Readers may recall that my previous review of the Subaru Tribeca described the SUV’s front end as a flying vagina. Shortly after this aesthetic assessment hit the web, the San Francisco Chronicle canceled my regular reviews. Both Subaru and BMW banned The Truth About Cars from their press cars. While the column is history and the ban remains, Subaru got the message. The new Tribeca’s front end looks nothing like airborne pudenda, and everything like a Chrysler Pacifica.
Subaru deserves props for abandoning the only automotive design capable of making a Pontiac Aztek look like a mistake (rather than an affront). But patterning the Tribeca’s snout after the prow of Chrysler’s bilious station-wagon-on-stilts is yet another mysterious miscalculation. While the Tribeca’s new nose is as innocuous as the previous one was pervy, why would Subie want potential customers to mistake its SUV for a failed product from a struggling American automaker?
At least the sanitization of the Tribeca’s Area 51-themed rear end leaves the Subaru’s butt looking like the posterior parts of the entirely successful (if now dated) Lexus RX. It's a distinctly upscale makeover compared the Tribeca’s side profile, which is now a dead ringer for the Toyota RAV4. Put it together and what have you got? Something deeply derivative and wildly innocuous with about as much Subaru brand DNA as Japanese knotweed.
The Tribeca’s interior carries over from the previous version; it’s still swoopy in a vaguely nauseating sort of way, adorned with the same flat silver plastic that Revell uses to give their model airplane wings their trademark sheen. The cowled instruments make no sense in this application, aside from diverting your eyes from the over-sized, ‘70’s-style digital readouts hovering inside the climate control knobs. On the positive side, tweaking the Tribeca's stereo’s mid-range and treble controls delivers serious tuneage.
The Tribeca’s seats offer about as much lateral support as a Sit-‘N-Spin, with the extra disadvantage of a steering wheel that doesn’t adjust for reach. And if you’re thinking about using the Tribeca’s third row for anything other than the kiddies’ stuffed animals, it’s best not to mention the middle row’s fore and aft adjustment to sugar-crazed siblings.
Getting the “old” Tribeca to move out of its own way was like asking an inceberg to dance. Given the previous engine’s impolite appetite for premium fuel, there wasn’t much Subaru could do to rectify the Tribeca’s sloth. So they didn’t do much. They modified the existing H6 engine package to run on regular, added variable valve timing to the exhaust valves and fitted a shortened conrod. Voila! The Tribeca’s powerplant grows from 3.0-liters to 3.6-liters, increasing power by 11 horses (to 256hp) and adding 32 ft-lbs. of torque (up to 247 ft.-lbs.).
Factoring the Tribeca’s 4250 lbs. curb weight, the SUV's gone from woefully slow to a kinda slow. Unfortunately the Tribeca still has a prodigious thirst for dead dinoflagellates. Call me carbon positive, but I reckon a SUV whose city mileage struggles to hit sweet 16 is OK if it accommodates seven genuine people and/or holsters a bad-ass V8. Otherwise, not.
More productively, Subaru took another bash at the Tribeca’s five-speed autobox, whose previous unwillingness to shift would test the patience of an opium addled Maharishi. Although shifts are noticeably faster and smoother, the engine now sounds like your mother’s old Hoover. Worse, the Tribeca’s slushbox remains obstinate on inclines, holding onto higher gears as if the lower ones didn’t exist.
The steering is equally unresponsive, with enough slop to feed a large family of pigs. But Subaru’s tweaks to the Tribeca’s rear suspension are easily the worst part of the car’s less than stellar driving dynamics. Not only does every lump and bump send a muffled shudder through the otherwise serene cabin, but it all goes seriously wrong over badly broken pavement.
On anything less than a smooth surface, the Tribeca’s newly recalibrated suspension’s rebound rate fails to catch up with even a minor series of horizontal jolts. I don’t know exactly what Subie’s boffins did to the Tribeca’s front McPherson struts and rear wishbone, but the result is so uncomfortable I actually began to feel carsick. No wonder Subaru removed the “B9” designation from the model’s moniker.
For an automaker famous for creating cars that can carve-up a country road and leave it for dead, a company that advertised its car-based models as SUV alternatives, Subie's SUV is an unabashed and unforgivable brand betrayal. The only real question is when the company will "face" the fact that shooting the messenger doesn't alter the truth: you can't make a silk SUV out of sow's ear or, you know, whatever.