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2008 Subaru Tribeca

2008 Subaru Tribeca Reveiw: A Midsize SUV Worth a Look
by Denise McCluggage

You have to hand it to Subaru, when they make a mistake it's a lulu; and when they correct it they do it quickly and tie a bow on it. The mistake was two-fold: the name and the grille on the original 2006 B9 Tribeca, a midsized five or seven-passenger SUV that was to be Subaru's largest vehicle.

2008 Subaru Tribeca

The "B9" Tribeca, uh, as opposed to the malevolent Tribeca, or what? That stirred up some amusement and puzzlement. But the grille drew the most derision. A tight high-riding piece of designery looking a bit like an upside-down Alfa Romeo grille, the grille was hoo-hawed about almost as much as GM’s Aztek. It was derided enough to actually hurt sales.

So Subaru hastened the usual freshening schedule and voila, a 2008 Tribeca (minus the B9) and with a new rather generic but generally acceptable new grille.

Not that Subaru stopped there; the ribeca's body was enlarged, enhancing usable space and esthetics. And the engine, Subaru’s signature flat-opposed six-cylinder "boxer" engine, grew from 3.0 liters to 3.6 liters in displacement. Horsepower is not increased all that much (up to 256 from 245) but torque, that off-the–line power so important to the way we drive, is increased from 215 foot-pounds to 247.

That torque increase is why the Tribeca seems so willing a beastie in getting around in city traffic. Rather fun, indeed. Torque is what scoots us across an intersection or up a ramp for quick merging. At high speeds on the highway the Tribeca's ability to hustle to another level is somewhat less evident. It's all in what’s most important to you.

Many Subaru purists, and they do exist, think the company finked out by producing even a moderate-sized SUV. They think Subaru set firm wheel on the right path when they proclaimed the four-wheel-drive station wagon as its raison d’etre.

So a nice sedan here and there, a snarky sports sedan in the WRX, and the convenient (and in turbo form as snappy as a straw boater on a summer avenue) Forester doesn’t alter Subaru’s image as the builder of safe, all-weather, toters of things and people in stylish wagon form. Why the Tribeca? Well there's a market for SUVs that claim to have room for seven passengers and manufacturers are loath to leave any possible nickel unclaimed.

If you are one looking for an SUV in the mid range size and not a wagon it is now safe to go into a Subaru store. Indeed, it's worth your while. The pleasant handling and nice riding characteristics – and relative quiet interior – should put this Tribeca on your look-try list. It's a tough segment and Tribeca isn't blowing away the competition, but it is in the game.

Shifting, though automatic in the five-speed transmission, has a mode called Sportshift that allows driver input. The shifter seemed quicker than the older Tribeca with a willingness to kick down when a lower gear is appropriate.

Stopping with the all-disc antilock brakes seemed better than I remembered. And I know I liked the pedal feel on this model better. Electronic brake-force distribution is also standard.

2008 Subaru Tribeca

The appearance of the old Tribeca was roundly criticized for its effort to be distinctive. Any critics of the new 2008 Tribeca mutter that it isn't at all distinctive and looks like most other SUVs or crossovers out there. But the point arises: is that a bad thing? I suggest that most buyers of this class of SUV are not looking for design statements. They are looking for serviceable, flexible, safe and reliable transport of people and/or stuff. They want its looks to be generally pleasing. Certainly not the neighborhood laughing stock.

One point of distinction, unchanged from the Tribeca that got its outsides done over, is the swooping, drooping, silvery dashboard. Sort of like some sedate neighbor who wears Victoria Secret undies. The dash is different, but its looks don’t get in the way of function and although silver, it doesn't boast blinding reflections.

The Tribeca comes in two trim levels: the main difference is that the base model comes with cloth seats and holds five people in two rows. The Limited model has three rows (for seven) and leather seating – perforated or smooth are choices.

The second row of seats are a triumph. They slide both forward and backwards and they recline. All these to make anyone in the always-dubious third row even more jealous. To say seven-passenger SUV rather than five-passenger sounds like the vehicle has room for two more people. But we all know that third-rows are for the smallest ones capable of sitting up on their own. Not full-sized people. Coupes with two rear seats useful to transport a friendly couple to a (nearby) restaurant are called "2 plus 2". We should call these smallish seven-passenger SUVs "5 plus 2."

The solution: try the vehicle with the load make-up you intend to carry. By the by, that second row has seats that split 60/40 but the back of the seats split 40/20/40. This makes it possible to carry long items, like skis, in the middle of the vehicle with people sitting on either side in normal comfort.

In your test driving be sure all the drivers in the family sign off on the driver's seating position. The seat, of course, slides fore and aft but the steering wheel merely tilts. Some long-legged drivers find themselves sitting at an uncomfortably long-arm distance from the wheel. A telescoping function would be welcome.

Like most SUVs outward visibility in the Tribeca can be a problem. The chunky A pillar, particularly in conjunction with the rear-view mirror, can blot a large portion of your significant world from view, particularly pedestrians about to mount a jay-walking foray. SUV drivers must all learn to move their heads about to make sure their eyes are taking in as much of the world as possible.

2008 Subaru Tribeca Interior

Tribeca buyers will not be hurting for amenities. Opt for a sunroof, a navigation system with touch-screen and back-up camera, a back seat entertainment arrangement with a nine-inch screen and two wireless headsets. And what I consider a most socially irresponsible option - a remote starter. I think only the beleaguered don of a mafia family really needs to start an engine from a distance. No boom let's drive. Everyone else is using a remote to pre-cool or pre-heat their car's interior, a profligate waste of fuel. Furthermore they are pumping a lot more emissions into the air in one place than they need to. The remote start is self-indulgence gone over the top.

Subaru has an admirable safety record and the Tribeca fits into that tradition. Besides an electronic stability system for more secure driving to avoid accidents it has an array of interior devices to lessen the results of any impact such as active head restraints on the front seats and the usual array of airbags. It should be noted however that the side curtain air bags extend only to the second row of seats.

The Tribeca earned the highest crash-test ratings of any SUV from the National Highway Safety Administration. It was awarded five stars for all crash tests except rollover. No SUV has ever received five stars in the rollover test.

The five-passenger Tribeca is rated for 37.6 cubic feet of cargo when carrying five passengers. With the seats folded flat that increases to 74.4 cubic feet. A fully-occupied seven-passenger Tribeca better be toting folks who travel light. Only 8.3 cubic feel of space is available to them for cargo. That third seat folds flat out of the way when not in use.

As for towing, the Tribeca with towing package can pull 3500 lbs. – a vintage race car maybe. That’s a goodly amount for its class.

The Tribeca fills out Subaru's line and thus may attract more shoppers to its dealerships. For those drawn to Subaru's safety record and four-wheel-drive experience and technology they now have something different to consider. While at the Subaru store don't close your mind to the wagons or the nicely developed Forester. The Tribeca is much improved and is worth a buyer's consideration, but those other critters in Subaru's stable might
catch the eye, and the nod, of an SUV fan with an open mind.

2008 Subaru Tribeca
Five- or seven-seat mid-size SUV
Engine size:

3.6-liter, 6 cylinder "Boxer"


5-speed Automatic with SportShift


108.2 inches

Overall Length:

191.5 inches


Power-assisted four-wheel disc w/EBD & ABS

Air bags:

2 (front), 2 (front thorax), 2 side curtain

Fuel Economy:

16/21 mpg


$29,995 (5 seat) - $30,995 (7 seat)