Subaru Tribeca – 2008 Review: There’s a lot of power in it, a word that can refer to anything from a war to belly-button lint. And, as we discovered while driving the 2008 Tribeca, the subject can sometimes remain a mystery. Subaru’s current tagline reads: “It’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru.” Thing is, after hundreds of miles in Subie’s midsize crossover we couldn’t figure out what “it” was. “It” certainly wasn’t the WRX’s sporty nature, and “it” definitely wasn’t spacious seven-passenger seating. Our best guess? “It” is the brand’s homogenized exterior styling and, in the case of the Tribeca, a completely average driving demeanor.
By: Thom Blackett
Photo credit: Oliver Bentley
What We Drove
Since our test vehicle was a pre-production model provided by Subaru, there was no window sticker to go by and, as is our policy, we steered away from evaluating this particular crossover’s build quality. To remedy the window sticker situation, we configured an exact replica on Subaru’s site. The base five-passenger Tribeca starts at just over $30,000 (including a $645 destination charge), but we figured our three-row/seven-passenger Limited model rang up at $39,053. That included a base price of $33,595, the $645 destination charge, a trailer tow package, fancy floor mats, and a touch-screen navigation system with a rear DVD player ($4,200).
Yes, the 2008 Tribeca has more power than the 2007 B9 Tribeca is replaces, yet the boost translates to nothing more than adequate. If the Tribeca had to align itself with a family member, it most likely would be a four-cylinder (non-turbo) Forester rather than a WRX STI. There’s enough gusto for comfortable cruising, and the automatic transmission is smooth in routine driving. However, we were not inspired enough to make two-lane passes, and the tranny’s sport mode provides altered shift points that are hardly discernable. On the plus side, we averaged 19.5 mpg using regular 87 octane petrol.
As a 4,250-lb. curb weight suggests, the 2008 Tribeca Limited is a heavy vehicle and, not surprisingly, that heft translates to the driver. The ride is smooth, controlled, and nicely damped around town, but when empty the tail felt stiffly sprung over highway joints. Braking was always effective – sometimes too much so, as we came to find the pedal to be somewhat sensitive and grippy. The extra poundage becomes obvious on gentle curves as the suspension wallows and 18-inch Goodyear Eagle tires become participants in a game of understeer.
Outward visibility is one of the Tribeca’s strong points. With the exception of the rearmost example, all pillars are narrow and when coupled with the extensive greenhouse provide plenty of viewing area. Head restraints almost fully retract, allowing for a clear look out of the back window; ample side mirrors help to keep track of approaching vehicles. Designers have also placed small glass panels in the lower A-pillars, presumably to aid in visibility, though their location and size relegate them to the useless bin.
Fun to Drive
If the last car you drove was a 1980 Datsun B210, possibly due to extended incarceration or maybe a lengthy coma, the 2008 Subaru Tribeca will likely be viewed as more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Same goes if you’re a high school kid and the Sub is the first vehicle over which you take control. If, however, you’ve been driving and experiencing cars for years, the Tribeca, while satisfying, comes up short on the fun meter. Remedying that situation would require a bit more power, improved handling, and more space to quiet the screams of anguish from the third row.
Subaru has done an admirable job of building a comfortable cockpit. The driver and front passenger, in particular, are granted padded door and center armrests, narrow yet padded door sills, and plenty of overall room, especially overhead. The driver also enjoys a leather-wrapped shift knob and tilting steering wheel (no telescope function). Our only gripe focuses on the front bucket seats. They’re the right size and shape to be supportive, but our backs were left sore after enduring a 300-mile drive, despite the multiple power adjustments and manual lumbar. Slightly softer cushions would’ve likely helped.
Second Row Comfort
Ahh, you’ve gotta love compromises. Or in the case of the Tribeca, maybe you don’t. To make room for the third row, the second row split bench seat becomes tight and confined. Slid as far back as possible, our five-foot-eight-inch tall editor had barely enough leg room, though plenty of head and foot room. The stiff and flat seat cushions, not to mention the hard front seatbacks, didn’t help. At least the second row seatbacks recline and the armrests are padded. Head restraints adjust for tall people who are presumably all torso with iddy-biddy legs.
Third Row Comfort
We sure hope there are people out there who actually appreciate this – otherwise, we’re stuffing ourselves into hopelessly cramped third-row seats for nothing. Count the Tribeca’s rear most “seat” among that group, offering barely enough room for a pre-growth-spurt child; it’s a total joke for an average-size adult. There is plenty of head room, but leg room is non-existent. Interestingly, you get decent foot room, but it’s hard to take advantage of when your femurs are in your chest and your feet are left hanging. Each of the second row sections tilt and slide forward for easier third-row entry, though it’s still a chore to get in.
Shoppers who are interested in crossover vehicles in this price range expect a ride on the quiet side, and for the most part the 2008 Subaru Tribeca delivers. Engine noise, while not overly refined, is kept to a minimum unless the pedal is to the floor and revs are high. Wind noise is also well muted, as are road and tire noise.
