2008 Subaru Tribeca
2008 Subaru Tribeca. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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Second Opinion: Chris Chase

Oshawa, Ontario – Some years ago, a group called The Monks had an unlikely hit with a song called “Nice Legs, Shame About The Face”. And even though I drove the 2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca with different music playing on the stereo, that song still wormed its way into my brain each time I got behind the wheel. There was no getting around it: the Tribeca’s “aircraft-inspired” nose certainly stood out from the pack, but it was fugly.

There was more: the 3.0-litre six wasn’t really powerful enough, it wanted expensive premium fuel, and the rear had massive blind spots. It wasn’t a truly bad vehicle, but it wasn’t great, either.

To its immense credit, Subaru listened to the criticisms, and so after only two model years, this SUV returns with considerable improvements. First off is the name: the B9 is dropped – the B was for its horizontally-opposed “boxer” engine, the 9 for its platform designation – and now it’s simply the 2008 Subaru Tribeca, dubbed for the trendy New York neighbourhood. The face is also new, with a grille that reminds me at first glance of the Chrysler Pacifica; its conservative nature is now more likely to blend into traffic than to make a statement, but that’s certainly preferable to the nose it replaces. There are still large C-pillars, but a new quarter-window design and bigger mirrors make it easier to manoeuvre.

2008 Subaru Tribeca
2008 Subaru Tribeca. Click image to enlarge

Under the hood, there’s a new 3.6-litre six-cylinder that delivers more power and runs on regular gas, a new smoother-shifting five-speed automatic, a better rear suspension, Xenon headlamps, roof rails, and most surprising of all, the same base price as in 2007. As before, five- and seven-passenger versions are offered.

The new 3.6-litre boxer six now increases the Tribeca’s power to 256 horses, up from 245, while torque increases to 247 lb-ft, up from 215; it’s the same size as the engine it replaces, but is slightly lighter in weight, as is the transmission. Combined fuel economy also improves marginally which, when combined with the regular fuel requirement, should make the new Tribeca less expensive to run; in combined driving, I averaged 12.0 L/100 km.

Acceleration is improved, especially in my tester’s lighter, five-passenger configuration, although I found the throttle very touchy; at times, it could be difficult to modulate. The transmission is also better, with faster, smoother shifts, and less hunting for gears on inclines than I remember in the 2006 model.

Built on an exclusive platform, the Tribeca uses a fully independent, heavy-duty suspension, and of course the company’s standard “symmetrical” all-wheel drive – meaning that the components are lined up symmetrically on each side of the car’s longitudinal axis, for better balance –

2008 Subaru Tribeca
2008 Subaru Tribeca. Click image to enlarge

which splits the torque 45/55 under normal conditions, and can lock 50/50 should any of the wheels slip.

The steering is responsive but firm, almost to the point of being heavy, and the result is a vehicle that’s less sports performer than quiet cruiser – although that’s not a bad thing, given that the idea of a 1,900-kilo, top-heavy truck doubling as a sports car really is ridiculous, when you stop and think about it. This is more a suburban hauler that’ll take on just about whatever road conditions you need to throw at it, and do an admirable job. You hear bumps, but you don’t feel them; between the quiet operation and a huge, Y-shaped centre stack and console that divides the front passengers into their individual cockpits, you feel almost cocooned in this vehicle. To a point, anyway: both my passenger and I found the seats to be hard, and difficult to adjust in order to be comfortable.

The Tribeca’s sweeping metallic centre stack, with controls spilling down into the console, doesn’t offer a lot in the way of small-item storage. When I first saw the design on the 2006 model, I wondered at its longevity, given its futuristic styling – I find that things taken too far can often look dated very quickly – but I have to admit that it’s grown substantially on me, and I now find it far more attractive than I initially did. The dual-zone automatic climate control, standard on all models, uses twin temperature dials that display the numbers inside of them. The cupholders are out of the way, and disappear out of sight when they’re not in use. All controls are backlit, save for the lock button on the passenger doors; the audio controls on the wheel also light up at night.

2008 Subaru Tribeca
2008 Subaru Tribeca
2008 Subaru Tribeca
2008 Subaru Tribeca. Click image to enlarge

Designed for three rows of seats, the five-passenger Tribeca fills the third row’s space with a deep, covered storage bin, in addition to the shallower bin with tool kit that’s parked under the floor closer to the hatch. It would undoubtedly have been too expensive to swap the two, but it can be tough to reach that far storage space, especially for shorter users. In the design’s favour, though, the second-row seats slide fore and aft, as if the third row were still there, so that legroom or cargo space can be maximized. With the seats up, the cargo space is 103 cm long; fold the seats, which are partially backed with plastic, and the space increases to a length of 162 cm.

The Tribeca starts at $41,995, and the base five-passenger model includes electronic stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, side and curtain airbags, 18-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, heated mirrors with integrated turn signals, fog lamps, roof rails, CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary jack, garage door opener, heated power front seats and leather-wrapped wheel. A Limited package of premium six-CD stereo, memory driver’s seat and leather upholstery brings it to $45,195. The seven-passenger Premier is $52,495, and includes the Limited’s features, plus XM satellite radio, navigation system, backup camera and rear-seat DVD system.

As well, a no-charge scheduled maintenance plan carries over from 2007 on all models: the program provides maintenance for 36 months or 60,000 km, including oil changes, coolant and brake fluid replacement, air filter and tire rotation.

All in all, while the Tribeca remains a fairly pricey vehicle, there’s a fair bit stuffed inside of it; the quality of interior materials and workmanship is very high, and fans of all-wheel drive will find the system to be up to Subaru’s usual level of performance.

Kudos to a company that righted a wrong, and quickly; now all I need is to get that damn song out of my head.

Pricing: 2008 Subaru Tribeca

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