A Timely Makeover for Subaru Tribeca

by : Anthony Fontanelle



If you have an impression that Subarus are too costly, too ugly and too powerless, well, the automaker's latest update might change your notion.

The new Tribeca gets a radical makeover. It loses more than just half its name and gains more than just a lovely face. An enhanced engine and improved interior sophistication make it seem like an all-new product line. When the Japanese automaker introduced its B9 Tribeca crossover a couple of years ago, it seemed somewhat of a stretch for the maker of all-wheel-drive machines.

The Subaru Tribeca was named for a trendy New York City neighborhood, far from the semi-rugged metaphors of vehicles with names like the Outback or the Forester. The Tribeca features radiate similar elegance as those of . Available as a five- or seven-seater that could cost nearly $40,000, the B9 Tribeca moved Subaru to an upscale neighborhood.

Sales targets for the B9 Tribeca were modest: 17,000 in the second half of 2005, and perhaps 30,000 to 36,000 in 2006. The 2005 target was right on, but the 2006 figure was badly off. Auto dealerships sold only 18,614 B9 Tribecas in the previous year.

Most analysts blamed the Tribeca's strangely styled front end, its exorbitant price for a Subaru and the tight auto competition in the crossover segment for last year's below par sales. As such, Subaru envisioned a timely makeover to put a halt to the declining sales. The Japanese automaker has opted for plastic surgery.

Stripped away first, for the 2008 Tribeca model, is the B9 part of the name. The Tribeca now stands alone. Gone, too, is the 245-horsepower, 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine to pave the way for a 3.6-liter six that makes 256 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque, up from 215. The five-speed automatic is retained, but improved, Subaru said. As in all vehicles from this brand, all-wheel-drive is standard.

On the other hand, gas mileage suffers a bit. Blame both the larger engine and the new EPA requirement. It is listed as 16 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway. Also left behind is the B9's unlikable face.

Now there is something more pleasing, if certainly less idiosyncratic. The automaker's designers also tweaked the Tribeca's grille, front fenders, hood, headlamps, rear windows and the entire rear end. On the safety front, the previous version of this vehicle earned five stars for both front and side impacts in the government's crash tests. Also made standard are enhanced antilock brakes, dual front, side and side-impact air bags, stability control, headrests for all seven seats, and traction control.

On the road, the new Tribeca flaunts a solid feel with just the precise combination of acceleration and road dynamics. This is not a sports car, nor is it a Jeep off-roader. But it embraces the road as securely as it hugs the middle ground in its segment. Inside the cabin, there is an air of upscale that was absent before.

Dimensionally, the Tribeca has not changed much. The vehicle's wheelbase is untouched, and the overall length increased less than two inches because of the body-panel modifications. Notwithstanding the changes, Tribeca prices have not increased much. The original 2006 model priced at $30,695 to $37,695. Two years later, the 2008 Tribeca starts at $30,640.

The stable prices are results of competitive pressures. The new Tribeca will be competing against the Ford Edge; Mazda CX-7 and CX-9, Buick Enclave, Saturn Outlook, GMC Acadia; Toyota Highlander; Honda Pilot and the renewed Ford Taurus X (formerly the Freestyle).

Whether enough shoppers will discern that the B9 Tribeca has been replaced by a better, indeed a benign Tribeca, remains to be seen...