By Jil McIntosh
Photos by Jil McIntosh and Grant Yoxon

2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca
Click image to enlarge

A few years ago, I promised my neighbour’s little boy a gift in return for something he did for me. I went to the toy store with a friend who is much more attuned to the workings of children than I am: she informed me that I also had to buy a little something for the boy’s younger sister, since she couldn’t be “left out”.

Carmakers aren’t really much different; if one steps up to a niche, they all must. And so for 2006, Subaru joins the SUV craze with the all-new B9 Tribeca. It’s a saturated market, and rising gas prices aren’t helping much. It’ll be interesting to see how Subaru does, although if it doesn’t sell out, it won’t be for lack of trying.

The B9 Tribeca rides on an all-new platform that isn’t shared with anything in the company’s stable, or as yet with General Motors, which has borrowed Subaru vehicles for its Saab nameplate (expect to see a “Saabeca” in due time, though).

2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca
Click image to enlarge

It’s also the first Subaru to be offered as a five- or seven-passenger vehicle, although that third row of seats is so constricted that you have to wonder if it was added just for the bragging rights. (The weird name, by the way, is B for its boxer engine, 9 for its platform designation, and Tribeca for a trendy and artistic New York neighbourhood where, no doubt, it’s hoped the car’s – umm – styling will be considered avant-garde.)

Both 5- and 7-passenger models are available in base or Limited trim; a DVD and navigation package can be added to the 7-passenger Limited. Prices start at $41,995 and top out at a hefty $52,495.

2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca
Click image to enlarge

The Tribeca uses a 3.0-litre, horizontally-opposed six-cylinder Boxer engine, borrowed from the Outback, that makes 250 hp and 219 lb-ft of torque. It’s a good fit; acceleration is decent if not awe-inspiring, and the engine is fairly quiet. It’s hooked to a 5-speed automatic transmission with three available modes. You can leave it in Drive, push it over into Sport mode for a sportier automatic shift pattern, or click it up and down for sequential manual mode.

As with all Subaru models, the Tribeca features the company’s symmetrical all-wheel drive (which means the components are lined up symmetrically along the car’s axis, for better balance).

2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca

2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca
Click image to enlarge

Under normal conditions, the torque is split 45 front/55 rear, but the centre differential can lock 50/50 should any of the wheels slip. It holds the road well as all Subarus do, and it’s fun on twisty thoroughfares, although it will remind you of its height and bulk if you try to pretend it’s a WRX. Still, Subaru claims it has a lower centre of gravity, and less body roll, than a BMW X5.

The Tribeca’s heavy-duty suspension is fully independent, with a new double-wishbone rear that uses aluminum upper A-arms. Brakes are 4-wheel, 4-channel ABS with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD); the front discs are ventilated with dual-piston callipers, while the rears are solid with single-piston. The brake pedal is soft and the vehicle has considerable nose-dive when panic braking, but it stops effectively and in a straight line.

Of course, at some time you have to deal with the elephant in the room. The Tribeca is a handsome vehicle from the rear, but as a friend so delicately put it, the nose is pretty much the south end of a northbound moose. I haven’t quite decided if it most resembles a 1956 Saab 93, a Facel Vega, or an Edsel, but whatever it is, it ain’t pretty. And worse, it’s going to spread to other models.

2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca
Click image to enlarge

Inside, styling continues with a futuristic, sweeping metallic dash that flows in a lazy Y down to the console. It’s more form over function; there isn’t a great deal of small-cubby space, and the huge glove box lid opens to reveal a miniscule compartment that isn’t even big enough to hold the owner’s manual (it fits into a space beside the tire jack). The automatic climate control system can be tough to read: two dials, one for each side, display the temperature inside them and increase or decrease as the dials are turned.

2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca
Click image to enlarge

Some of the switchgear feels cheap, and my prediction is that the dash design, while pretty trendy right now, isn’t going to age well, and will look very dated very quickly.

In the dash’s favour, the cupholders are well-positioned and out of the way, and there’s a cover for them when they’re not in use. They hold 2 round cups or two juice boxes, or 1 of each. All controls are backlit, and there’s even a way-cool blue light in the cupholder.

I wasn’t keen on the seats, which I found uncomfortable; I wouldn’t want to drive the Tribeca on a long trip. The second-row seats are better, and although there isn’t an enormous amount of legroom, the front seats are high off the floor and there’s enough space to fit your feet under them for additional room.

2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca

2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca
Click image to enlarge

The third-row seating is a waste of time, and I’d definitely take the five-passenger, both for the price and the practicality. Small children are the only people who will be even remotely comfortable back there, and if that’s why you’re buying it, make sure you can reach them to buckle their belts and attend to them. The third row folds for extra cargo space; the 42 cm cargo area expands to 91 cm with the third row folded, and 172 cm when the second row is flat as well. But while the third row folds easily enough, getting it back up isn’t all that simple. If you’re short, it’s impossible to reach through the rear hatch to grab the strap to pull them up, and so you must go in through the back door, lower the second row and reach in. You should definitely be checking this manoeuvre at the dealership when you’re test-driving.

2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca

2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca
Click image to enlarge

Among the Tribeca’s standard features are six airbags, heated mirrors, auto-off headlights (and they provide extremely good coverage, even in pitch-black rural areas), power moonroof, power windows, intermittent/continuous rear wiper, power front heated seats, MP3-capable CD player (the Limited holds six discs), HomeLink garage door opener, and automatic climate control, including a rear unit with adjustable fan and vents in the seven-passenger.

I have to admit, I’ve never really understood the SUV market: most buyers never use them to their potential, and if you have to haul people, minivans will do the job, usually for less money and better fuel mileage. In that regard, the B9 Tribeca is just another relatively expensive and overly large vehicle; I’d take the cheaper and more efficient Outback or Forester over it.

But I’m not every buyer, and for those who do see the appeal, the Tribeca offers the company’s superb drivetrain system, decent performance and considerable cargo space. If you can get past the styling, the B9 is a worthy contender in this crowded market.

Technical Data: 2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca 7-passenger

Base price (Limited) $44,295
Freight $685
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $45,080 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
Type 4-door, 7-passenger midsize SUV
Layout Front engine/all-wheel-drive
Engine 3.0-litre boxer 6, DOHC, 24 valves
Horsepower 250 @ 6600 rpm
Torque 219 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic w/manual mode
Tires P255/55R18-104H Goodyear Eagle LS2 all-season
Curb weight 1910 kg (4210 lbs)
Towing capacity
Wheelbase 2749 mm (108.2 in.)
Length 4822 mm (189.8 in.)
Width (with mirrors) 2119 mm (83.4 in.)
Height 1686 mm (66.3 in.)
Ground clearance 213 mm (8.3 in.)
Cargo capacity 1063 litres (37.5 cu. ft.)(all seats up)
Fuel consumption City: 13.3 L/100 km (21 mpg Imperial)
  Hwy: 9.5 L/100 km (30 mpg Imperial)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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