Without any prompting whatsoever, my 11-year-old daughter took one look at the new Subaru B9 Tribeca and said ‘ew’. And there you have it. Scooby’s first-ever SUV is an irredeemably gruesome beast whose design should have been aborted a femtosecond after conception. While Subaru would like to convince us that “ugly ass” and “dynamic styling” are synonymous, even a pre-teen knows that repulsive is not, and never will be, the new cool. In the race for SUV buyers’ affections, the horrific B9 sets off a mile behind the starting line.
Not to belabor the point, but who in their right mind would put a vagina on the nose of an SUV, and then accentuate the effect with wings and hood strakes AND make the shape stand proud of the grill? Yes, I know: the design reflects Fuji Heavy Industries’ past as an airplane manufacturer. But they don’t make airplanes anymore, and the ones they DID make attacked Pearl Harbor. While we’re at it, the B9’s rear resembles the face of a gigantic alien– which is only fitting. Other than its side profile, the B9’s best viewing angle is high Earth orbit.
In order to fulfill their inscrutability quota, several Japanese manufacturers have tried to fashion their cars’ dashboards into a single, flowing, organic shape. Subaru’s B9 provides a particularly egregious example of this entirely pointless pursuit– with the extra annoyance of meaningless symmetry and buttons that are about as pleasant to prod as a week-old cockroach carcass. Well maybe the goofy binnacle isn’t ENTIRELY pointless– its lower portion’s striking resemblance to a set of fallopian tubes continues the reproductive theme without. Anyway, once again, form murders function.
But wait! There’s more! In case the cabin lacked sufficient cognitive dissonance to completely distract you from the business of driving, the gauges are hooded inside a small cowl. This sporty touch makes as much sense as a parachute on a scuba diver. Or a seven-seat SUV with less leg room than a small-sized envelope. In fact, there’s only way to accommodate seven humans in a B9: the front AND middle seat passengers must slide their chairs all the way forwards. The solution puts the steering wheel in contact with the driver’s chest and everyone else in a foul mood.
All of these shortcomings could be forgiven if the B9 drove with the élan of the only-slightly-less-ugly and equally cheap-feeling WRX STi. It doesn’t. Whereas the rally-bred STi has a fire-breathing turbo four in its belly, the B9 gets a normally aspirated 250-horse flat six. The three-liter engine simply doesn’t have enough torque to motivate the 4260lbs. Scooby without sending the tach needle on a mad dash towards the redline. This it does, to great sonic effect, every time you even think about building up a head of steam. What’s more, power increases exponentially at the top of the rev range, giving the B9’s engine an unpleasant on/off character.
At the same time, the B9’s another behemoth that’s been geared for parsimony rather than pleasure. One wonders how many mpg’s she’d muster if the gearbox didn’t shift into fourth by the time you’ve accepted personal liability for your own stupidity via the touch screen. The fact that the slushbox only dishes-up five cogs, and that the last one is longer-legged than Marisa Miller, doesn’t help. One hill climb proves that there are times when three out of five IS bad.
Once you get up to speed– and find a way to maintain it– the B9’s ride and handling are on the right side of entertaining. Although the B9 is based on a stretched version of the Subaru Outback, the company ditched the wagon’s trick multi-link rear suspension for a more robust double-wishbone set-up, and compensated for the loss by stiffening the chassis. Right answer. The B9 soaks-up lumps and bumps like a luxury car, yet holds the road with remarkable poise for one so large. That said, the B9’s recalcitrant engine – gearbox combo makes mid-corner throttle corrections a hit-or-miss [the scenery] affair. Despite Subaru’s legendary brand loyalty, the B9 is not the STi driver’s best choice for a family car.
In fact, it’s hard to know exactly who should buy a Subaru B9. The only clue comes from the vehicle’s third name “Tribeca”. That’s the hipster’s sobriquet for the New York City neighborhood in the “TRIangle BElow CAnal street”. It’s the ‘hood where artists sell “challenging” work for outrageous prices. If you see the Subaru B9’s hideousness and piss-poor packaging as representative of Subaru’s iconoclastic artistry, you might want to go there. Otherwise, don’t.