What's New for 2008
The Subaru Tribeca (sorry, bingo fans, "B9" is no longer in the model name) receives some significant updates for 2008. Mechanically, the Tribeca now features an enlarged 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine for more power and torque and a revised five-speed automatic transmission said to offer smoother shifting. The rear suspension has also been softened for better ride comfort. Inside, Subaru has improved access to the third-row seat via a new design of the second-row seat release. The '08 model also has a restyled front end, abandoning last year's adventurous-but-awkward look in favor of a more conservative face.
Upon its debut two years ago, the Subaru Tribeca got everyone talking but few people buying. While it followed the proven formula of a midsize, seven-seat crossover SUV, the details weren't in sync with buyer preferences. It was slow on the highway, awkward around corners and cramped in the cabin. Its name was a curiosity, its looks an anomaly.
The heavily revised 2008 Subaru Tribeca marks a major shift toward the mainstream. While its more conservative front-end styling is the most obvious difference, the new engine and revised automatic transmission underneath are what grab our attention. Increased size and improved technology have boosted the 3.6-liter six-cylinder's output to 256 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque, and the once-laggardly Tribeca is now as quick as most of its peers.
Other driving attributes are mostly unchanged, and this is pretty much a good thing. Smaller than most other midsize crossover SUVs, the Tribeca maneuvers with ease, and Subaru's standard all-wheel drive provides ample grip in any weather. However, the Tribeca, especially this year's model with its softer rear suspension, is definitely tuned for comfort, as evidenced by its slow steering and noticeable body roll around corners. The payoff comes in the form of its smooth, serene ride quality.
We still think the Tribeca could use some improvement in passenger accommodations. Our first complaint involves the second-row seat, which although fine for kids, lacks the legroom and hip room that larger, taller adults need. Even worse is the tiny third-row seat, as it's only large enough to accommodate the smallest of children. Subaru has improved access to the third row in the 2008 Tribeca, but for families who plan to make everyday use of all three rows, the Tribeca is still not our top recommendation. To make matters worse, Subaru's SUV carries a base price over 30 grand -- despite its modest interior space and practicality. That price is supported by plenty of standard features, but it's certainly a consideration for midsize SUV shoppers trying to stay within a household budget.
Overall, we think the 2008 Subaru Tribeca is of sound design and a solid performer. But with so many desirable choices in this segment, it's probably best to look around. In particular, families who need a functional third row on a regular basis will be better served by competitors like the GMC Acadia/Saturn Outlook twins, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Veracruz, Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Highlander. All of these rivals offer more expansive interiors, and many of them cost less and handle better as well.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
A midsize crossover SUV, the 2008 Subaru Tribeca comes in base and Limited trim lines, each available in five- or seven-passenger versions. Base five-passenger models are well equipped and come with 18-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, power front seats, full power accessories, cruise control, a CD/MP3 player with auxiliary input jack, a 7-inch display screen and keyless entry. Stepping up to the Limited grants you a moonroof, roof rails, leather seating, upgraded speakers, an in-dash CD changer, HomeLink, front seat heaters and memory for the driver seat. Seven-passenger versions add a 50/50-split third-row seat (cloth on base, vinyl on Limited) and rear climate controls. Notable options include satellite radio, a remote start system, a navigation system with rear parking camera, and on seven-passenger models only, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2008 Subaru Tribeca's 3.6-liter, horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine produces 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque -- an increase of 11 hp and 32 lb-ft over last year. Performance is up significantly, with the Tribeca's 0-60-mph acceleration times dropping from 9.5 seconds to 7.8. Better yet, the new engine matches the old one for gas mileage and now runs on regular fuel. The sole transmission is a five-speed automatic with a manual shift mode. All Tribecas use an all-wheel-drive system that sends 55 percent of the power to the rear wheels in normal driving.
Every 2008 Subaru Tribeca comes with antilock brakes with brake assist, traction control, stability control and a rollover-sensing program that redirects power and braking efforts if a rollover is imminent. Front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and active front head restraints round out the safety features. In government crash tests, the Tribeca scored five out of five stars for both front- and side-impact protection. In addition, it received the top rating of "Good" in frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Tribeca's interior has an upscale look that's high on style. We like the central display screen that shows climate control and audio information, a feature found on the Tribeca whether or not the navigation system is ordered. However, the arrangement of some controls is awkward and the air-conditioner struggles to keep the cabin cool, even in seven-passenger models with the auxiliary rear blower. Although the Tribeca's front seats offer great comfort, it's downhill from there. The second-row seats slide fore and aft nearly 8 inches, but even then they lack the legroom and hiproom needed by larger, taller adults, or even teenagers. The third row is just too cramped for anyone but very small children -- most competitors in this price range offer superior accommodations. Folding all the rear seats results in 74 cubic feet of cargo space, which is below average for the midsize crossover segment.
In contrast to the rugged, fun-to-drive character found in most Subarus, the Tribeca's personality is more subdued and maybe even a little disappointing. Handling limits are low due to the Tribeca's softly tuned suspension and ride-biased all-season tires, and the steering, although accurate, is slow to respond and low on feedback. For these reasons, Tribeca drivers will likely prefer to take corners at a modest pace. The upside, however, is that Subaru's SUV delivers a very smooth and quiet ride. And thanks to its new engine and revised five-speed automatic transmission, the 2008 Subaru Tribeca also provides sufficiently quick acceleration for a midsize crossover SUV.