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Bill Griffith

Inside and out, a new Tribeca

Restyled Subaru crossover gets more powerful engine

THE BASICS
Base price/as tested: $29,995/$30,670
Fuel economy: 21 miles per gallon (EPA estimate)
Annual fuel cost: $1,653 (at $2.67 per gallon, regular, 13,000 miles per year)

THE EARLY LINE
Subaru has not only given the B9 Tribeca a new name - dropping the B9 designation - but also a nose job, and a heart (engine) transplant.

THE SPECIFICS
Drivetrain: 6-cylinder boxer engine, 5-speed automatic transmission, Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel drive system
Seating: 5
Horsepower: 256
Torque: 247 lb.-ft.
Overall length: 191.5 inches
Wheelbase: 108.2 inches
Height: 66.4 inches
Width: 73.9 inches
Curb weight: 4,195 pounds

THE SKINNY
Nice touch: The two-zone (driver/passenger) climate controls that combine a knob with a large digital readout in the center.
Annoyance: The heavy tailgate. It's not an easy one to close.
Watch for: Consumer acceptance of larger Subarus. The Tribeca is the company's biggest model.


Take a 2006 or 2007 Subaru B9 Tribeca, and give it a name change, a nose job, and a heart transplant. The result is the 2008 Tribeca, a midsized crossover SUV that's more powerful than its predecessors and has a shorter name.

The B9 referred to the Subaru "platform" on which the car is constructed. Dropping the designation offers some relief from the alphabet soup of model names in the marketplace. All the acronyms and initials automakers use create confusion rather than distinction.

The B9 Tribeca, however, won't be remembered as much for its name as it will for its pronounced proboscis - the love-it-or-hate-it distinctive front-end design - that has been made decidedly vanilla in this redesign. In fact, when first approaching the new Tribeca - which is now available at dealers - I thought it was a Chrysler Pacifica. Subaru says consumers didn't like the flamboyant front.

Under the hood, Subaru has modified the standard Boxster engine in several ways, using a redesigned connecting rod for a longer stroke, increasing horsepower from 245 to 256 (the increase is noticeable and needed) and torque up from 215 lb.-ft. to 247, a significant improvement at low rpms. All fluids are easy to check and access. At idle, the engine was so smooth and quiet, it was easy to forget it was running. Unfortunately, it was decidedly noisier under a load.

Subaru's engineers were able to increase the performance numbers without changing the engine's fit, allowing it to retain its low (for an SUV) center of gravity.

Perhaps best of all in this age of high fuel prices, they also improved cooling efficiency, enabling the Tribeca to run on regular gas instead of the premium fuel earlier models needed. Gas mileage also seems to have been improved. We averaged 21 miles per gallon, mostly on the highway.

The interior retains the Tribeca's airplane cockpit styling, with an aluminum-like look. The only down note from the driver's view is that the fuel and temperature gauges - placed like low ears alongside the tachometer and speedometer - are hard to read through the steering wheel.

On the road, the ride is stiffer than average. That translated into stability on the highway at cruising speeds. The flip side was a bumpier-than-expected trip over our regional test track, the pot-holed and much-repaired Water Street in Newburyport.

The Tribeca comes in several 5- and 7-passenger configurations, with our test car being the base model 5-passenger version. Prices start at about $30,000. The seven-seat versions and those with heated seats, sunroofs, and navigation systems - will be priced accordingly higher.

The test model didn't have a navigation system, but the digital display atop the dashboard gave us convenient and easy-to-read information on the audio system, time, outside temperature, and on-board computer readouts.

Our model had Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel drive system with standard variable torque distribution, stability control, and four-wheel traction control.

It should take the Tribeca, with its 8.4 inches of ground clearance, anywhere a family wagon has to go, though this crossover segment is hardly designed for offroading.

Rear seat passengers will like the legroom because the seats are adjustable. They will also like the grab handles, the fold-down armrest with cupholders, and the slide-out storage drawer in back of the center console. They won't like the lack of cushioning.

Mp3-users will appreciate the auxiliary jack inside the capacious center console, as well as the quality of the standard audio system. The console contains two power outlets, and there's a third back in the cargo bay, along with two large under-floor storage compartments and numerous tie-down hooks for cargo.

Overall, the 2008 upgrades to the Tribeca are newsworthy as well as noseworthy.

Shop it against:

Chrysler Pacifica
Distinctive styling. This model has been an eye-catcher since its inception. Redesigned and updated for 2007. Priced at about $27,500.

Mazda CX-7
Has the Zoom-Zoom DNA. Nice performance and handling with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic. Priced at about $28,000.

Nissan Murano
The Murano's styling has stood out since it was introduced in 2003. Nissan got the formula right on the first try. Priced at about $29,000.

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