Car reviews - Subaru - Tribeca - 3.6R 5-dr wagon range
Spacious and comfortable interior, refinement, features, ride quality
Room for improvement
Dynamics, transmission, interior rattles
6 Dec 2007
By PHILIP LORD
YOU have to admire a company that admits it missed the mark with a new car and goes back to fix the problem quickly. This is what Subaru has done with the Tribeca and, while the company will not admit to how much the long list of revisions cost to engineer, you can bet it wasn’t cheap.
So are a bigger, more powerful engine, revised transmission, cosmetic changes and third-row access improvements enough to make the Tribeca an outstanding SUV?
At first glance the Tribeca’s bland new front-end sheetmetal almost makes you lust after the old one. Almost. Then it becomes more familiar and is much more unobtrusive than before, but never beautiful.
The interior presents well as you slide into the driver’s seat. The swoopy, rounded style of the centre stack looks straight out of a concept car and gives the interior a great sense of occasion.
It also works well to deliver controls that are easy to see and operate, although the centre stack readout dulls to become unreadable with lights switched on in daylight.
Vision is quite good for a large wagon with the relatively wide A-pillars not causing as much obstruction as you might expect, but the particularly large side mirrors seem like overkill and actually obstruct side vision on narrow suburban street corners.
The front seats are quite flat and unsupportive when pushing through twisting roads, but seem firm and contoured enough for general driving duties. The seatback has too much of a lower back support for some occupants and the steering column is adjustable for rake but not reach.
It gets better in the back - the rear seat has fore-aft adjustment and the outboard positions are quite comfortable and spacious, while the middle position is firm and sets the occupant forward, but is not as uncomfortable as in some competitors.
Access to the third row is acceptable for adults, although it is still a tight, awkward step up and back. Once seated, there is ample head and shoulder room and, unlike some competitors, plenty of footspace, but the seat is flat and, while not cramped, adults will still need to adopt a knees-up position.
With all three rows in use, the load area is not large, as is typical for this arrangement in most SUVs, but at least the seat folding arrangement is simple.
If you have nostalgic memories of Suby boxer fours, don’t expect any familiar sensory cues from the 3.6-litre H6 boxer. The 3.6 sounds rather like any other uninspiring V6. Though mostly quiet and refined, it becomes noisy when revved, but it’s not exactly an enjoyable sound.
The new engine may provide more power and torque but it is quite linear in its performance. There are things that 190kW just can’t do, and that includes accelerating up a steep highway hill at anything but a slow, steady rate. There is not enough power to shift the big Tribeca quickly in such circumstances.
The transmission is unobtrusive, generally selecting ratios without attracting attention to itself, but when more than half-throttle was applied, the transmission seemed to kick down when it wasn’t really needed. In ‘Sport’ mode, it was even worse.
On dirt road corrugations, vibrations become your companions in the cabin and the tailgate rattles.
While the Tribeca’s underbelly has all vital components tucked up out of harm’s way, there is insufficient strength to take a thumping off-road, although the air intake is positioned high in the engine bay for adequate water fording ability. Better to stay on the high road - especially considering the space-saver spare.
While the four-wheel drive system probably works very well, it never seems to get the opportunity. Several times on the launch drive, when accelerating away on slippery gravel, the traction control system would aggressively cut engine power at the slightest suggestion of wheel slip.
The Tribeca sits well on the road, with a compliant suspension that insulates occupants from road shock with a supple and quiet assuredness. As a refined back-road tourer, it is an accomplished wagon, but it lacks the chassis responsiveness and steering feel to be more than a stolid performer when cornering.
The Tribeca is a better SUV wagon than it used to be, but it is not an exceptional SUV, feeling like it has been designed to cater for the simple white-bread tastes of its principal market, the US.
It is fine to be clearly skewed to safely carrying up to seven occupants in quiet comfort rather than sheer driver enjoyment, but this does represent a philosophical shift for the Subaru brand here.
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