Spring 2005 Forward to a Friend


Between rain showers, we only had a couple hours with the Subaru B9 Tribeca. First, we needed to learn as much as we could about it, and, second, we wanted to photograph as much detail as time would allow.

Concerning exterior styling: Suspend judgment until you see this vehicle in person! Photographs and online images don’t do it justice. The Subaru B9 Tribeca is sleeker than it appears in images – not as tall, more graceful and well integrated. Still, it’s the largest vehicle that Subaru produces, with room for up to seven occupants.

The heart of the Subaru B9 Tribeca is the proven 6-cylinder Subaru Boxer® engine and Symmetrical AWD system.

For a comprehensive impression of the vehicle’s dramatic styling, take a couple of steps forward from the bumper on either side. Turn and look diagonally across the hood to the exterior mirror on the opposite side. That provides the full breadth of the complex yet integrated curvature of the headlight lenses, heritage grille and sculpted hood. The careful attention to intricate detail is awesome.

Because of the rain, we had to towel off one of the vehicles prior to photography. That gave us a good opportunity to experience its build quality and athletic styling. We could see and feel more of the styling attributes, particularly the curves across the front from headlight assembly to headlight assembly.

Drying the vehicle also involved lifting the hood and tailgate. Both take little effort. The interior hood release lever has a noticeably substantial feel (a detail indicating quality), and the tailgate’s release came at an easy push of the button under the lift edge. Two handholds allow the tailgate to be lowered without having to touch exterior paint.

Interior Delight

The interior impresses in two ways: It’s intuitive, and it’s finely designed.

While strikingly laid out with metallic trim, the instruments and controls are even more notable for their ease of use and understandability. The navigation screen/control center is very easy to read. It’s also positioned for quick visual reference. Screen, audio and the automatic climate controls are layered beneath screen level – all four levels easy-to-read and well within reach. The floor console has only the shifter interrupting its visual flow.

Most reviewers point out the obvious wraparound, metallic design of the front-seat area. But Subaru did more to integrate interior design. The entire cabin is pulled together by uninterrupted lines that begin at the back of the floor console, flow forward on either side and curve under the metallic dash trim into the doors, which carry the lines to the rear, ending behind the third-row seats.

Then there’s the “Wow!” One of the vehicles had a ceiling-mounted DVD player, which was impressive enough. The exciting discovery was the drawer that held wireless earphones for the system at the back of the floor console. What a treat for traveling with children!

Other impressive details:
The instrument panel’s electroluminescent gauges
Second-row seats that slide fore and aft
Clips for holding the outboard second- and third-row shoulder belts when not in use
The shoulder belt for the middle second-row seat that reels into the ceiling
Large cupholders designed into every door panel, plus others
The stepped roof – raised in two sections from the front to increase headroom
Roof vents for both the second- and third-row seating areas (7-passenger)

At the end of our photography session, we were ready for more. After all, seeing a vehicle only tells part of a vehicle’s story. It was time to drive!

Singing in the Rain

We had one day for driving, and it dawned overcast, which eventually led to rain. But since the Subaru models and the other vehicles we were driving all had some type of all-wheel drive, we weren’t daunted. Most of the drive time was spent on tightly curving, steeply pitched, two-lane canyon roads. It was a driver’s delight – enough to make us want to sing!

Seats and Positioning. The driver’s seat in the Subaru B9 Tribeca gave us plenty of room, particularly for the arms. Where armrests can be intrusive in some vehicles, there is ample space in the Subaru. You shouldn’t bang your elbows on them during emergency maneuvers.

Seat adjustment via base-mounted controls was simple to figure out. With the seat and steering wheel adjusted, the electroluminescent tachometer and speedometer show well between the steering-wheel spokes. Like the dash controls, the shifter is easy to reach.

The view through the windshield seems panoramic, with the tops of the headlight lenses serving as reference points for the front end. When driving alone in the B9 Tribeca with the head restraints on the second-and third-row seats lowered, visibility to all quarters is excellent.

The front seats are designed to hold a person of average build in place without sliding laterally, even on canyon roads. In back, the adjustable seatback and fore-and-aft selections provide comfortable positioning for occupants in a wide range of sizes. The variety of seating/cargo configurations offers tremendous versatility as well as comfort in the second and third rows.

Chassis and Drivetrain. One word summarizes the capabilities of the Subaru B9 Tribeca in the rain on twisting roads, and that word is control. Even when adding power around a bend with mud on the road, there was never a feeling of being pulled to either side by the Symmetrical AWD system. The vehicle never felt loose – just competent and in control.

Engine power was more than enough to handle the steep canyon grades. Automatic shifting was well-suited for any given situation, even though we were dealing with some unusually complex combinations of grades and turns.

The B9 Tribeca models were well-sprung, providing a sporty ride. We could feel the road, but not so much that it was distracting or uncomfortable. Cornering was excellent. In poor weather conditions on more challenging highways, the B9 Tribeca felt well-connected to the road at all times.

Part of that connection was due to the steering feel. Light enough to be helpful at low speeds, the wheel felt comfortable, and steering was responsive at all speeds.

Quality. Evidence of consideration given to quality abounds throughout the Subaru B9 Tribeca. We found a number of examples while driving and exploring the vehicle. Here are just a few of them:
Instrument panel and dash controls – easy to use, well marked
Trim – high level of fit and finish
Shifter feel – allows quick shifts with smooth action
Steering wheel feel – formed to fit easily in hand
Cupholder – thoughtful design in the center console, with rectangular slots for cell phones
Sunroof controls – quality look and feel

More to Tell, More to See

We’re not finished with the Subaru B9 Tribeca. We’ll cover this new flagship in greater detail with the next issue of Drive.

First Impressions was written by Drive editor Ric Hawthorne, whose automotive experience includes more than 20 years of writing and editing automotive books, magazines, videos and online presentations for consumers and manufacturers’ training departments.