Subaru’s largest vehicle, the Tribeca, is a bit of an enigmatic machine. On the one hand it offers a surprisingly sporty driving experience for a midsize crossover SUV and a very attractively styled interior, but on the other hand the rear seats are quite cramped in comparison to the competition and its flat-six boxer engine is a bit on the thirsty side. So is it worth putting on your shopping list when you find yourself looking for a midsize crossover in the low to mid $30k range?
1. Third row seating is standard and cargo capacity is 74 cubic feet.
2. A 3.6L flat-six makes 256-hp and delivers 16/21-mpg (city/hwy).
3. Pricing ranges from $30,495 to $35,795. Our Limited test model, including leather, Bluetooth and a 10-speaker harman/kardon audio system starts at $32,495.
4. A 7-inch in-dash display screen does double duty as a back-up camera (depending on the model and option package).
A CROWDED CLASS
This price range and class of vehicle means the Tribeca Limited we tested is up against some pretty stiff competition. Crossover style SUVs with third row seating have become commonplace, from domestics like the Ford Flex and Chevy Traverse (and Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia) to imports like the Toyota Highlander, Mazda CX-9 and Hyundai Veracruz. And if you can live without third row seating (what, are you running a soccer team or something?), then all sorts of other interesting options emerge in this price range including the small put exceptionally sporty Infiniti EX35 and Acura RDX or more traditional midsize SUVs like the Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner.
WHO’S SITTING IN THE THIRD ROW?
There are two problems with third row seating, at least as it relates to the Tribeca. The first problem is third row legroom, or lack thereof. The second is a cramped second row, which is necessitated by the room required to jam a third row in the back of a midsize SUV. The net result is an overcrowded area for backseat passengers in either row, unless of course you’re 10-years old or suffering from severe osteoporosis. We hauled a load of adults in the back for a relatively short road trip and the grumbles about legroom and were loud and clear.
As the driver, there was an element of guilt (with a grin) experienced while listening to the agitated rear passengers. That’s because the front seats are an entirely pleasant place to be, where the Tribeca’s modern and attractive dash design, ample onboard technology, supportive 8-way power seats, and overall sense of luxury and style envelop the lucky couple up front. Had we cranked up the tunes on the 10-speaker harman/kardon audio system as a way of drowning out the cranky rear passengers, our impression of the Tribeca might have been entirely different.
Despite any bellyaching about rear passenger room, there is ample space for cargo of all shapes and sizes thanks to the split fold-down third and second row seating. We put the Tribeca’s utility to the test when bringing a large console table home from a local furniture store, using the under-floor cargo area to hide a few valuables when parking for lunch. That being said, with ‘only’ 74.4 cubic feet of carrying capacity, the Tribeca is well behind the class leading Chevy Traverse and its cavernous 116.4 cubic footage.
We found the Tribeca’s driving experience surprisingly engaging. Having recently tested the Subaru Forester, we were expecting similarly soft suspension tuning, but the Tribeca has a much firmer feel to it over the road and considerably less body roll. As a result, the Tribeca has confidence-inspiring agility, no doubt aided by the full-time AWD system Subaru is so well known for. The aggressive front fascia and 18-inch wheels also give the Tribeca a bit of sex appeal, though its overall body shape is fairly generic for this class of vehicle and given Subaru’s history of distinctive (some might say quirky) design.
Power delivery from the flat-six 3.6-liter boxer engine adds to the sportiness, with strong off the line throttle responsive and rolling acceleration allowing the Tribeca to cut through traffic with relative ease. But the impressive punch of this engine does come at a bit of a premium at the pump. With fuel economy of 16 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway, the Tribeca lags behind the more efficient Toyota Highlander Limited (18 city, 24 highway) and Chevy Traverse (17 city, 24 highway), while more powerful options also exist in this class like the Ford Flex with its 355 horsepower EcoBoost V6.
The 2011 Subaru Tribeca Limited delivers spirited performance from its engine, confident road manners, attractive if rather safe styling, and an appealing interior while seated up front.
On the downside, the rear seats are tight on space (especially in the third row), fuel economy isn’t up to par against class leaders like the Highlander, and overall cargo capacity, though still plentiful for most types of hauling, is on the low side for its class as well.
Better suited as a two-row vehicle, such a layout would allow for ample rear legroom and a happier group of backseat passengers. Still, the Tribeca is worth a test drive if you’re shopping for a sporty and luxurious crossover and your cargo carrying needs don’t necessitate something bigger.