisions allow the upgraded engine to deliver better fuel economy (16/21 mpg) using regular unleaded fuel rather than the previous generation’s super unleaded requirement. Performance is adequate, albeit a bit slower than such competitors as the Honda Pilot and the Chrysler Pacifica. The ride height of 8.4 inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive might hint at off-road prowess, but real off-roading isn't the goal here—just all-weather performance.

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2009 Subaru Tribeca

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Subaru Tribeca excels in five-passenger trim but loses its competitive edge when you add the third row.

The 2009 Subaru Tribeca is the largest Subaru available. Its seating for up to seven is acceptable for most with some exceptions: a tight third row and outward visibility problems.

While the exterior of the Tribeca gets some work, Subaru leaves the interior alone. The cockpit wraps its arms around the front passengers and bathes them in soft blinking lights. Like an airplane, it can be a tight fit for some.

In front, it's a nice affair. Kelley Blue Book applauds "the wide front seating, which also features adjustable lumbar support for both the driver and passenger." They also praise the "Excellent fit and finish," saying the "appealing materials and an uncommon dash design are the hallmarks" of 2009 Subaru Tribeca. Some drivers, however, may find the lack of a telescoping steering wheel a problem, as noted by the reviewer at Cars.com: "it only tilts...my arms grew sore from stretching to reach the wheel."

As a mid-size crossover, the 2009 Subaru Tribeca is not as large as other SUVs with three-row accommodations. As a result, the third row is cramped for all but small kids, and while the second row moves fore and aft 8 inches, it, too, becomes cramped when making room for the third row. Edmunds complains that the second row "although fine for kids, lacks the legroom and hip room that larger, taller adults need." The second-row seats do recline and are split 60/40. In five-passenger editions, the second-row seat slides to and fro 8 inches, giving limolike legroom. Big grab handles make third-row access, on three-row Tribecas, a lot easier for kids, too.

Problems with visibility crop up in some reviews. Cars.com notes, "Over-shoulder visibility is decent, but the Tribeca's large A-pillars can hide pedestrians and even cars when they're on the right-hand side."

Finally, MotherProof finds "plenty of functional storage in the Tribeca," including many cup holders and storage bins.

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2009 Subaru Tribeca

Safety

The 2009 Subaru Tribeca is one of the safest crossovers on the market, even without third-row airbags.

With the highest ratings in front- and side-impact tests, standard full-time all-wheel drive, and a full complement of safety systems, the 2009 Subaru Tribeca is one of the safest crossovers on the market.

Safety is great, but day-to-day usability is another story. MotherProof takes issue with the child car seat LATCH connectors inside the Subaru: 2009’s Tribeca has “two sets of connectors in the second row's outboard seating positions [that] are practically inaccessible...why didn't they give us some LATCH connectors that are actually useable?"

According to Edmunds, every 2009 Subaru Tribeca "comes with [ABS] with brake assist, traction control, stability control and a rollover-sensing program." Cars.com reports that "side curtain airbags are also standard, but they only deploy over the first and second rows." This is something to consider if you plan to transport children in the third row. Side airbags are available only for the front row, as well.

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2009 Subaru Tribeca

Features

With the new SE, the 2009 Subaru Tribeca now offers a suite of optional equipment at a more affordable price, but Bluetooth still isn’t on the list.

Features are extensive in this Subaru; the 2009 Tribeca comes fairly well equipped, though at a high starting price. New for 2009 is a Special Edition (SE) that adds leather seating, heated front seats, memory driver’s seat, a six-disc audio system, and rear air conditioning to the base model. But, TheCarConnection.com notes, a fully integrated Bluetooth hands-free interface still isn’t offered on the Tribeca.

In addition to Tribeca's standard safety features, all-wheel drive, and powertrain, other standard equipment on the Subaru 2009 Tribeca includes 18-inch alloys, dual-zone automatic climate control, "power front seats, full power accessories, cruise control, a CD/MP3 player with auxiliary input jack, a 7-inch LCD display screen and keyless entry," reports Edmunds.

Limited trim adds, among other things, a moonroof, roof rails, leather, better speakers, an in-dash CD player, HomeLink, and front seat heaters with memory for the driver seat. In seven-passenger models, it adds a 50/50 split third row and rear climate controls with air conditioning.

Kelley Blue Book says notable options for the Subaru 2009 Tribeca in base trim include a choice of XM or Sirius Satellite Radio, reverse assist sensors, auto-dimming mirror, and remote start. For the Limited trim, options include GPS navigation, rearview camera, and rear-seat DVD system (on seven-passenger models only).

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