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First Oz drive: Tribeca is Subaru's big hit

Big Sube: Tribeca weighs 400kg more than Outback.

Subaru's first seven-seat model lands Down Under but Tribeca will be in short supply

7 Nov 2006

IT debuted in Sydney with a splash late last month and now Tribeca - the biggest, boldest and heaviest Subaru ever - has arrived in limited numbers ahead of its official Australian release on November 25.

Designed for and built in the US, Subaru's fifth model is the Japanese brand's first addition to its range since the compact Forester SUV emerged nine years ago in August 1997, as well as the first Subaru to offer seating for up to seven.

As such, Subaru says Tribeca is the model it has always wanted, for families who have grown out of the company's original crossover wagon, the Liberty-based Outback.

"It will appeal to an audience we haven't been able to keep until now. People who reluctantly looked elsewhere previously will no longer be turned away. Tribeca will keep loyal customers in the Subaru family," says Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior.

Tribeca, a term taken from the arty, upmarket area of the same name in New York – and which Subaru Australia had originally hoped to drop in favour of its original "B9" prefix - is built on a stretched version of the Liberty's underpinnings at the company's Indiana plant in the US, where it went on sale in June last year.

Riding on an 80mm-longer (2750mm) wheelbase than Outback, Tribeca's striking five-door body is also 125mm longer overall (4855mm), 110mm wider (1880mm) and 140mm higher (1685mm), making its turning circle more than half a metre larger than the Outback’s, at 11.4 metres.

Crucially, with kerb weights ranging between 1895kg for the 3.0R five-seater and 1940kg for the 3.0R Premium seven-seater, Tribeca also carries up to 400kg more bulk than the six-cylinder Outback, with which it shares the same 3.0-litre flat six.

While that's near the bottom end of the weight scale for most mid-size SUVs (Ford’s top-selling Territory ranges between 2005kg and 2100kg), the result is claimed 0-100km/h performance that's 1.3 seconds slower than Outback H6 (9.8 seconds) and fuel consumption that's 1.3 points higher at 12.4L/100km. Ford claims 12.8L/100km for its six-speed auto-equipped Territory AWD.

Until larger six-cylinder and turbo-diesel versions eventually appear, Tribeca’s sole engine offering delivers 180kW at 6600rpm and 297Nm of torque at 4200rpm on 95 RON premium unleaded.

Fuel capacity is modest 64 litres, but the bigger, stronger bodyshell makes Tribeca the first Subaru to afford a 2000kg (braked) towing capacity (Outback: 1500kg).

Key differences to Outback include a stronger rear differential (with cooling fins and an oil temperature warning light), reinforced cylinder block, a three-port exhaust manifold, thinner-wall exhaust system, sharper electronic throttle response, reduced accelerator pedal/leg angle, revised five-speed auto calibration, shorter final drive ratio, a front-mounted transmission cooler, revised MacPherson strut front suspension and an all-new double-wishbone multi-link rear suspension.

Subaru says extensive local development testing resulted in a specific suspension tune being developed for Australia.

Subaru Australia marketing general manager Graeme Woodlands says Tribeca is evidence of the company’s ambition to position Subaru at "the premium end of the mainstream market".

It admits Tribeca is a pure "soft-roader" but says it won’t make the mistake as Nissan, which promotes its Murano as "the SUV for the city". And it's quick to point out that while Tribeca's 215mm of ground clearance is more generous than that of Murano, Volvo’s XC90 and BMW’s X5 (and Outback at 200mm), it has a lower roll inertia and centre of gravity than all three models.

2 center imageSubaru says it has experienced unprecedented demand for its first dedicated SUV and its first $50,000-plus model range, with more than 2200 expressions of interest and 1600 test drive sign-ups received via the Tribeca micro-webstite.

Such is the expected demand that the 380-vehicle shipment allocated to Australia before Christmas will be exhausted before another batch arrives in February, leading Subaru to revise upwards its original sales forecast from 100 to 150 per month – which is slightly more than Volvo’s XC attracts but less than Murano, RX, X5 and, by a big margin, Territory.

The company expects up to 10 per cent of potential Outback customers to instead opt for Tribeca, sales of which are expected to be split evenly between base and Premium Variants, with a 70 per cent of all cars being seven-seat versions.

