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Eric
01-15-2008, 10:42 AM
The cylons lost.

Maybe not on the TV show - but definitely in the Subaru showroom. The 2009 Tribeca - Subaru's 5-7 passenger crossover wagon - no longer has a front end that looks like the "by your command" mug of a chromed-up Centurion from the '80s-era sci-fi classic.

And the new nose is not all that's fresh about the '08 Tribeca. The "B9" part of its former name is also history - consigned to the dustbin of Overly Baroque Appellations. It's just "Tribeca" from now on.

But cosmetics and superficial name changes aside, there are two very significant additional updates that make the '08 Tribeca a lot more appealing than the original model - which appeared back in 2006.

First, it costs a lot less - $29,995 to start vs. $30,695 back in 2006.

The original B9 Tribeca was seen (rightly) as being overpriced. The '06 B9 was Subaru's attempt to edge itself into the near-luxury segment - and compete directly with Audi and maybe even BMW as a "prestige" brand - with a "prestige" window sticker to match. Problem was, people didn't bite. Or not enough of them, at any rate. Subaru makes great cars; but like VW it is considered a value brand primarily - not a luxo brand.

When Subaru pegged the original B9 at more than $30k to start, it priced itself out of its own market - leaving aside the awkward name and sci-fi front end treatment.

The '08 'Beca is slotted in just under that $30k price point - still more than a Mazda CX-7 Grand Touring with AWD ($28,000) or Hyundai Veracruz GLS w/AWD ($28,600) - but not by a huge margin.

The difference in price between the Tribeca and competitors is probably close enough now that existing Subaru buyers who are predisposed to stay within the family may do just that. Mission accomplished. And the Soobie's still quirky character - including its interesting wavy-gravy dash layout - might be enough of a draw to bring in new buyers, too.

The other issue - related to the original B9's too-high price - was its too-low power/performance. As Subaru's largest model, it was also Subaru's heaviest model - pushing 4,200 pounds, or about the weight of a mid-sized SUV with a V-8 engine. But the original B9 only had a 3 liter six to work with - and just 245 horsepower. It was not a match made in heaven. That first-year B9 felt like it had a cast iron bathtub strapped to the roof - and an old Buick's engine block laying on the back seat. Zero to 60 took more than 9 long seconds - economy car performance that people shelling out $30k-plus had every right to be unhappy about.

For 2008, that problem has been dealt with by replacing the overtasked 3 liter engine with a new-design 3.6 liter engine rated at 256 horsepower. Performance is much improved, with zero to sixty now taking just over 8 seconds - a full second drop compared with the '07 model.

That is an impressive gain - and kind of makes you wonder...

Could the original B9's engine have been over-rated? Or is the '08 Tribeca's under-rated? It's hard to accept that an extra 11 horsepower - all else being equal - could provide such a huge improvement. Still, it's good news for prospective buyers of the '08 Tribeca - which is now performance-competitive with other 5-7 passenger crossovers.

And more importantly, no longer a dog.

There's a new five-speed automatic transmission as well - which has been programmed for more sporty shift quality than the previous box. Even better, the new engine burns 87 octane regular gas - not premium like the old 3.0 liter engine had to have. This has been achieved without a major downturn in fuel economy, too. The '08 is EPA rated for 16 mpg city, 21 mpg highway; the '07 was only slightly better at 18 city/23 highway.

Max tow rating is 3,500-lbs. - enough to lug a small trailer and a couple of jet skis if you really had to.

The rest of the '08 Tribeca is similar to the previous versions. Buyers can still choose 5 or 7 passenger seating configurations; AWD is standard (a major selling point over both the CX-7 and the Hyundai Veracruz as well as several others, which offer AWD - but optionally and at extra cost). Subaru's "Symmetrical" all-wheel-drive is also unusual in that it's set up to route more than half the engine's power (55 percent) to the rear wheels under normal driving conditions. Most AWD crossovers, on the other hand, are "front-biased" - and normally send as much as 90 percent of the engine's power to the front wheels until traction begins to ebb (at which point more power is routed to the rear wheels).

Advantage? Not so much traction as balance and road feel. By splitting the power delivery almost even-Steven (45 percent front/55 percent rear) under normal driving conditions, the Tribeca doesn't have that front-drive economy-car vibe, especially when you drive it like you stole it. Though it's heavy beast and not really set up for all-out handling, the Tribeca's power delivery is exceptionally smooth, without the initial lurchiness during hard acceleration you sometimes find in front-biased crossovers.

Subaru, like Audi, has been honing the AWD layout for decades - and it's an area where their years of hard-won expertise really shows through.

All trim levels, including the standard 5-passenger model are very well-equipped - with 18-inch rims, dual-zone AC, a nice stereo and an LCD driver information center included. The info center doubles as an accessory gauge pack - with three dial-like readouts for current fuel economy, average fuel economy and "acceleration."

A rear seat DVD entertainment system is available - but only on the top-of-the-line seven-passenger versions.

Speaking of which... .

Though Subaru touts the family-friendly seating arrangement, it is pretty cozy inside the Tribeca - even for front seat passengers. The seats seem to "ride high" - and put the driver's head awfully close to the roof, especially if you are over six feet tall. My tester had the optional sunroof, which further cut down on the available headroom to the point that I could feel my hair brushing up against the headliner. Same deal for the second row; legroom is excellent - several inches to spare between you knees and the backs of the front seats - but the headroom's on the tight side for taller people.

As for the third row... well, to be honest, it's for bragging rights (and marketing purposes) only. I guess you could technically cram seven people into the Tribeca - but whoever gets the third row is going to hate you for life. It is potentially serviceable for really small kids - maybe. That's about it. And they'll probably outgrow it long before your last payment is sent in. Plus, you lose almost all potential cargo space (up to 74 cubic feet) with the third row in place.

Where to put the groceries?

Bottom line: If I were going to buy a Tribeca, it'd be the 5-passenger version; if I needed an honest 7 passenger crossover, I'd be looking at something else. Its basic layout still reflects the original mission envisioned by Subaru - which was to establish the brand in the near-luxury/touring (not family-mobile) segment.

Still, the changes Subaru has made to the Tribeca have made it much more appealing - and thus, competitive - than the original. The new face is not so polarizing, the power/performance is much more pleasing - and the price far less off-putting.

Starbuck would be pleased.

END

Disco Man
01-16-2008, 03:00 AM
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