2006 Subaru Tribeca SUV

The all-new 2006 B9 Tribeca is Subaru’s largest, most expensive vehicle and its first-ever crossover SUV to offer seating for seven passengers. It is available in a five- or seven-passenger models in base or Limited trim levels with prices starting at $41,995 for the base five-passenger and topping out at $47,995-plus for the range-topping seven-passenger.

The wheelbase is 3 inches longer, the track 4 inches wider and it stands nearly 5 inches taller than the 2005 Subaru Outback. The new body structure also has a 22 % increase in rigidity and a 50 % increase in bending stiffness when compared to the Outback. However, this size brings more mass, as the Tribeca tips the scales at a portly 4,245 pounds making it heaviest Subaru of them all.

Subaru says the B9 Tribeca looks like no other SUV – and they are absolutely correct. However, the styling is very controversial. During the test drive, I have heard comments that ranged from ugly to dynamic. Most did not care for the front-end styling and its airplane-shaped grille (a throw back to Subaru’s heritage as a maker of aircraft many years ago). If you can get past the front end it is an attractive piece that says different.

The B9 Tribeca name does have any real significance, although the “B” stands for “boxer engine”, 9 is an internal code designation and according to Subaru the Tribeca name is from the “vibrant and trendy Manhattan neighborhood located in New York City.” Who knows?

Inside the Tribeca is first class – as it is attractive and features high quality materials and commendable fit and finish, with the different pieces butting up nicely. The “twin cockpit” layout sees the dash flowing from the centre console and then it sweeps nicely into the front door panels. Aluminum-like trim accents finish the sculpted edges of the dash, while the instrumentation consists of large two pods with electro-luminescent gauges. There is ample head- and legroom in the first and second row seating positions, however, the two passenger third row is unsuitable for most adults as it is basically a couple of bits of foam glued to the hump over the rear axle – it is perfectly suited for the mother-in-law or people you’re not particularly close too.

Most important for crossover/SUV buyers is utility and flexibility, and to that end the Tribeca delivers more so in the 5-passenger model than the seven-passenger version. In the 5-passenger model cargo volume is 37.6 cu. ft. and with the 40/20/40 splits folded it reveals an impressive 74.4 cu. ft. In the seven passenger version there is only a mere 8.3 cu ft behind the third row seat, which is next to useless if all the seats are in use on a family vacation.

When it comes to safety, the Tribeca is an odd mix. It gets all-wheel-drive, anti-lock brakes (which are very effective) and the usual front air bags. However, the drop-down side curtains only protect the first two rows, which leaves your mother-in-law exposed in the seven-seat version. Oh well.

Along with the top-notch all-wheel-drive system comes a 3.0-litre horizontally opposed “boxer” six-cylinder engine that is rated at 250 hp and 219 pound-feet of torque. While these numbers are impressive, the 4,200 plus pounds impacts on overall performance, especially at lower engine speeds. To get any real sensation of acceleration you have to burry the gas pedal, and even then you wait. The four-cylinder, turbocharged engine offered in the Legacy would be a better companion.

Mated to this engine is a highly modified version of the Outback’s five-speed automatic transmission. It not only features SportShift (which allows manual shifting), it is smooth shifting on the way up and downshifts are quick and crisp.

When it comes to handling, the Tribeca is without peer, at least in the SUV/Crossover market. The chassis is very stiff (which means little in the way of annoying rattles or squeaks), the steering is nicely weighted and the suspension is both compliant and firm at the same time. On the highway, the Tribeca floats over rougher tarmac with barely a jolt reaching the riders. Push it into a corner and it hunkers down and delivers a reassuring feel that belies its crossover/SUV status. Few cars manage to balance such divergent needs and demands so well as the Tribeca.

Outwardly, the Tribeca is an odd beast, as the front end has the face only a mother could truly love. However if you can get past this initial shock, the rest of the car hold enormous promise. The seven-seat version is passable, the five-seater a joy to drive. Adding a little more power and some side curtains that protect the third seat riders (and, of course, a decent back seat) would transform the Tribeca from good to segment benchmark.