Something New from Subaru

On the outside, it’s just another full-size SUV. Remove the labels, send it zooming by and your peripheral vision might lead you to guess that any number of vehicles have just passed. From high-end luxury models – like the Porsche Cayenne – to less expensive crossovers – like the Kia Sorrento – the SUV market is still booming. Subaru didn’t want to miss out on the fun, so for 2006 the Japanese automaker issued its B9 Tribeca. While Subaru billed its Forester as a small SUV, consumers didn’t buy the idea – or the car. Thus far, Subaru has failed to benefit from America’s sports-utility craze. Subaru hopes to change its fate with the B9 Tribeca, which is being offered in two trims: Standard or Limited. Each trim is available in a 5-passenger or 7-passenger model.

Though fully-loaded Subarus tend to enter the $30,000+ vicinity, the B9 Tribeca will start in this price range as the most expensive Subaru on the market. The most basic version of the B9 Tribeca starts at $30,695; but with options, Subaru’s latest vehicle will come close to $40,000.

Subaru’s philosophy has always been one of sensibility; function has generally tended to precede form in the Subaru lineup. While the B9 Tribeca is born out of this tradition (its exterior design reveals its un-hip DNA), the latest Subaru’s interior sings a different tune. The man responsible for the interior design, Andreas Zapatinas, hails from Italian automaker Alpha Romeo. Italian sensibility is evident within the confines of the B9 Tribeca’s cabin.

Leather interior is available in the Limited model, while the Standard version is offered with cloth interior. A choice of slate gray or desert beige (available in both leather and cloth) makes for an interior that looks smart and refined, at least for the driver and his/her front-seat passenger. While in most vehicles (excepting expensive luxury cars) the driver and front-seat passenger enjoy more accoutrements than the rear-seat passengers, in the Subaru’s SUV, the divide seems to be more severe. The front seats receive so much more attention than the back row(s) that the car’s cabin is reminiscent of a commercial airplane with a first-class section, coach seating, and (if you opt for the 7-passenger model) a steerage cabin in the optional third row. With cargo space in the third row, eliminating any and all space for packages, third-row passengers are made to feel like cargo.

Perhaps this assessment is harsh, but with the new Subaru’s striking ront console, it’s a bit surprising that the rear of the vehicle would be so sparse… so Spartan… so Subaru. The plane analogy proves suitable when describing the design of the center console, gauges, and navigation system (optional, but highly recommended from an aesthetic perspective), which all combine to create a shape and feeling reminiscent of a cockpit. Dual-zone climate control with a sophisticated digital interface makes the console seem hi-tech, while curved air condition vents and a set-back on-board computer (in models with GPS) give this Subaru an aesthetic flair that is markedly futuristic. The speedometer and tachometer gauges are structurally well-styled. The interior’s backlight illumination color scheme is pleasant, with soft blues and reds when the headlights are switched on. While the console, toggles, and dash are attractive, the impracticality of the navigation system’s design is a noticeable shortcoming. The way that the on-board computer is set back may look nice, but the computer’s functions are activated by touch and the screen is quite difficult to reach.

The Subaru SUV’s exterior is no great shakes either. There is little besides the strange but unique grill which distinguishes this vehicle from any other in this category. Like the Acura MDX, the Lexus RX330, the Volkswagen Touareg, the Buick Rendezvous and the Pontiac Torrent (due out for 2006), the Subaru has clean, rounded lines, cat-like headlamps and sporty windows. The grill, which has received mixed reviews thus far, consists of a narrow nose with the Subaru badge at the center and whisker-like vents which come off the sides of the nose. The back of the vehicle is nondescript. Though I have described the B9 Tribeca’s appearance somewhat unfavorably, this SUV is not unattractive; however, if you’re going to come late to the game, at least bring something new to the table.

Perhaps what the B9 Tribeca brings to the table is its performance, which, by all accounts, is quite good. Though somewhat heavy (with a curb weight of 4,155 pounds), the B9 Tribeca’s power is stellar. This all-wheel-drive SUV’s 6-cyllinder, 3.0-liter engine generates a healthy horsepower of 250 with a 0-60 time of 8.5 seconds (in the 5-passenger model). The Subaru’s gas mileage is comparable to that of other vehicles in this class, with a city measurement of 18 mpg and a highway measurement of 24 mpg (this is exactly the same as the estimated measurements of the Lexus RX330 and the Buick Rendezvous). Drivers of the Subaru SUV say that the handling is great and that the vehicle is quite responsive.

As Subaru looks to expand its sales, the B9 Tribeca puts the Japanese car manufacturer in a good position to do so. While the B9 Tribeca may not offer anything too innovative or special, the SUV market in the United States is still hot and ripe for exploitation. It will be interesting to track how Subaru’s B9 Tribeca sells.

All-wheel drive and heated seats (in the Limited model) make this vehicle good for the upcoming winter. Be sure to look for the B9 Tribeca on the road or check one out at a Subaru dealership nearby (Subarus are sold in Norwich, Utica, and Syracuse). For more information on the Subaru B9 Tribeca, check out the website at