2011 Subaru Tribeca
People champion excellence, not mediocrity. After all, you won't see a bumper sticker touting, "My child is a C+ student at Middling Jr. High." So we find it hard to rally around the 2011 Subaru Tribeca. While there's nothing about this vehicle that makes us cringe, it simply pales in comparison to other SUVs, which seem to do everything just a little better.
From the outside, the Subaru Tribeca was originally styled to be bold and innovative, but indifferent customer reaction has led Subaru to make it less distinctive, so now it looks too much like an artist's rendition of a generic SUV -- neither inspiring nor offensive. Even the Tribeca's performance is simply middle-of-the-road. The interior shows some signs of life with a futuristic dash design, but it comes at the expense of some usability.
On the plus side, the Tribeca's all-wheel-drive system delivers the assurance of solid footing in a variety of climates, a feature that sets it apart from the usual front-wheel-drive crossovers. Maneuvering in tight city confines is made easier by the Subaru's smaller dimensions. At the same time, a certain lack of interior space is noticeable. The second-row seats slide fore and aft, but all the way back is the way you'll use them. The third-row seat is for part-time convenience, not long-distance trips. Most important, taller drivers will bemoan the lack of a telescoping steering wheel.
Since there are no truly awful midsize crossover SUVs, it might be that benign doesn't add up to a compelling proposition. The Tribeca compares in size to the Chevrolet Equinox and Ford Edge, while it's a bit smaller than the Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Highlander. And when it comes to price, dynamics and overall appeal, the Tribeca gets lost between these vehicles.
The interior's design has aged well over the years, with a smooth, curvy flow that wraps around front passengers. That's quite the feat considering it's essentially the same design used when this car was introduced as the B9 Tribeca for 2006.
However, the quality of the materials in there is far from the segment's best. There's an overuse of silver plastic that's meant to imitate aluminum � a cheap-looking trick. The dashboard and center console are carved out of the stuff, and they don't do the unique design any justice.
The most disappointing part of the interior, though, is the lack of a telescoping steering wheel, which is found in just about every other three-row SUV on the market. What may seem like a small oversight made it impossible for me to sit comfortably in the driver's seat. At 6-feet tall and with a slender build, I had to move the seat back pretty far to get a comfortable distance from the steering wheel. In that driving position, my elbows couldn't reach the armrest. Combine this with the Tribeca's high seating position, and I was not a happy commuter during my 90-minute drives to and from Cars.com's offices.
Fit, of course, will vary from person to person. Some people may not have any issues, but I was not the only editor to experience frustration over the steering wheel. And the front seating problem snowballed into issues for the second and third rows, too, partly because of the Tribeca's small size. Legroom is already mediocre in the second row, at 34.3 inches, but with the driver's seat where I had it positioned, the second row lost heaps of that space. Then, with the second row slid all the way back to compensate, the third row was left with literally no legroom.
Very few crossovers have enough room in their third row to make adults feel comfortable, and the Tribeca isn't close to breaking that mold. The seat is so close to the floor that my legs and thighs were positioned uncomfortably off the seat cushion.
We test a standard assortment of grocery bags, golf clubs and luggage in every car we drive, and there wasn't much � or any, really � room to spare behind the Tribeca's third row; there's only 8.3 cubic feet of storage back there. That's significantly less than the Pilot's 18 cubic feet, and it's even less than a small sedan's trunk.
With both rows folded flat, the Tribeca has 74.4 cubic feet of total cargo space. Again, it's an unexceptional amount considering the Pilot has 87 cubic feet, the Highlander has 95.4 and the CX-9 boasts 100.7. What's more, I can't imagine trying to fit seven people in this car, especially seven people I like. What's truly revealing is that Subaru's Outback wagon doesn't require a huge concession in overall cargo space (it offers 71.3 cubic feet) even though it seats just five.
One of the Tribeca's redeeming qualities is Subaru's trademark symmetrical all-wheel drive. It's one of the best systems available for tackling the slippery snow- and rain-covered city roads on which I drove the Tribeca. Even in aggressive starts in these conditions, the car accelerated seamlessly from stoplights. The Tribeca's all-wheel drive distributes power to all four wheels all the time, helping with a smooth delivery of traction.
Now here comes Debbie Downer: Unlike the Forester and Outback, the Tribeca's all-wheel drive doesn't come at much of a discount compared with the competition. The Pilot, Highlander and CX-9 come really close to or beat the Tribeca's starting price when equipped with all-wheel drive.
Our fully loaded Touring came in at an as-tested price of $37,995. The only option missing was a rear DVD entertainment system. The Touring trim level comes with xenon headlights, a power moonroof, a backup camera and Bluetooth for its $35,795 starting price. Our tester had the optional touch-screen navigation system for another $2,200.
The navigation system suffered from a fundamental flaw: The touch-screen is beyond arm's reach � or at least it was beyond mine. To enter an address or check the gas mileage, I had to lean very far forward to reach the screen at the top of the dashboard. The navigation itself felt outdated, with graphics that are easily bested by many of today's smartphones and portable GPS devices.
the 2011 Subaru Tribeca's sole engine option is a 3.6-liter flat-six engine with 256 horsepower and 247 pounds-feet of torque on tap. Drive is sent to all four wheels via a five-speed automatic transmission and a symmetrical all-wheel-drive system. Performance from the flat-six engine is respectable, but it's no match for competitors like the Ford Edge or Honda Pilot. Fuel economy is neither poor nor especially good for this class, with the Tribeca returning 16 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway; best of all, it runs on regular unleaded fuel rather than the previous generation's super unleaded requirement. Handling is one of the best attributes of the Tribeca; push hard into a corner and the Tribeca has good body control and better steering than most other vehicles of this type. The 2011 Subaru Tribeca's 8.4 inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive may scream off-road prowess, but this mid-size crossover is better suited to the suburban environment. Real off-roading isn't the goal here�just all-weather performance.
Standard safety features for the 2011 Subaru Tribeca include antilock brakes (with brake assist), traction control, stability control with a rollover sensor, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and active front head restraints.
a Subaru Tribeca required 121 feet to come to a stop from 60 mph, which is slightly shorter than its competitors.
The Subaru Tribeca has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash-testing procedure. Its 2010 rating (which isn't comparable to 2011 ratings) shows that the Tribeca scored a perfect five stars for both front- and side-impact protection. It also received the top rating of "Good" in frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.