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Car reviews - Subaru - Tribeca - 3.0R Premium 7-seat wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Security, safety, equipment levels, value, refinement, presence
Room for improvement
Soft dynamics with no real ride payoff, dreary acceleration, thirst, lack of rear seat room

18 May 2007

SUBARU’S inaugural SUV, the Tribeca, should be called the Tri-Nations. And not just because of the way it looks either.

For an American-made Japanese brand that was also almost going to be a certain Swedish carmaker’s premium 4WD wagon – it sure looks Italian.

From any angle be it front-on, rear-quarter view, or the silhouette the Tribeca has intriguing lines for an SUV. Some love it, others are left standing stunned. Different strokes…

In fact, Subaru’s intention for its first ‘proper’ full-sized 4WD wagon was to recall its history as an aircraft manufacturer. That wildly divisive three-part grille layout is meant to evoke wings – although you may need to be on a high to make such an oblique connection.

If you think you can find safe haven from such aircraft-inspired nonsense inside, your hopes will be, quite literally, dashed.

Once you slide in, rather than clamber up as with many larger SUVs, a fascia confronts you that is allegedly inspired by an airliner’s cockpit.

Such a connection isn’t necessarily plane, but the Tribeca’s inviting cabin is to be appreciated, along with its smartly presented plastic and metallic accents and distinctive ‘Y’ dash design that flows around both sides of the front occupants to form part of the door trim and centre console.

Details such as a twin-lidded console bin, protruding instrumentation binnacle and GPS/information monitor seem more influenced by the Lexus RX, and that’s not a bad thing at all at this price point.

Top marks go to a hidden drawer big enough to swallow several DVDs as well as CDs, lovely ambient interior lighting and a thin steering wheel that’s great to hold.

Ventilation is extremely effective, with second and third-row outlets augmented by a fan control, although the dash console sited climate control dials have a weird fish-bowl look to them, which seems a little out of place somehow.

The satellite fuel/temp gauges are too-easily obscured by the steering wheel, the glovebox is quite small, while the foot-operated park brake is an unwelcome anachronism in this electronic day and age.

Like many Japanese seven-seaters, the two rear-most pews fold in a single step, each into the floor for a flat load surface, without the need to fiddle with headrests.

However, it is the centre and rear-seat accommodation for taller folk that conceals one of the Tribeca’s biggest failings.

There just isn’t enough legroom, or knee room, in either row, which in a vehicle this large is problematic.

Subaru’s desire to transport seven occupants means that five of them have to compromise if they are taller than average.

Furthermore, forget about using the middle/middle seat if you’re any larger than average, because you might hit your head on the optional roof-mounted DVD screen.

Topping that off, clambering to and from the rear-most pew is a clumsy and cumbersome affair. It’s actually easier to scramble out from the tailgate.

There are no complaints about the front seats though, which are firm and supportive, while the luggage area is also large enough when seats six and seven are folded down.

A myriad of storage solutions runs to under-floor cargo boxes and double-digit cup-holders.

Subaru is serious about safety, so that’s why every model includes stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, brake assist, active front head restraints and twin front, front side and side curtain airbags – enough for the Tribeca to win the ANCAP maximum five-star crash safety rating.

Automatic is mandatory. You’ll also find 18-inch alloy wheels, power-adjustable front seats, a touch-screen monitor with trip computer, satellite-navigation and rear-view camera, dual-zone climate-control, speed-sensitive wipers, MP3/CD audio, a 17-inch steel spare wheel and DataDot vehicle identification.

The top-line Premium boasts leather upholstery, a sunroof, the aforementioned rear DVD screen with wireless headphones and remote control and heated front seats with driver’s memory.

The Tribeca’s reversing camera is a tremendous aid, but why doesn’t Subaru go all the way and fit parking radar as well? Like all modern SUVs, fat pillars, an upsweeping window line and an acutely angled back window all conspire to hinder rear vision.

On the subject of fat, the Tribeca deserves a torquier engine than the 180kW 3.0-litre horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine it comes with, although this powerplant, producing 266Nm of torque at 4200rpm, works extremely well in the lighter and lither Liberty and Outback models.

The problem here is that it suffers from having to overcome a heftier (by 400kg) mass.

Peak power occurs at a high 6600rpm, the tachometer is redlined at 7000rpm, and so a high number of revs is necessary for decent step-off acceleration. In the cut and thrust of everyday driving scenarios, the test car provided a couple of hair-raising moments when there just wasn’t enough oomph when trying to join fast-flowing traffic.

Now don’t go thinking that the Tribeca doesn’t eventually hustle along, because it does, provided you floor the accelerator (preferably in Sport) or use the five-speed automatic’s sequential shifter. It’s just that doing so decimates any possible fuel economy advantage the relatively small-capacity engine may enjoy.

The test car struggled to better about 14.0L/100km – although the excellent air-conditioning system was on virtually the whole time.

Dynamically, the Tribeca doesn’t quite live up to the very high standards set by the Ford Territory, let alone Subaru’s famous sports sedans like the Liberty GT and Impreza WRX.

The pleasantly weighted steering is low geared and a little muted in feel. The body control is not as contained as you might hope and, yet, you don’t enjoy a super absorbent ride as a trade-off anyway.

While never firm or uncomfortable, the Tribeca just doesn’t have the wheel travel you might expect from an SUV, so traversing speed humps is a slow and careful exercise if you don’t want to crash over them.

Conversely, there are huge reserves of grip and the handling is certainly better than most other Asian SUVs – except Mazda CX-7 – while the turning circle is surprisingly good for a large 4WD wagon. The 2000kg towing capacity also exceeds that of any Subaru ever sold in Australia.

It is difficult not to like an SUV as distinctive as the Tribeca.

The only let down is its overly soft dynamics, thirsty (though refined) engine and compromised second and third-row seating.

The Tribeca’s styling is controversial, and it can be forgiven most of its foibles – although you may not agree if stuck travelling in the back of one of these for more than a small period of time.

Tri-Nations? With Italian styling, clearly American dynamics and old-school Japanese levels of rear-seat space, the Tribeca is truly a United Nations on wheels.

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