Ironically, given the late arrival of the 2006 B9 Tribeca to a hot sales segment, Subaru was first to market with a so-called crossover SUV, unless you can remember the AMC Eagle Sportwagon. It was 1995. Toyota was a year from launching the RAV4 in the U.S., and Honda had two years to go before debuting the CR-V. Subaru had a new, redesigned Legacy lineup that year, and offered an Outback package on the station wagon model. With two-tone paint, fog lights, a roof rack, and other allegedly rugged goodies onboard, the Legacy Outback was an all-wheel-drive utility vehicle that drove like a car and looked like an SUV. In 1996, a raised suspension and bigger fog lights the size of the moon cemented the formula. Thus, the crossover was born.
Today, crossover vehicles are more than station wagons wearing Carhartts. Dedicated architectures, bodywork, and interiors define the class, which ranges from the Acura MDX to the Volvo XC90. They might be the 21st century wagon, but they’re more capable than ever, and distinctly different from the cars upon which they are based – unlike that first Outback.
Now, Subaru has created a proper crossover, which arrives late to a party in progress. The 2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca has a powerful six-cylinder engine, seating for seven passengers, standard all-wheel-drive, and is built on a car platform – typical crossover SUV fare. Unfortunately for Subaru, however, at first glance the B9 Tribeca does not redefine the segment. Rather, it meets the standard.
Nuts and Bolts
A Subaru Legacy lurks under the 2006 B9 Tribeca’s bodywork, but you’d never guess if it wasn't for the stubby wheelbase. The B9 Tribeca gets the same 3.0-liter horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engine as found in the top trim levels of the Outback wagon, making 250 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 219 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,200 rpm. The engine is rated to meet Low Emission Vehicle Tier 2 standards, and fuel economy is estimated at 18 mpg city and 23 mpg highway on premium unleaded fuel. A five-speed automatic transmission with Sportshift manual control and adaptive software that conforms to your driving style delivers power to all four wheels, and towing capacity is rated at 3,500 pounds.
Subaru’s sophisticated Variable Torque Distribution (VTD) all-wheel-drive system operates at a 45/55 power split front-to-rear, giving the 2006 B9 Tribeca a rear-drive bias under normal conditions. Stability control, traction control, and antilock four-wheel vented disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution come standard to help keep the B9 Tribeca pointed in the direction the driver intends. Power rack-and-pinion steering guides 18-inch alloy wheels wearing P255/55R18 Goodyear Eagle LS tires, and the Subaru B9 Tribeca rides on a four-wheel independent suspension with struts up front and double wishbones in back.
Subaru sells the 2006 B9 Tribeca in four well-equipped models. Select between the cloth-upholstered standard model, with either five- or seven-passenger seating, or spend a little more cheddar to get the leather-lined Limited for five or seven. Either seven-passenger B9 Tribeca can be outfitted with an optional rear-seat DVD entertainment system, and the Limited with seven-passenger seating, like our test vehicle, can also be equipped with an optional navigation system. Prices start just over $31,000 and can top out just over $38,000. Port- and dealer-installed options can push the price even higher.
Credit Subaru for taking a chance on the 2006 B9 Tribeca’s styling, even if it doesn’t work terribly well. Meant to evoke the company’s aircraft manufacturing history, the B9 Tribeca’s grillework caused one Subaru loyalist on staff to quip that the SUV looked like an Edsel. Another wit walked up to the B9 Tribeca in the office parking lot and asked, “What’s that ugly thing?” Yet another onlooker asked, “What happened to the front end?”
From the front wheels back, the 2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca is a beautiful SUV. As long as you can’t see the front end, it’s voluptuous, sophisticated, and European in design. But that nose…ugh. And it’s not even the grille that’s the problem, because motoring down the highway, looking at the B9 Tribeca in your rearview mirror, that front end is distinctive and eye-catching. Rather, it’s the headlamp cluster that looks like it was cribbed from a Toyota Sienna and perched uncomfortably at the leading edges of the poorly resolved hood and fenders. Had Subaru found a way to integrate the front lights into the outer edges of the grille’s “wings,” the B9 Tribeca would be much better looking, and unique in a way that few other vehicles on the road are.
Everyone we talked with agreed that if anything outside of price kills the Tribeca’s appeal, it will be this schnoz.
Fortunately, the designer who penned the 2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca’s interior had better sensibilities than the stylist responsible for the exterior. The dashboard sweeps elegantly across the cabin, gently bulging in the center like a wave to present stylish climate and audio controls. Subaru overdoes the metallic décor, but the two-tone color scheme is upscale and the places where occupants are likely to touch are softly padded.
