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Preview and photos by Paul Williams
San Francisco, California – For years, Subaru has built long-lasting, well-engineered vehicles that cater to a small but discerning segment of the market.
In contrast to its understated family sedans, World Rally Championships have brought Subaru international sporting acclaim, and its wild, 300-horsepower Impreza STi is the darling of tuners for whom enough is never enough.
But Subaru has long wanted an SUV-type vehicle bigger than its Forester, and a way to shift its conservatively-designed sedans and wagons into a new, more eye-catching direction.
Enter the 2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca, which becomes the largest vehicle in Subaru’s line-up. With pricing that ranges from $41,995 to $52,495, Subaru describes it as “a progressive sport-utility” that ushers in a new design era for the brand.
The appointment of Andreas Zapatinas as Subaru’s chief designer coincides with the ongoing development of this vehicle, the exterior of which was completed before he took over the design reins at Subaru. He was fully responsible for its interior, however.
Like Chrysler and Audi, Subaru is taking a chance on a dramatic new “face” for its vehicles. If it was Subaru’s intention to create a distinctive and immediately recognizable look for the front of their cars, the B9 Tribeca’s new three-element grille is a definite success. The car’s most flattering angle of view, however, is the rear three-quarter, which emphasizes its flowing lines and confident stance.
The grille is flanked by projector beam headlamps that contain cylindrical bulb housings, emphasizing the “hi-tech” look that Subaru also wants to communicate. Flashy looks aside, Subaru says they’re also very effective headlamps.
At 4,822 millimetres in overall length, and with a 2,749 mm wheelbase, the (up to) seven-passenger B9 Tribeca is comparable in size to the Nissan Murano, but smaller than the similarly-priced Ford Freestyle. In terms of pricing, appointments and equipment, the B9 Tribeca fits in between vehicles like the Murano and Honda Pilot on one hand, and the Acura MDX and Lexus RX 330 on the other.
Still, the B9 Tribeca’s performance target is the BMW X5. Matching or exceeding the X5’s acceleration, handling and braking numbers in a sequence of in-house tests, the B9 Tribeca challenges the German maker by offering a chassis and suspension tuned for adventurous driving.
The B9 Tribeca is powered by Subaru’s signature horizontally-opposed engine; its 3.0-litre, six-cylinder version is also found in the Outback 3.0R. The engine generates 250 horsepower and 219 lb-ft of torque through a five-speed, electronically controlled adaptive transmission with sport shift.
All Subaru vehicles have symmetrical all-wheel-drive. The B9 Tribeca’s system continually adjusts power distribution to the wheels in response to road conditions, and sends up to 55 per cent of power to the rear wheels to enhance vehicle agility, according to Subaru.
Aside from the revised grille, other notable exterior features are the standard 10-spoke, 18-inch wheels, large doors, aerodynamic shape, side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, and chrome door handles. These doors are a first for Subaru, as their windows are framed with sashes. The lack of framed glass in the doors has been a distinctive Subaru feature over the years.
The interior of the B9 Tribeca impresses with its fine detail, quality materials and innovative design. The stitching, inviting shape and quality of the perforated leather seats in the Limited versions is immediately evident. The layout of the instrument panel and driver controls is attractive and designed to provide easy and intuitive operation. A centre-mounted information display includes a trip computer that calculates current and average fuel consumption. Ambient lighting is provided to subtly illuminate cupholders, foot wells and storage areas at night.
A split, folding second-row seat can accommodate three passengers, and is supplemented at the rear by a two-passenger seat that also folds flat. With all rear seats folded, 2,106 litres of cargo space becomes available.
According to Ted Lalka, VP Public Relations and Product Planning for Subaru Canada, “Safety comes standard” on the B9 Tribeca. The long list of safety-related features supports this statement. Electronic stability control (Subaru’s Vehicle Dynamics Control), side curtain airbags, front-seat side-impact airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, tire pressure monitoring system and a ring-shaped reinforcement frame to direct impact energies around the passenger cabin are some of the standard safety technologies found on this vehicle. The all-wheel-drive system, which offers significant handling benefits in adverse conditions, can also be regarded as a safety system.
In addition to the standard safety equipment listed above, B9 Tribecas are equipped with a tilt/sliding sunroof; heated and power-operated front seats (with Schukra manual lumbar support); 100-watt audio system with MP3 capability, six-speakers and in-dash CD player; dual automatic climate control; keyless entry; fog lights; heated side mirrors and wiper de-icer; a Homelink garage door opener and ten cupholders.
Limited versions add leather interior and trim, and a 160-watt premium audio system with six-disc, in-dash CD player and nine speakers.
With the B9 Tribeca, Subaru is targeting a market niche between luxury brands like BMW, Acura and Lexus, and well-equipped models from mainstream brands like Ford, Honda and Toyota. It’s an open area, Lalka explains, in which Subaru Canada is looking to sell a modest 1,000 B9 Tribecas in its first year of sales.
The Subaru B9 Tribeca is built in Indiana, and goes on sale in June 2005.
2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca pricing: