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2008 Subaru Tribeca Road Trip
All-new Tribeca primed for travel
A trip down Nova Scotia's south shore provides plenty of diverse road conditions to fully evaluate Subaru's newly refreshed crossover SUV.
By Bill Roebuck
If your need for new family wheels points you towards an SUV, but you don't want to be seen as making a mainstream choice, you definitely should take a test drive in the all-wheel drive 2008 Subaru Tribeca.
I had the opportunity to do so while working and vacationing in Nova Scotia for a week, and the Tribeca was an ideal choice for the trip.
I picked up the vehicle at the friendly Dexter's Subaru dealership in Halifax, set up the navigation system for guidance with little trouble, and immediately travelled north to Windsor on the province's fresh, smooth Highway 101.
On that road, Subaru's newly redesigned crossover SUV was quick, quiet, and exuded an unexpected level of quality build. The same was true of the rest of the trip, travelling through small villages and towns along the picturesque south shore along to the Shelburne area.
Subaru remains one of the world's smallest independent automotive manufacturers, but that doesn't keep it from introducing fresh products based on top-of-the-line technologies. The 2008 Tribeca -- named after an artsy New York City neighbourhood -- is a good example.
The Tribeca was first introduced in 2005 as a 2006 model with a B9 prefix to its name, but sales apparently were disappointing for the company. Subaru's research indicated it was the exterior design that potential buyers didn't care for. It's true that it had a distinctive Japanese style. So the new design for 2008 was meant to make the skin more flattering, and in my view, it's quite successful. They've also dropped the B9 moniker from the name, a good idea since few people were aware of what it meant.
Certainly the new front grille makes a strong impression, looking somewhat like that on a Chrysler Pacifica or Ford Fusion. At first glance, you'll notice this is not a boring-looking SUV. From front to back, the appearance is upscale and distinctive.
The rear end also has been restyled for 2008, making it wider and giving it more prominence. The whole effect is to smooth out and homogenize the previous model's appearance to make it more appealing. In my view, though, it's still not 'mainstream' in that it remains distinctive -- especially the inside.
And if the avant-garde appeals to you, you'll be happy with the five-passenger wraparound interior (a seven passenger option also is available), especially the distinctive instrument panel. Swooping lines, metals and quality plastic in subtle, varied tones are quite impressive. It's highly stylish, I think, and like no other SUV interior I've seen.
There's a couple of 'form over function' issues with the design, though, as the displays for the fuel level and engine temperature are hidden behind your hands when holding the steering wheel -- at least in my driving position. Also, the lighting for the displays needs to be set at the highest level so they can be read in bright sunlight or when you're wearing sunglasses.
Most significantly, the view to the sides is reduced by massive A pillars -- so big that Subaru sets tiny triangular windows into them. With those massive side mirrors, that little window is your only hope of seeing anything in the big blind spot beside the vehicle. Still, the pillar presents a challenge when pulling out into an intersection and looking right; and also when making a left turn into a parking spot, as your view is somewhat blocked in both cases.
However, rear visibility isn't an issue (the rear quarter windows have been enlarged for 2008). Also, the Premier level tester I was driving featured a rear backup camera, which worked effectively and accurately when parking in tight spots.
My tester for the week in Nova Scotia was the top-of-the-line Tribeca Premier Package, priced at $52,495. It's one of three available trims, with the base starting at $41,195 and the Limited Package at $45,195. Freight and dealer preparation adds $1,495.
The base model includes features such as a Vehicle Dynamics Control system; Electronic Stability Control; Electronic Brake-Force Distribution (EBD); multiple airbags and active front seat head restraints; automatic climate control; a moonroof and heated, power-adjustable front seats. The Limited package adds leather upholstery and a premium audio system and the Premier package offers a GPS navigation system, a rear DVD entertainment system, a rear-view camera and seating for seven.
The leather seating, which comes in all but the base model, was smooth and comfortable. One small complaint I had was with the navigation system map, which occasional suggested there were turnoffs that didn't really exist, and showed a main highway -- No. 103 -- as completely invisible in some sections. (It worked fine in Halifax, though.)
The 50/50 split fold-down third-row seats, which include integrated headrests, are a challenge to get into easily and provide a minimal amount of legroom. However, these third row seats fold flat to the floor, so don't diminish the cargo capacity much.
The second-row 40/20/40-split seat folds almost completely flat, extending the rear cargo area from 1,063 litres to 2,106 litres. Subaru says the setup offers 64 different seating and cargo configurations. There's plenty of legroom and headroom for both front- and second-row passengers.
The 2008 Tribeca has received the highest possible safety rating from the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) crash tests, getting five stars in both front- and side- impact crash tests for the driver and passenger seating positions.
Build quality, as in all Subaru models, appears to be top-notch. The vehicle is firm and tight, and all the materials are of good quality. No rattles or vibrations were detected, except from behind the instrument panel but only on the roughest roads I tackled with the Tribeca -- one in particular down to the spectacular Johnston's Pond at high tide. I probably wouldn't have made the trip in a car but had no trouble venturing down this little travelled, poorly maintained,deeply puddled route in the Subie crossover.
I appreciated the high ground clearance of 213 mm (8.4 in.) and the big, tough-looking 255/55 R18 104H Goodyear Eagle LS2 M+S All-Season tires on 18-in. aluminum alloy wheels, especially during an excursion to the West Head near the town of Lockeport on the province's south shore. At the end of the paved road, a muddy lane strewn with rocks leads towards the head, where the scenery is incredibly beautiful. (Interestingly, a posted sign offered the vacant 90-acre headland for sale for a mere $1.2 million.) The Tribeca handled the rough road easily, partly due to its rear double-wishbone suspension, developed specifically to eliminate vibration, to allow for better control and to deliver a comfortable ride.
There was nothing missing from the Premier-model tester. Ammenties such as dual electronic temperature controls and a power sunroof were nice to have. I wished the rear liftgate was power-operated as it is on some competitive SUVs, and that the windows had an automatic power-up function, not just auto-down. Although the steering wheel tilts but does not telescope, I never found it a problem to have a comfortable driving position.
On the road, the new Tribeca has quite a bit more zip than the model it replaces. It never feels heavy or ponderous, and seems to have just the right amount of oomph whenever you need it. Despite its size and capacity, it handles like a car, and a nimble one at that.
Power comes from a 3.6-litre H6 (the H is for its horizontally opposed cylinders) that produces 256 hp at 6,000 rpm and 247 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. The idea of a horizontally opposed 'boxer' engine (versus a V6) is that it helps lower Tribeca's centre of gravity, which means improved stability in cornering.
And here's a bonus -- the new engine uses regular fuel instead of the premium grade that the old model's 3.0-litre required -- and the fuel economy is said to be better as well. Towing capacity has increased to 1,587 kg.
The onboard computer -- which provides a wealth of data -- reported an average of 11.6 litres per 100 km after about 400 km of travel. The EnerGuide rating for the vehicle is 13.2 l/100 km city and 9.4 for the highway. The fuel tank holds 64 litres. Drag coefficient is 0.38, typical for an SUV.
The transmission is a new version of Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel-drive, a true full-time system that always provides power to all wheels. The five-speed automatic has a SportShift mode for manual-like shifting whenever you feel like having a sportier drive, and has been revised to be smoother, faster shifting and more responsive than the previous iteration.
On the trip back to Halifax at the end of my stay -- after a relaxing week at the Ocean Mist Cottages on Crescent Beach at Lockeport -- I reflected on the various road surfaces I'd travelled. I felt I'd given the Tribeca a good evaluation of its capabilities and sensed it had passed all the important tests with a Grade A mark.
Bill Roebuck is the Editor and Chief Reviewer of CarTest.ca. ©2007.
Posted Sept. 30, 2007
Tribeca 5-passenger - $41,995
Tribeca Limited Package - $45,195
Tribeca 7-passenger Premier Package with Navigation and DVD entertainment - $52,495
Freight & PDI - $1,495.