2008 Subaru Tribeca Review

Subaru’s AWD Sport Utility Vehicle hits its stride

2008 Subaru Tribeca Review
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FAST FACTS

1. 2009 Tribeca gets slightly less abrasive look.

2. New engine gets 11 hp and 32 ft-lbs of torque improvement for a total of 256hp and 247 ft-lbs.

3. Premium fuel no longer required.

Since the dawn of automotive time, vehicles have been named after all sorts of things from people to places and wild animals to strange alphanumeric codes. There's the Enzo (after Ferrari’s late founder), or the Chevy Malibu (a star’s hollow where you might actually see an Enzo on the road) and the Ford Mustang, perhaps the world's most popular animal-inspired machine. There are also dozens of examples of codenamed cars in almost all current European and Japanese vehicle lineups. So, what is a Tribeca? Well, if you know Manhattan and enjoy shopping and dining south of Houston Street in SoHo (like my wife does), you probably know “TriBeCa” is short for “triangle below Canal Street.” Home to the Tribeca Film Festival, and home to many celebrities past and present, this trendy neighborhood offers many converted loft apartments and modernized industrial revolution charm making the 10013 the 12th most expensive area code to live in all of the U.S. (according to a 2006 report in Forbes).

Named after that very New York hood, Subaru originally launched the 2006 B9 Tribeca utility vehicle in mid 2005 with a 3.0L six-cylinder boxer engine with the aggressive airplane-inspired front grille it shares with the last-generation Impreza WRX. On top of its quirky bug-eyed boy racer face (which suits the WRX) many of my peers criticized the B9’s look, as well as its power output.

FACELIFT: MORE ATTRACTIVE BUT LESS DISTINCTIVE

With its conservative face lift, slight name change and a new 3.6L engine, however, the redesigned 2008 Subaru Tribeca should be taken more seriously by mainstream buyers. To this end, welcome changes to the exterior include a more pronounced hood, wider head and tail lights, altered fenders, an updated rear valance, bigger mirrors and restyled rear three-quarter windows. While it no longer sticks out like a sore thumb in a crowded sea of SUVs, there will still be people who think the Tribeca now looks too much like a Chrysler Pacifica. I don't subscribe to that, but the manager at the golf course I stopped at for photos said he thought it was a Chrysler when I first pulled up to the curb.

SIGNIFICANT BOOST IN POWER

Besides growing up in the looks department, a new six-cylinder boxer adds 15 percent more oomph (or 247 ft-lbs of torque compared to 215 ft-lbs in the old model) that peaks at 4400 rpm. Horsepower rises more modestly from 245 hp to 256 hp. Better yet, the outgoing powerplant required premium fuel whereas this 3.6L engine runs on regular unleaded.

On two separate road trips in this tester consisting of 531 miles – trip A (424 miles) was mostly highway driving while trip B was my usual mix of suburban, city and country roads – I averaged 16.1 mpg, which is decent since EPA rates the vehicle at 16/21 (city/highway). One major caveat though is the small 16 gallon gas tank, which may cost less to fill but needs filling more often (every 250 miles or so depending on the load).

The Subaru symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive and vehicle dynamics control systems rely on lateral-G and yaw-rate sensors to deliver a smooth and comfortable ride on a wide variety of road surfaces and conditions. While the steering feels a tad lazy while exiting corners, it's otherwise firm and responsive and is well suited to the Tribeca's very adept four-wheel fully-independent suspension.

MODEST ACCELERATION, IMPRESSIVE BRAKES

The standard automatic five-speed transmission, which has been reprogrammed for smoother, more intuitive gear changes, is plenty good with no weird intricacies. The available manual SportShift mode is fun to play with, but any Forester model will still run circles around this near 4,200 lb SUV. Still, it goes from zero-to-60 mph in a respectable nine seconds and stops from that speed in just 131 feet.

The base AWD Tribeca comes well-equipped with ABS brakes with EBD, five airbags, a power moonroof and heated power front seats, XM/Sirius satellite-ready AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, seating for five, and a generously-sized 37.6 cubic feet of cargo space.

The well-laid out, spacious interior has not changed at all since the B9 days. The electroluminescent instrumentation is easy to read day or night, though a telescoping steering column (it only tilts) is missing at this price. The dash and center console gently wrap around both front-seats, which are comfortable for both long and short hauls. All controls are easily reachable and the reclining second row folds down flat with the floor in a highly-versatile 40-20-40 split configuration. Stowage options are plentiful and include a handy rear drawer (deleted when equipped with available third row seating) in the rear cargo floor, above the standard full-size spare.

A limited options pack brings leather upholstery and an upgraded audio system while a premier package adds GPS navigation, rear DVD entertainment system, the aforementioned third row of seats and more. Despite its abundance of standard features, the extras do add up quickly.

PLUS

Vastly improved looks
Great resale value
More powerful engine that no longer requires premium

MINUS

Small tank means constant fill-ups
Lazy steering
No telescopic steering

THE VERDICT

While the $29,995 base price for this urban/suburban hauler could benefit from some subtle tweaking, the 2008 Subaru Tribeca was recently named the “best resale value in the crossover utility vehicle segment” by the Automotive Lease Guide.

Though it's more SUV than it is wagon (and barely discernable as a crossover), the current Tribeca is as versatile and safe as its predecessor. Even with a few shortcomings, it offers much more than just its “pretty” face. Not only that, the 2008 Tribeca has five-star safety ratings in both NHTSA front and side-impact crash tests and is considered a “top safety pick” by the IIHS. And, that's something to boast about.

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