14 January 2007

Subi Doo. Where were you?

Subaru finally launches the SUV we were all waiting for.

Test Vehicle:

Subaru Tribeca 3.0R Premium 7 Seat AWD
3.0 litre DOHC flat six 180kW
5 speed automatic transmission
Satellite Navigation/DVD System
$60,990 as tested
3 year/unlimited km warranty

OUTthere spent some time with the Subaru executives recently and they’re feeling pretty satisfied. They’re not about to take over the world, but the clever niche for AWD vehicles they occupy is all theirs.

Liberty, Impreza, Outback and Forester have all gained enviable acceptance in the market. Subaru, as a brand, continues to make steady forward sales progress in a volatile environment. In a dignified and restrained brag, Subaru Managing Director Nick Senior said: “The engineering, safety and retained value of our vehicles continues to drive customer interest in Subaru.”

Customer interest is certainly one of the factors Subaru can count on, because when their Tribeca B9 SUV was unveiled at Australian motor shows in 2005, it created a minor tsunami amongst the press and Subaru aficionados. Was it the radical styling? Or just simply that Subaru had made the predicable move into the SUV market that had so beckoned it? Several hundred Tribecas are now on Australia roads since the November 2006 launch.

With their symmetrical AWD system down pat, it was a simple enough philosophical move to create the big daddy of the Subaru family. Just apply the many years of development, take the big 3.0 litre DOHC flat six, add a seven seat option and away you go. The forthcoming Subaru boxer turbo diesel, a very poorly kept secret, should be an interesting fitment to Tribeca.

The question OUTthere wanted answered was whether the Tribeca really could do the dirty stuff, so we went looking for it. The road holding, handling and safety of Subaru vehicles is a “gimme” for the sealed and even unsealed surfaces. The Tribeca doesn’t handle with quite the finesse of the smaller sedans and wagons, but is certainly acceptable for the class within which it competes. The big 3.0 engine is capable enough, although not awe-inspiring. It does take a bit of pedal to get all 2 tonnes (with driver) up and mobile.

Our offroad excursion did find the limits of the vehicle. Picking our way carefully through mogulled bush tracks did take some care. Our main concern was the 215mm ground clearance and a couple of times we had to build little stone ramps to clear some sharp edges. There are no diff-locks or low range switches for the 5-speed auto, but the Traction Control at least assures that the wheel that needs the power gets it. This limiting factor considered, we were able to negotiate some pretty hairy trails, although not with the supreme confidence you’d get with a fully equipped, high clearance 4WD.

In summary, the Tribeca is no big kick-butt 4WD, but then it isn’t pretending to be. It’s a refined, comfortable, supremely safe AWD SUV that will find a place in the heart of Subaru owners and likely bring some new fans to the fold.
We liked:

• Road manners
• Safety features top class
• cabin comfort and trim

If we were picky

• Engine needs a little more kick
• AWD system not suited to really heavy duty work
• radical styling not for all

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