Quick Drive: 2011 Subaru Tribeca

By Winding Road Staff

February 17, 2011

Before the other guys get their shots in, I have to come down on the side of liking this car. Are there other Subarus I would buy first? Duh. Would I buy a different crossover instead of this, were I shopping in the segment? Quite likely. Does that make the Tribeca bad? No.

I think what really suckered me into this one is the cabin. I love the swooping arches of the dash. It makes me feel like I’m in Flight Of The Navigator! I am admittedly partial to certain Subarus, and I think that familiarity is responsible for some of my approval, but I think the look of the Tribeca—on the inside—is novel and fresh, nonetheless. On the outside, it’s, well, a bit awkward looking (as any good Subie should be!).

The 3.6-liter flat-six engine is a good fit here, in my opinion. It comes to life pretty quickly, and is well suited to pulling the Tribeca around without dragging its feet. Seyth will say the engine is “average,” but I think it feels plenty powerful. Brandon will say it sounds “harsh,” but I think it has a nice tone, and it’s mostly pretty quiet. And the way the power is delivered to all four wheels is pretty smart any time of year.

—John Beltz Snyder, Production Editor

I do agree with John about the interior. This is far and away the best cabin Subaru offers, both in terms of quality of materials and general design. It looks futuristic, and almost concept-car like, which is high praise to level on any interior. However, from here, things really kind of go to downhill.

When the B9 Tribeca debuted, it was a questionable design to say the least (I happened to think it looked excellent). But at least it stood out. With this Tribeca, it looks like Subaru simply borrowed design elements from other manufacturers; the grille could be from a Chrysler, the headlights from a Hyundai Santa Fe, and the profile from a Toyota Highlander. This is a car that just doesn’t have any design presence.

As for that engine, yes, it is harsh. It sounds strained and generally unpleasant at the higher reaches of the rev range, and isn’t particularly energetic. As if the note wasn’t bad enough, it is transmitted with clarity into the cabin. I don’t mind hearing the motor when it sounds good, but I want nothing to do with it when it sounds like this.

It still baffles me as to why Subaru even offers this engine when it produces the more powerful (and thoroughly more enjoyable) blown 2.5-liter found in the WRX and Legacy. The 265-horsepower 2.5 would make the Tribeca more enjoyable, and would probably be more economical, too.

Finally, the price; at $38,720 (as tested), the Tribeca is creeping dangerously close to the price of a very nicely equipped Mazda CX-9 or Ford Explorer. Top-spec all-wheel-drive models of both the Mazda and the Ford are available within $1000 of the Tribeca’s as-tested price, and offer far more entertaining, luxurious, and refined driving qualities. I simply can’t recommend the Tribeca when the seven-passenger market has so many more compelling options.

—Brandon Turkus, Test Fleet Manager
To my mind, Tribeca is Subaru’s least compelling vehicle right now. As Brandon starts to point out, American companies really own the three-row SUV segment right now (at least when talking about mainstream, non-premium offerings), with standouts like the Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia, and the new Dodge Durango offering more (space, power, style) for less money.
I don’t hate the way that the Tribeca drives; it has the same inherent goodness, with solid feeling controls and confident handling, as most every other Subaru. But the fact of the matter is that it just doesn’t look as butch or pull as hard as some of its beefier American rivals.
—Seyth Miersma, Editor-In-Chief


Unique interior is fresh without being too funky
Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive is still a worthwhile security blanket
Subaru residuals are always strong, meaning Tribeca makes for a compelling ownership proposition


Competitive set offers more for less
Exterior design is bland, bordering on weird
Surprisingly bad combination of fuel econ and power compared to other SUV six-cylinders