2005 Subaru B9 Tribeca Review

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

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.

OK, I’ve said my piece: there are very few eyes in which the B9 is beauty beheld. Now, on to the B9’s interior; or, as Joseph Conrad would say, “The horror. The horror.”

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.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Dolorean23 Dolorean23 on Jun 19, 2009

    Wasn't the front "Bus Urinal" or vagina look what intially turned people off of buying the Edsel? Who at Subaru thought that they should try that again? Do remember, Subaru spelled backwards is U-r-a-bus.

    • VolandoBajo VolandoBajo on Jun 02, 2015

      Reading some of the best of Farago as a newcomer to TTAC. Which explains my much later comment. But my father owned a 58 Edsel, acquired at a very good price from a dealer, after its first owner traded it back in shortly after purchase, due to valve noise. My father did his research, and made sure the mechanical lifters had been replaced by the hydraulic ones that were specced out in a recall. And I can assure you that the Edsel front end looked MUCH better than the Tribeca's. Regardless of what you might think either one resembled. And I also read some market research study that said it wasn't so much the styling of the Edsel's front end that turned people off, it was the brownish deposits on the chrome bumper that formed around the through-the-bumper exhaust tips. I will leave it to your imagination what other rear end the test group thought that those brown circles reminded them of.

  • Anonymous Anonymous on Mar 23, 2012

    [...] the guy whose anatomical description of the Subaru Tribeca SUV’s front end forced a redesign (and ended my car review column at The San Francisco Chronicle). As someone who [...]

  • Fred As a British Car Fan I liked them, but then I sat in one and changed my mind. I like the unique looks of the newer ones.
  • FreedMike Not much to look at, but these were sweet to drive.
  • EBFlex Ford finally making a good decision although they should shut down their EV operations and investment all together. Why lose that money too?
  • Mike Lol. This is the king of suvs. And its made by GM.Why is everyone trashing it?Top of its its class for a quarter century.
  • Frank Drove past there last week, plant has a huge poster of a bronco on the outside. I was thinking "Is that where they build the new broncos?" I know they use to make the Edge and that other mundane SUV there but I believe both have been canned.
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