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Car reviews - Subaru - Tribeca - 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Excellent noise suppression, ride comfort, cabin quality and design, responsive steering, standard safety equipment, top-end safety features, value for money
Room for improvement
Tight rear seats, polarising styling, engine lacks torque for the weight, foot-operated parking brake, speed-limited spare wheel, no steering wheel reach adjustment

Subaru logo7 Nov 2006

By MARTON PETTENDY

UNQUESTIONABLY, Tribeca is the most spacious and best equipped model yet seen from Subaru.

Tribeca offers, as standard, features that are optional extras in other medium SUVs and that aren’t even available in some other Subarus, like satellite-navigation, stability control, side curtain airbags and a reversing camera.

Throw in the flexibility of seven seats, which come with rear air-conditioning outlets and controls and a roof-mounted DVD system comprising a handy remote control and wireless headphones, and the potential to keep the whole family happy is greater than in any Subaru previously available.

Even at $61,000 for the full-house 3.0R Premium seven-seater, Tribeca represents outstanding value among the luxury SUVs with which Subaru is ambitious enough to compare it.

And there’s no doubt the Tribeca’s interior is more luxurious than the sub-$40,000 Korean mid-sizers from Hyundai and Holden. Notwithstanding some of the hard plastics on the dashboard, Tribeca’s cabin is more upmarket in terms of both quality and presentation.

But a big new interior isn’t the only thing that takes getting used to with Subaru’s latest new model.

In profile Tribeca appears something like an overgrown Outback with longish overhangs, heavily sculpted flanks and front-end styling that attracts instant reactions, mostly negative. Tribeca’s aggressive, US-oriented "aero" styling can be described, at best, as fussy.

Look beyond the polarising sheetmetal, however, and Tribeca impresses with superb noise suppression over all manner of road surfaces. Engine, road and wind noise are kept to commendably low levels even at high road and engine speeds. And there's ride quality to match.

There’s a feeling of body tautness, too, that Outback doesn’t emulate and that gives Tribeca a more European flavour from behind the wheel than other Subarus. The company says Tribeca is 22 per cent more torsionally rigid than Outback and it feels it.

For one thing, the doors, which come complete with framed windows and huge wing mirrors that provide excellent vision and house side indicators, shut with a far more convincing thud than on Outback.

Lift the composite-material bonnet and it’s clear Subaru has attempted mount the flat six as low as possible in the engine bay, which no doubt helps give Tribeca a lower the centre of gravity and roll inertia than premium SUVs like Murano, X5 and XC90, as Subaru claims.

Hit the twisty stuff and Tribeca continues to impress via responsive, well-weighted steering that’s engine speed-sensitive and a little slow at 3.4 turns lock-to-lock, but offers the same reasonably tight (11.4-metre) turning circle as Territory and points the big Subaru with enough precision and feel to inspire confidence in all conditions.

GoAuto found a gravel road away from the 300km sealed-road launch drive, which showed the same applies on loose surfaces. Unsurprisingly, Tribeca pushed wide into predictable understeer when pushed beyond its limit of adhesion, after which the intuitive and unobtrusive stability control system throws out its anchors.

Tribeca’s corners more flatly and offers crisper body control than we expected for an SUV directed at the American market, which shows the localisation development work has paid dividends.

But there’s no escaping the size and mass of Subaru’s biggest ever vehicle, which weighs up to 400kg than the Outback upon which it’s based and feels totally unlike any other Subaru from within its higher, classier and more commodious cabin.

So not only does Tribeca fail to set new handling benchmarks in the medium SUV category, but the same 3.0-litre flat six that powers premium Liberty and Outback variants just doesn’t cut the mustard.

Requiring at least 4000rpm to really show its best, Subaru’s flat six does its best to make up for the dearth of bottom-end and midrange torque via a healthy dose of power all the way to its 7000rpm-plus cut-out and the five-speed auto is quick to downchange when Tribeca is asked to overtake or even ascend mild inclines from highway speed.

And while the Sportshift semi-manual mode offers a more aggressive "sport" function like Territory and X5, it overrides manual gear selection by changing up gears at redline.

The downside of maintaining a decent clip is fuel consumption, which is quoted at an official average of 12.4L/100km but creeps well into the 16s away from the highway.

That said, we averaged 11.2L/100km on Sydney roads and 10.5L/100km over the launch loop, which comprised a healthy dose of freeway running.

Tribeca is probably not that much slower than Holden’s new Captiva, which offers just 169kW and the same 297Nm of peak torque, but taxes its 3.2-litre V6 on hilly roads and is nowhere near as spirited in any kind of usage as Ford’s Territory.

But while the AWD Territory’s six-speed auto returns a slightly higher claimed average consumption figure of 12.8L/100km, Captiva is significantly more frugal at 11.5L/100km.

However, GoAuto experience shows that the consumption of Ford’s bigger, torquier six-cylinder increases less than that of Captiva on undulating terrain, when driven aggressively or when fully-loaded.

Put simply, neither Tribeca nor Captiva come close to the performance offered by Territory in all manner of road and load conditions, which takes an expensive German diesel or V8 to match. Unlike Tribeca, it consumes regular unleaded too.

Perhaps our biggest gripe with Tribeca is passenger accommodation, however.

Tribeca’s well-shaped, supportive front pews offer a wide range of power adjustment and, despite the fact the steering wheel is strangely not adjustable for reach, it’s easy to feel immediately comfortable.

There are proper door handles, large oddments compartments in all four doors, no fewer than 10 cup-holders, a small but lockable glovebox, a two-tier centre armrest, two rear 12-volt outlets and a lightweight, top-hinged tailgate that opens effortlessly to reveal a flush-lipped load space with plenty of tie-down points and a luggage cover in five-seat versions.

But there’s no separate-opening rear window and the undercarriage-mounted 17-inch spare wheel is limited to 80km/h and reduces ground clearance when replaced by a full-size 18-inch wheel/tyre if punctured.

Most significantly, however, given Tribeca is billed as Subaru’s first seven-seater for families who’ve outgrown their Outbacks, it’s a disappointing that the third row delivers less than average amenity.

Unlike Captiva and Territory, it’s difficult to access and exit and, when the middle row is in use by adults, there’s barely enough room for kids’ feet to fit on the floor behind them.

This is despite the fact that, as with Captiva, Tribeca’s third-row head restraints are precariously close to the rear window, leaving room for little more than a sausage-shaped soft bag behind. Tribeca’s rear-most seats are suitable for small children over short distances, but only if the second row seats are occupied by kids too.

Subaru admits Tribeca is a five-plus-two-seater rather than offering seating for seven adults, but the fact is it’s a part-time seven-seater at best. We pity customers who buy Tribeca to accommodate large families without actually testing its seating capability first.

Steering, ride quality, cabin quietness, equipment, safety and interior design and quality are certainly Tribeca hallmarks. And we’d be prepared to forgive the confronting styling if Subaru’s great SUV hope delivered even average performance and interior flexibility.

But Tribeca falls short of many of its seven-seat rivals in both these areas. And there are better-value five-seat mid-size soft-roaders out there too, including Subaru’s own Outback.

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