Subaru's new SUV is a good sampling of what the future might hold for the sport utility world. Its unibody construction, car-like manners, but almost SUV-sized cargo and passenger capacity place it firmly in the realm of what the automakers used to call compact SUVs but now label as crossovers.
Crossovers certainly have their place, particularly in light of today's bulging gas prices and the long-running demand for SUVs that are less truck-like. And the Tribeca performs well in this area. Driving the Subaru is like driving a car; at no point does it try to be an SUV. The underpowered boxer six-cylinder is lackluster, but the braking is responsive and firm. It is easy to drive, park, and navigate around U-turns and through traffic.
Off-road is definitely not in the cards for the Tribeca, but harsh weather is more the forte of the vehicle than mud and hills. While we did manage to drive the Tribeca up a very steep dirt road, it did so reluctantly. The AWD system did inspire confidence as long as there was no demanding off-road environment in front of us.
Not all of us appreciated the exterior look. Words like "bland" or even "ugly" competed to be the buzz-kill adjective for its teardrop body design and unmistakable grille. For the most part, however, we give the Tribeca a thumbs-up in this area. The Tribeca's rear-end look is clean and apparently prompted, "What is that?" responses from bystanders. That said, the Tribeca looks better from a front 3/4 angle. The 18-inch wheels fill the wheelwells nicely, and for those who are more open to unusual design elements, the grille area could even be deemed as "cool."
Of all our "of the Year" vehicles, the Tribeca's interior was the most unique and creative, although it was too fashion-forward to garner enough votes for Best Interior. Its wrap-around design evokes the aeronautical heritage of the automaker's parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries. Disparate components flow well together. Consider, for example, the dash's free-flowing transition into the door panels. All in all, the interior is elegant, stylish, with everything easy to reach and looks like it belongs. Its dark leather seating contrast nicely with the aluminum and silver accents; the in-dash navigation was easy to use, and the DVD entertainment package had the largest screen in the group. Cargo storage is adequate for around-town errands or taking the kids to a ball game, although larger drivers might feel like they dwarf the intimate scale of the wrap-around interior, and the rear seats of this seven-passenger vehicle should be reserved for leprechauns only.
The Tribeca seems to deliver as Subaru's top-end SUV for the middle-class, suburbanite.