Trouble is, the spots where occupants are unlikely to touch feature thin plastic panels that scratch easily and sound hollow when rapped with a fingernail. Plus, the cabin lacks useful storage, with a small glovebox and an average-sized center console bin under the armrest. Door bins are big with bottle holders, but the B9 Tribeca is obviously short on little boxes and trays with rubber liners for smaller items like cell phones. Furthermore, at a tested price of more than $38,000, there’s no telescopic steering wheel, no power front passenger’s seat, no one-touch up control for the driver’s window, and no one-touch down for the front passenger’s window. However, for that price our B9 Tribeca was equipped with dual-zone climate control, a navigation system, a DVD entertainment system, and other goodies that helped justify the price tag.
Front seats are reasonably comfortable, though we thought the perforated leather inserts created too much friction against the clothes we wore. And the B9 Tribeca is relatively quiet inside, except for wind noise around the top of the windshield at speed and the faint groan of the engine around town. But the biggest problem is with the rear seats, which amount to little more than a compromise. The second-row slides fore and aft, but even with the bench as far back as possible, legroom is tight even for shorter occupants. Plus, the seat cushion is low and flat, lacking thigh support, and foot room is just OK. The third-row is habitable by adults for only the shortest trips, and it’s very difficult to climb in and out due to tight clearances and a lack of substantial grab handles.
With the third-row seat dropped, the B9 Tribeca offers 37.6 cubic feet of cargo room. Fold the second-row flat, and you can load this Subaru with 74.4 cubes of stuff, less than many competitors. Loading is easy, thanks to the relatively low load liftover height.
Decent power flows from the 2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca’s 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine once it reaches the upper end of the rev range. The B9 feels sluggish off the line, thanks to a dearth of torque down low, coupled with a transmission that is occasionally hesitant to downshift. Unfortunately, the transmission’s Sportshift doesn’t help much, exhibiting delayed upshifts and downshifts. We got 16.5 mpg in city and highway driving, less than Subaru estimates.
On a positive note, the B9 Tribeca’s steering and brakes are progressive in nature, but the steering wants to tug back to center and wobbles in lumpy turns. Brakes feel terrific underfoot, and the suspension communicates just-right amounts of the driving surface. Still, the ride can feel a little spongy, thanks to noticeable dive, squat, and a somewhat roly-poly feel when weight transitions from side to side. Handling is secured by meaty P255/55R18 Goodyear Eagle LS tires.
Wrap-up and Specs
Subaru focused on main consumer desires when it comes to the 2006 B9 Tribeca – upscale ambience, DVD entertainment, navigation system, leather upholstery, power sunroof, all-wheel drive, and other desirable features, but didn’t back it up with attention to detail in terms of cabin materials, packaging, and content. It’s too easy to see where corners got cut on the inside, where most people spend most of their time. And, like many modern Subarus, the 2006 B9 Tribeca commands a premium price for average design, materials, and packaging. Given our test sample’s sticker price of $38,320, coupled to that off-putting front-end design, and the B9 Tribeca’s competition starts looking pretty damn good.
Test Vehicle: 2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca Limited
Price of Test Vehicle: $38,320 (includes $625 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 3.0-liter horizontally-opposed six-cylinder
Engine Horsepower: 250 at 6,600 rpm
Engine Torque: 219 lb.-ft. at 4,200 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic with manual shift control
Curb weight, lbs.: 4,155 pounds
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 18/23 mpg (estimated)
Length: 189.8 inches
Width: 73.9 inches
Wheelbase: 108.2 inches
Height: 66.4 inches
Leg room (front/second/third): 42.3/34.3/30.9 inches
Head room (front/second/third): 38.9/38.2/36.2 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: 7
Max. Cargo Volume: 74.4 cubic feet
Max. Towing Capacity: 3,500 pounds
Ground Clearance: 8.4 inches
Competitors: Acura MDX, Audi allroad, Buick Rendezvous, Cadillac SRX, Chrysler Pacifica, Ford Freestyle, Honda Pilot, Infiniti FX35, Lexus RX 330, Mercedes-Benz ML350, Mitsubishi Endeavor, Nissan Murano, Saab 9-7X, Saturn Vue Redline, Toyota Highlander, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Volkswagen Touareg, Volvo XC90
Photos courtesy of Subaru of America