Subaru Tribeca Review

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

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.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Durishin Durishin on Nov 01, 2007

    It's a Subaru! The doors are fully framed! It never had a chance. I'm worried about the STi that I intendt to replace my Spec. B with in April. Its doors are framed too! Subaru's position (niche) is simply this: "Different and Better" If they stray from that and don't attract cross shopping against A4s and 3Series it'll be over. If Toyota take the reins completely - which I doubt will ever happen - it'll be instant death. I don't see Toyota bringing any economies of scale for building horizontal 4 cylinder engines. And Subies are WAY more fun and dependable.

  • Candice Candice on Dec 20, 2007

    I love the Tribeca. It has leather heated seats. A rear camera that helps you reverse. It's a very smooth, quiet ride unlike most SUVs' I've driven. I work at a car dealership and we sell Subaru and many other makes and models. I didn't know anything about Subaru when I started, now I know a lot. They are just about the safest vehicle on the road no matter which model you look at. They are also extremely comfortable. Most people who don't like them probably haven't driven one. I didn't like them at first until I test drove one. Ever since then I've loved them.

  • Dave M. The Outback alternates between decent design and goofy design every generation. 2005 was attractive, 2010 goofy. 2015 decent. 2020 good, but the ‘23 refresh hideous.Looking forward to the Outback hybrid in ‘26…..
  • Lorenzo Subaru had the ideal wagon - in 1995. The Legacy Outback was a straight two-box design with rear quarter and back windows you could see out of, and was available in brown with a 5-speed manual, as God and TTAC commenters intended. It's nice they're not raising prices, but when you've lost the plot, does it matter?
  • Bkojote Remember a month a go when Cleveland wanted to create a more walkable Cleveland and TTAC's 'BIG GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM' dumbest and dullest all collectively crapped their diapers? Here's the thing- look on any American highway and it's littered with people who don't /want/ to be driving or shouldn't be. Look at every Becky on her phone during the morning commute in her Tucson, look at every Brad aggro driving his 84 month loan GMC. Hell look how many drivers nowadays can't even operate a headlight switch. You expect these people to understand a stoplight? In my neighborhood alone 4 people have been rear ended at lights from someone on their phone. Distracted driving over the past 10 years has spiked, and it's only going to get worse unless Becky has an alternative, because no judge is going to pull her license when 'she needs it to get to work!' but heaven forbid she not check fb/tiktok for 40 minutes a day.
  • Scott Shouldn't the The Italian Minister for Business be criticizing The Milano for being too ugly to be Italian?Better use of resources doing that....
  • Steve Biro Frankly, while I can do without Eyesight and automatic start-stop, there is generally less B-S with Subarus in terms of design, utility and off-road chops than with many other brands. I just hope that when they adopt Toyota’s hybrid system, they’ll also use Toyota’s eCVT.