With the third-row seat raised, there’s a decent amount of trunk space near the cargo floor, but the sloping rear glass and D-pillars limit the height of any items you may wish to carry. The liftover height is a bit on the high side. Third-row seats fold easily from the rear, and when paired with the second row bench, create an extended flat load floor. For those times when cargo is being transported, the Tribeca offers multiple tie-down points.
Quality materials abound inside the updated Tribeca, from an attractive mesh headliner to padded plastic door panels and soft leather on the steering wheel and shift knob. Much of the rest of the interior is bathed in hard plastic, but it feels durable and the grain patterns are generally consistent. The leather upholstery in our test vehicle offered a pleasant matte finish, though it felt a bit cheap. Alloy-like plastics covering the center console and instrument panel dressed things up nicely and felt solid, yet the climate control dials were flimsy in their sockets.
If going from butterface to bland is an improvement, then lets all give out a big shout for the Tribeca. Realizing that beauty is in the eyes of the beholders -- the beholders in this case being car shoppers who were not buying the B9 Tribeca -- Subaru toned things down with what seems to be face ripped off a Chrysler Pacifica carcass. Viewed as a whole, the now-sans-B9 Tribeca simply blends into the Sea of Average Crossovers. The interior, on the other hand, dares to be different and subsequently suffers some loss in usability as a result. There’s a happy medium that continues to prove elusive.
Think Subaru and thoughts generally lead to the great outdoors. Those adventurous road trips often include transporting a lot of gear, from L.L. Bean’s entire camping department to maps, games for the kids, snacks, drinks, and countless other goodies we may or may not need. To accommodate it all the Tribeca comes with pockets and cupholders on each of the four doors, overhead sunglass storage, a covered center storage area with two cupholders and two extra cubbies, a dual-level armrest including dual outlets and an auxiliary jack, front seatback pockets, and two cupholders in a rear fold-down armrest.
Loaded with a touch-screen navigation system, we longed for a more basic setup in the Tribeca…one within easy reach. The radio controls were on the instrument panel, marked by large and clear buttons with red backlighting. Radio information was displayed on the navigation screen, which was slightly recessed in the upper dash – easily washed out during the day and a bit hard to reach; dimming the brightness to a suitable level at night required turning down all the interior lights. Navigation controls were straight forward, but again, hard to see in direct sunlight.
If you frequent this site for reviews, you are likely aware of our affinity for three-dial climate control systems. The 2008 Subaru Tribeca came through for us with, you guessed it, three dials – one for driver temperature, one for passenger temperature, and one for fan speed. Unfortunately, that relegated the mode function to a button below the dials, one of several that can be obscured by the shift lever. In this area, the rearward flowing dash design seemed to have trumped preferred control layout. To its credit, the Tribeca did offer up an effective heating and cooling system with clear digital readouts.
There are two points to consider when discussing the Tribeca’s secondary controls – placement and function. The first point gets a passing grade, thanks to power door locks and power window buttons on the door panels, sunroof controls overhead, and triple-setting heated seat buttons below the climate controls. Less satisfying were how some of these controls operated. For a loaded crossover in this price range, we expected power windows with an automatic up function, a delay power system (keeping electronics operating after the engine has been turned off), and doors that automatically unlock when the vehicle has been turned off.
Competition for the 2008 Subaru Tribeca depends to a small extent on whether you’re talking about a five- or seven-passenger model – with only two rows, the five-passenger Tribeca takes on the Ford Edge, the Nissan Murano and others, while the three-row/seven-passenger variant opens the doors to the new GM trio (Buick Enclave/GMC Acadia/Saturn OUTLOOK), the Honda Pilot, the all-new Hyundai Veracruz, the Mazda CX-9, and the redesigned Toyota Highlander. Clearly, the market is bursting with options, all varying in price and power, but to some shoppers none of these nameplates lives up to the category of vehicles crossovers attempt to largely emulate – minivans.
2nd Opinion – Beamesderfer
Just as there are many ways to be excited by a vehicle, there an equal number of ways to be bored by one. But this isn’t what I expect from Subaru, a company that has built quirky, sporty cars for a long time, and brought two versions of turbocharged WRX to these shores. Those two cars are responsible for altering the perception of Subaru in the U.S. Subaru has been building a crossover on the Legacy platform for a decade already, and while I can say the Outback isn’t as awe-inspiring as the WRX, the all-wheel drive wagon handles pretty…
MyRide.com Road Test Editor
2nd Opinion – Buglewicz
Specifics? Sure. The engine is pretty strong, but noisy. The ride is comfortable, but not very sporting. The interior styling is far and away the strongest point, but the materials used are strictly middle of the road and the Tribeca has its share of ergonomic gaffes. For example, the steering wheel buttons for the audio system are too close to where your hands rest. I found myself accidentally switching stations and changing the volume constantly. The previous version’s unique styling was reviled with a fervor not seen since the Pontiac Aztek, but the redo has turned it into a bland…
MyRide.com Road Test Editor