From the first time we saw Subaru's B9 Tribeca at the 2005 Detroit auto show, we knew that it'd be significant: It was Subaru's first seven-passenger vehicle, meaning that it would compete with a fresh plethora of SUV-ish minivan substitutes. It was Subaru's largest vehicle yet. It would come standard with a six-cylinder engine. It would cost much more than any previous Subaru, save the quirky SVX. And, certainly not least, it sported a goofy-looking, aircraft-inspired front end that was to become the new face of Subaru.
Such a groundbreaking car was a perfect fit for our Four Seasons test fleet, so we ordered a titanium silver metallic Tribeca. Once we got the vehicle away from the auto-show lights and into our own driveways, its distinctive design--both inside and out--drew our attention first.
"Although a designer seems to have been absent when the computer put together the exterior shape," creative director Richard Eccleston wrote in the Tribeca's logbook, "I'm quite impressed with the layout of the interior." Others described the cabin's styling as "top-notch," "a nice change of pace," and "voluptuous," but many observers found the car's exterior to be quite strange and likened it to a whale, an overfed beetle, a Hudson Hornet, and a Saab 96.
While the interior drew positive comments for its unique design, clear controls, and competitive levels of fit, its darker-colored plastics were criticized for their cheap feel and textures. Moreover, several drivers intensely disliked the Subaru's seats.
"The front seats are horribly uncomfortable," said road test coordinator Marc Noordeloos. "They have far too much midback lumbar and no upper-back support. Plus, you sit on top of the seats, not in them." Assistant editor Sam Smith agreed, adding that "both armrests are too far down and back, so I had to adjust the wheel into my lap to take the strain off my shoulders." The situation was compounded by a steering column that tilted but didn't telescope.
The annoying climate-control system also seriously hindered our comfort. "The automatic climate control is bound and determined to blow cold air on you," senior editor Joe Lorio noted after a midwinter drive across Pennsylvania. "We had to keep raising the temperature setting by one degree while keeping the fan speed on low. This was somewhat effective, but you shouldn't have to trick the climate control into doing what you want. If I were buying this car, I would pay extra for a manual system."
We reached a more positive consensus about the Subaru's driving experience, which was enjoyable for such a large vehicle. "It drives well," "the chassis feels very tied down," "there's no highway float," and "nice handling," were scrawled in the logbook's pages in the first month, testaments to the Subaru's well-tuned suspension and slightly rear-wheel-biased, standard all-wheel-drive system. The smooth, 250-hp flat-six engine--which produced a sweet, almost Porsche-like growl when pushed--did a decent job of moving the Tribeca, but its lack of torque became very apparent whenever the 4300-pound Subaru needed to haul lots of people, gear, and/or a lightweight trailer.