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Automotive makeover

Sunday, September 2, 2007

(Photo)
The Subaru Tribeca received a makeover for 2008, but the best things about the Tribeca have been retained.
(Associated Press)
On sale for only two model years, Subaru's first seven-passenger sport utility vehicle, the B9 Tribeca, is already getting a makeover.

For 2008, the Tribeca loses its less-than-attractive, snouty face, adds more power to its six-cylinder engine and updates its rear suspension and automatic transmission for better ride and performance.

And that pesky "B9" in the name -- which refers to an internal company code for this SUV -- is dropped.

Thankfully, though, the best things about the Tribeca -- its artfully designed dashboard and top, five-out-of-five-stars crash test ratings -- are retained. And the Tribeca rates a "very good" predicted reliablity rating from Consumer Reports magazine.

Even better, starting manufacturer's suggested retail prices, including destination charge, have moderated for Subaru's priciest nameplate.

A base, five-passenger, 2008 Tribeca starts at $30,640, which is a meager $20 increase over the base, 2007 Tribeca and is actually $55 less than the starting price for the original, 2006 Tribeca.

And shoppers seeking a seven-passenger Tribeca can get a $1,605 price break, because starting MSRP, including destination charge, has dropped to $31,640 for 2008 from 2007. This price also is lower than the original, seven-passenger, 2006 Tribeca price.

Subaru officials said nearly half of Tribecas sold have had third-row seating. Like all Subarus, the Tribeca comes standard with all-wheel-drive. Horsepower is up this year from 245 to 256.

In comparison, the competing, 2008 Toyota Highlander starts at $27,985 for a seven-passenger, two-wheel-drive model with 270-horsepower V-6 and $29,435 for a base, all-wheel-drive model with same engine and three rows of seats.

I was among the few auto critics who didn't mind the previous Tribeca design, which had an Alfa Romeo style to the grille.

The new, more mainstream look won't distract the way the previous one did. Too bad that the new grille and headlamps seem so close to the new styling that Chrysler put on its redesigned, 2008 Town & Country minivan. From the front, the Tribeca could double as a Town & Country sibling.

The Tribeca's rear end is redone, too. Again, it reminds me of another vehicle -- this time the Hyundai Santa Fe.

Overall, the Tribeca's length of 16 feet, bumper to bumper, and width of 6.2 feet are on par with its predecessor. Interior dimensions are the same as before, too.

This translates into quite comfortable front-row seating for adults, though side bolsters on the front seats of the tester were so firm I noticed them each time I slid onto the seats.

Once inside, I sure enjoyed the flowing dashboard design that's so swoopy, I wanted to touch its graceful lines. Controls are good-sized and easy to understand. The only thing that's missing is a knob for tuning the radio. Instead, the Tribeca features an up/down button that can be tedious to use.

Still, fit and finish inside the test Tribeca was excellent.

But second-row space in the Tribeca isn't great. Legroom is just 34.3 inches, which is less than that of many competitors. For example, the 2008 Highlander features a full 4 more inches of legroom in the second row. The Highlander also is wider than the Subaru and thus provides an additional 2 inches, at a minimum, of shoulder room in the second and third rows.

And be sure to watch as you drop down onto the Tribeca's third row. The cushions are flat, sit on top of the floor back there and don't provide as much support as I'd like. Even someone my size -- 5 feet 4 -- can find that last row a bit confining as knees are forced up, near your face.

Still, views out of the vehicle are good, because everyone sits up from the pavement in the Tribeca. The driver just needs to be aware of the large, triangular metal bases at each side of the windshield.

As a more car-like, crossover SUV that's not riding on a truck platform, the Tribeca offers rather easy entry. I just lifted myself up a bit and set myself on the seats. The third row takes a bit more effort to get into, because there's still little foot space between the second-row seat tracks and the wheel well area of the vehicle.

At least for 2008, Subaru added new grab handles to help people keep their balance. The second-row seats slide forward more easily now, too.

The Tribeca, whose weight hasn't changed appreciably for 2008, already was well-powered. But now, the new six-cylinder engine is a 3.6-liter unit with improved get up and go.

Torque has jumped to 247 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm compared with the previous 215 foot-pounds.

This power is immediate. In fact, I could push my head back into the head restraint at startup if I didn't modulate pressure on the gas pedal.

The only transmission is a five-speed automatic with shift-it-yourself Sportshift.

For being the largest Subaru, the Tribeca doesn't feel heavy or ponderous. In fact, it provides a rather nimble, commendable ride with exemplary road manners combined with some road feel that doesn't punish passengers. Some road noise and road impact sounds came through at times, though.

Fuel mileage is rated at a ho-hum 16 miles per gallon in city driving and 21 mpg on the highway by the federal government.

All safety equipment is standard on the Tribeca including electronic stability control. But head curtain air bags work only for front- and second-row passengers.

Subaru officials hope the revised Tribeca retains the annual sales volume of around 18,000 that the vehicle posted last year.


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