Full 2009 Subaru Tribeca Review
What's New for 2009
After last year's revamp, the Subaru Tribeca heads into 2009 with just one significant change, the addition of a value-themed Special Edition model. Filling the gap between the base and Limited trims, the SE provides luxuries such as leather seating, heated seats and rear air-conditioning.
When it debuted three years ago, the Subaru B9 Tribeca seemed like your typical offbeat Subaru. Oftentimes, being different is good -- nothing wrong with a little individuality, right? But this midsize crossover's styling was heavily criticized, and its sluggish performance and relatively cramped cabin didn't help matters, either. The 2009 Subaru Tribeca (the "B9" part of the name was dropped for 2008), however, carries over last year's well-advised changes that included new front and rear styling, a more powerful engine and revised suspension tuning. But the Tribeca still has many inherent faults that make it a lackluster choice for a midsize crossover.
Subaru's Tribeca isn't without some charm. With class-competitive performance and a somewhat smaller size than most of its midsize rivals, the Tribeca is peppy enough and fairly easy to maneuver in crowded parking lots and on city streets. Of course, the standard all-wheel drive also provides confidence when driving in foul weather. And though its slow steering and soft suspension mean the Tribeca is no athlete, it compensates with a smooth and quiet ride.
The chief downside of the Tribeca is its tight seating, something that couldn't be remedied with the recent reskin and power boost. Although the second row is acceptable for kids, taller teenagers and adults will find leg- and hiproom lacking. And the third-row seat is essentially a token gesture to the marketing team, as it accommodates only the smallest of small fries. Even tall drivers will find the seating position uncomfortable due to the lack of a telescoping steering wheel.
For families that typically use all three rows, the 2009 Tribeca falls short and thus is hard for us to recommend. We'd instead steer you toward more spacious mid-to-full-size crossover SUVs such as the Buick Enclave/Chevrolet Traverse/GMC Acadia/Saturn Outlook triplets, Hyundai Veracruz, Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Highlander. These competitors offer more expansive interiors, and some of them cost less and handle better, too.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
A midsize crossover SUV, the 2009 Subaru Tribeca comes in base, Special Edition (SE) and Limited trim lines, each available in five- or seven-passenger versions. Base five-passenger models come with 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt steering wheel, power front seats, full power accessories, cruise control, a CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary input jack, a 7-inch display screen and keyless entry. The Tribeca SE adds leather seating, heated front seats, a driver seat with memory settings, a six-disc audio system and rear air-conditioning. Stepping up to the Limited adds a moonroof, roof rails and HomeLink. Seven-passenger versions add a 50/50-split third-row seat (cloth on base, vinyl on others) and rear climate controls.
Notable options include satellite radio, a remote start system, a navigation system with a rear parking camera, and on seven-passenger models only, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2009 Subaru Tribeca's 3.6-liter, horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine produces 256 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque. 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.
Performance is near the front of the midsize crossover pack, with a 0-60-mph time of just 7.8 seconds. Fuel mileage estimates come in at 16 mpg city/21 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined.
Every 2009 Subaru Tribeca comes with antilock brakes (with brake assist), traction control and stability control with a rollover sensor. 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 and light 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. Additionally, the 2009 Subaru Tribeca provides respectably quick acceleration for a midsize crossover SUV.