Mark Takahashi , Associate Editor
When Subaru unveiled its first midsize SUV in 2006, it was called the B9 Tribeca. Two years into production, the B9 moniker was retired (as well as its unsightly front end), but in most ways, the Tribeca remains forgettably benign. It's a decent enough SUV on its own merits, neither failing nor excelling with any significance, but when we begin comparing the 2010 Subaru Tribeca to a crowded field of competitors, it begins to show its mediocrity.
Our 2010 Subaru Tribeca test vehicle, in range-topping Touring trim, was priced in the same range as its rivals. For the price, the features list is comparably generous, with all-wheel drive, navigation, third-row seating and pleasant interiors for all. Unfortunately for the Tribeca, it trails in terms of cargo capacity, passenger space and fuel economy. The interior design is a standout among other SUVs, but its style comes with compromised usability, as well.
The front-running Ford Flex and Chevrolet Traverse (and its Buick and GMC twins) are, quite simply, hard to beat. Toyota's Highlander and Mazda's CX-9 are also worthy of consideration. But the disappointing 2010 Tribeca should give even the most loyal Subaru fans some pause. As such, we recommend shopping the rest before committing to a purchase.
The 2010 Subaru Tribeca Touring is powered by a 3.6-liter, horizontally opposed (boxer) six-cylinder engine that produces 256 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed automatic with manual-shift control is the only transmission offered and routes power to all four wheels.
In performance testing, our Tribeca test vehicle accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds, which is average for cars in this class. Coming to a stop from that speed required 121 feet, which is a bit shorter than the competition. However, repeated braking from higher speeds resulted in a softer brake pedal. Under normal conditions, though, the pedal is moderately firm with a soft initial bite.
The handling numbers we achieved on our test track were also average, weaving through the slalom at 61.1 mph and circling the skid pad at 0.78g. The Tribeca's all-wheel drive does impart a more confident and poised feel than competing models, though. Fuel economy is less favorable, however, registering an EPA-estimated 16 city/23 highway mpg and 18 mpg in combined driving. Our Tribeca spent most of its time in congested city traffic and confirmed its EPA number with an average of 15.9 mpg in our care.
Within these city confines, the 2010 Subaru Tribeca's soft suspension ably soaks up bumps in the road for a pleasant ride. Tight parking lot maneuvers are effortless thanks to light steering wheel effort. Even though the suspension and steering are a bit lethargic when evasive maneuvers are needed, the Tribeca remains composed throughout. The transmission also feels a bit reluctant to shift up or down, but engaging Sport mode gives it some much needed urgency. Shifts are executed quickly and smoothly in this mode, as well as under manual control.
The 2010 Subaru Tribeca delivers an agreeable ride that adequately isolates the occupants from outside harshness. The softly sprung suspension ably dampens ruts and potholes in the pavement, but never feels floaty or disconnected. Road and wind noise are also abated to near silence. This level of refinement is rare for a Subaru and is on par with some of the more luxurious crossovers in this segment.
Seating comfort, on the other hand, presents a mixed bag. Front seats provide ample padding and support, but taller folk may find their driving position compromised by a non-telescoping steering wheel. The second row features adjustable sliding seats with 8 inches of travel, but the range only extends from acceptable to cramped. The outboard seats are quite comfortable, with a decent amount of headroom, but the elevated and convex center seat is far too narrow for even smaller passengers. The third row is large enough for children and small adults, but access is hampered by a narrow passage. Vehicles like the Flex and Traverse offer third rows capable of fitting full-size adults.
Outward visibility from the 2010 Subaru Tribeca is notably better than most competing crossover SUVs, giving the driver a good sense of the vehicle's proximity to obstacles. Backing into tight spaces is further simplified with a rearview camera that provides a wide view and clear image. Gauges and the navigation/information screen are also well placed within the driver's sightlines to allow for quick reference.
The same cannot be said of the center stack controls for audio and navigation, though. These buttons are difficult to read in daylight conditions, and the curved panel shape further hampers readability and operation as the console bends away from the user. With their large dials and clear LED readouts, the climate controls were much easier to read and operate. At night, the center stack buttons are well illuminated and readable, while the HID headlights cut through the darkness with considerable clarity.
The nine-speaker Harman Kardon sound system is respectable, but in no way impressive. Sound quality is merely average, plus the lack of iPod connectivity is a letdown (one is available as a dealer add-on, but it replaces satellite radio). The Bluetooth hands-free phone system is also rather disappointing; with controls situated in the overhead console and the fact that phone information isn't transmitted through the infotainment screen.
With the third-row seats in use, luggage space is a paltry 8 cubic feet, requiring a golf bag and large suitcase to be stacked on top of each other -- not exactly ideal. Folding the second- and third-row seats flat expands maximum cargo space to 74 cubes, but even that figure is small for cars in this class and barely bigger than the Subaru Outback. It's also worth mentioning that the Tribeca's liftgate requires quite a bit of effort to close, and shorter people will notice a lack of a decent handhold. Shoppers who normally haul passengers and cargo at capacity should keep these limitations in mind.
Parents should note that mounting a rear-facing child seat in the second row may be problematic. Even with the rear seats slid rearward, our standard child seat intruded quite significantly on front seat space. Mounting the child seat in the center position alleviated some of the space issues, but prevents the second-row seats from folding forward, eliminating any possibility of gaining third-row access.
Design/Fit and Finish
From the outside, the 2010 Subaru Tribeca's styling is about what you'd expect from a middle-of-the-road crossover -- which is to say, on the bland side. The grille and rest of the front fascia remind us of a Chrysler product, but are in no way offensive, especially compared to the odd nose of the B9 Tribeca from 2007.
The interior design is the real scene-stealer in terms of styling. The wraparound dash features a graceful arc that spans from door to door. Complex curves and organic shapes converge at the center stack, which blends smoothly into the center console. Most materials are either soft to the touch or convincingly textured to blend in and individual panels are tightly fitted with the type of workmanship associated with more expensive luxury brands.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2010 Subaru Tribeca seems to be stuck in a mediocre position from which even its all-wheel drive cannot extract it. It doesn't really fail in any category; it is simply upstaged by more talented and competent choices. We suggest looking elsewhere, even if you're a die-hard Subaru fan. The cheaper Outback may only have five seats, but it offers almost as much cargo space and is more fuel-efficient.
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