Officially classed as a medium SUV and priced midway between its Korean and German rivals (and from under the luxury tax threshold), Tribeca puts forward an impressive value proposition thanks to a high level of standard safety features and equipment.

Even at the entry level, Tribeca's standard safety arsenal includes stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, brake assist, front seatbelt pretensioners and force-limiters, active front head restraints and twin front, front side and side curtain airbags – enough for it to score a maximum five-star crash safety rating by the independent Australasian New Car Assessment Program.

The entry-level 3.0R also includes, as standard, a five-speed Sportshift automatic transmission, 18 x 8.0-inch alloy wheels, eight-way power-adjustable front seats, a touch-screen monitor with trip computer, satellite-navigation and rear-view camera, dual-zone climate-control, speed-sensitive wipers, an MP3 and iPod-compatible nine-speaker six-CD audio system, a 17-inch steel spare wheel and DataDot vehicle identification.

All Tribecas also feature under-floor cargo boxes, no fewer than 10 cup-holders and 30 storage locations, while seven-seaters provide an alleged 64 seating and luggage configurations via a folding middle row of seats that slides 200mm and is split 40/20/40, and a folding third row that's split 50/50 and also folds flat.

For the extra $5000, 3.0R Premium variants add full leather seat trim, a power slide/tilt sunroof, a 228mm rear DVD screen with wireless headphones and remote control, heated front seats with driver's memory.

Both variants are available with a third row of seats, which brings a total of seven seats and includes rear ventilation outlets and controls, and costs $2000.

With a price of $53,990 for the base 3.0R five-seater and $58,990 for the 3.0R Premium five-seater, the auto-only Tribeca's prime competitors will include both the top-shelf Ghia AWD version of Ford’s homegrown Territory to South Korean-built SUVs like Holden's Captiva and Hyundai's Santa Fe.

Like Tribeca, both Captiva and Santa Fe offer a six-cylinder engine and all-wheel drivetrain as standard, plus a seven-seat option. And while both models open at a razor-sharp $35,990 price-point, the Captiva line-up tops out with the five-seat Maxx ($42,990) and the Santa Fe range includes the recently launched Elite CRD turbo-diesel five-seater ($46,990).

Of course, Tribeca's extensive standard equipment list makes Subaru ambitious enough to target BMW's top-selling X5 and other five-seat luxury SUVs including Murano and the Lexus RX350 as prime Tribeca rivals.

Subaru says that compared to the cheapest X5, the petrol 3.0i ($85,000 auto), the flagship Tribeca offers two extra seats, larger 18-inch alloy wheels, a rear DVD player, satellite-navigation and more speakers for $26,000 less.

Subaru concedes the flagship Lexus RX350 Sports Luxury ($84,100) offers 30 per cent more power and torque, plus three extra speakers, a four-year warranty and a rear spoiler, but says Tribeca 3.0R Premium seven-seater advantages like larger 18-inch alloys, rear DVD player, five-star safety rating and full-time AWD system come for a $23,110-lower pricetag.

Beyond Australia's two most popular luxury SUVs, Subaru claims Tribeca also compares well on price versus specification with Murano, Volkswagen's Touareg, BMW’s X3 and Volvo's XC70 and revised XC90 range, which like X5 and the Mercedes-Benz M-class now also offers V8 and turbo-diesel power.

Subaru makes no mention of European seven-seaters like Audi's new Q7, Land Rover's Discovery and the forthcoming Mercedes-Benz GL-class, nor of Mazda's upcoming CX-7 five-seater, which will be priced between around $45,000 and $50,000 on the road from this month.

Realistically, however, Tribeca's fiercest competition will come from Territory, bookended by Toyota’s Kluger (which ranges in price from $41,990 to $59,490) and Honda’s MDX, which costs a heftier $69,990.

Which is why Subaru is at pains to point out that although Territory Ghia AWD ($56,570) is $2420 cheaper and offers best-in-class torque, a six-speed automatic transmission, a heftier towing capacity and hill descent control, Tribeca 3.0R Premium evens the score with 18-inch alloys, a rear DVD player, sat-nav, a nine-speaker sound system, a lower kerb weight, lower fuel consumption, more ground clearance, a five-star safety rating and "superior quality and reliability".

2007 Subaru Tribeca pricing:
3.0R (a) $53,990
3.0R seven-seater (a) $55,990
3.0R Premium (a) $58,990
3.0R Premium seven-seater (a) $60,990

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