Subaru has built its reputation on conservatively styled, highly reliable, all-wheel-drive cars and utilities. But Subaru has always had one limitation: size. The largest Subaru so far only seats five. Well, that all changes for 2006 with the B9 Tribeca. It’s mid-size outside with three rows of seats inside, and a look that can only be called aggressive. Sounds great, but can it still be a Subaru?
The origins of the 2006 B9 Tribeca are certainly pure Subaru. It’s built on the bulletproof Legacy/Outback all-wheel-drive chassis that has been stretched, widened and seriously beefed-up for SUV use. Wheelbase is 108.2-inches, up 3-inches over the Outback. But Tribeca is only 1-inch longer than Outback overall for ease of urban parking.
The most controversial aspect of the Tribeca is clearly its front styling. The winged grille pays homage to Subaru’s parent company’s aircraft building heritage. It polarized our staff. Some found it eye-catching and reminiscent of Alfa Romeo. Others made reference to “snout” and Edsel.
On the other hand, the sleek profile and rear got uniformly high praise, looking very Volkswagen Touareg. Substantial 18-inch wheels are standard.
Under this big plastic cover lies the same 3.0-liter dual-cam flat-six engine found in top level Outbacks. Output is also the same at 250 horsepower and 219 pound-feet of torque, but in Tribeca it has to move an extra 700 pounds.
The transmission is a quick, smooth 5-speed automatic with manual shift mode, while the full-time all-wheel-drive unit is Subaru’s Variable Torque Distribution system, which uses a planetary center differential and continuously variable hydraulic transfer clutch. In normal driving it splits torque 45% front and 55% rear.
The engine is definitely working harder to move the Tribeca’s weight. We recorded a reasonable 0-to-60 time of 9.7 seconds. The quarter mile takes 17.5-seconds, ending at 81 miles-per-hour.
After a strong jump off the line, power builds slowly. The engine sounds a bit loud and raspy at full throttle, though vibration is well controlled.
In corners, the Tribeca proves to be a very capable utility. Suspension is all-independent. The MacPherson struts up front are also adapted from the Legacy/Outback, while the double wishbone coil-spring rear is all new.
Front plow is mild for an SUV, and turn-in is quick, although steering feel is a bit vague. There is a fair amount of body roll thanks to soft ride tuning, but side-to-side transitions are smooth.
Braking is by 4-wheel discs with standard ABS and Electronic Brake Force Distribution. Stops from 60 averaged a good 125 feet. The pedal felt soft, but delivered decent feedback and excellent stability for an SUV.
On everyday roads we found the ride cushier than many competitors, yet control was never an issue, and interior noise levels are low. EPA mileage ratings are 18 city/23 highway. Our mixed test loop result was right on at 20 miles-per-gallon.
Besides 7-passenger status with three rows of seats, Tribeca is also available as a 5-seater. We found the interior of our 7-passenger, Limited grade test vehicle to be high on luxury. But all Tribecas include power front seats, power moonroof, CD/MP3 audio, and dual-zone auto climate, as well as the safety of active front seat head restraints, front side impact airbags, and head curtain airbags for the first and second, but not the third row seats.
The seats are wide, if typical for Subaru a bit flat, with a good range of adjustment. The short and long of our staff all found a proper fit. Climate control knobs featured novel center LCD status readouts, while the Limited’s 160-watt 9-speaker stereo with 6-disc CD changer kicks out high quality sound.
The second row 3-part bench seat features manual fore-and-aft adjustment, and plenty of head room, but only adequate leg room for 6-footers. It splits and folds for increased cargo space.
Access to the fold-flat third row seat is difficult, and there’s minimal leg room. It’s strictly kid size, and small kids at that. Rear seat features include auxiliary air conditioner controls and a pricy $1,800 DVD entertainment system.
Behind the large single piece rear hatch, cargo space ranges from a tiny 8.3 cubic-feet with the third row seats up, to a big 74.4 cubic-feet with all of the back seats folded.
While prices range from $31,320 for the base 5-passenger model, to $34,520 for our 7-passenger Limited model. Add DVD video and NAV, and it climbs to $38,320. Rare air for a Subaru.
Still the 2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca is an imaginative step up into the popular mid-size SUV class. Even with modest power, it delivers more than what most buyers want in a family-size sport-ute, including 7-seats, and it certainly won’t get lost in a crowd. Plus, from bumper to bumper, it’s still 100% a Subaru.
Engine: 3.0-Liter Dual-cam Flat-six
Torque: 219 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 9.7 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 17.5 Seconds @ 81 MPH
60-0 MPH: 125 Feet
EPA Mileage: 18 MPG City 23 MPG Highway
Mixed Loop: 20 MPG