BY STEVE WALKER
Some cars slip from the radar almost the instant they're launched. In the case of the Subaru B9 Tribeca, it was stricken from the record the instant people spotted its fuel economy figure lurking on the spec sheet. Not that 23mpg is particularly disastrous for a big 4x4 sporting a powerful petrol engine. It's just that the 243bhp 3.0-litre six-cylinder unit was the only engine the Tribeca had. In the absence of a diesel, UK motorists with £30,000 to spend weren't particularly interested but once our old friend Mr Depreciation has worked his magic, Subaru's SUV could be a viable leftfield used buy.
Models Covered: 2006-2009: 5dr SUV (3.0 petrol [S5, SE5, SE7])
Big 4x4s with big petrol engines mean big bills. There's no getting around that one. Despite this, there are models fitting the description that have sold strongly in the UK but almost without exception, those cars are premium brand luxury 4x4s. At the top end of the market, there are enough buyers unconcerned with running costs who just want the most powerful and palatial SUV they can lay their jewellery encrusted hands on. The B9 Tribeca's problem is that this kind of money-no-object buyer isn't interested in a gas-guzzling Subaru. Customers buying large 4x4s in the £30,000 price bracket tend to be after a tough, versatile family vehicle, one that isn't going to eat into the kids' inheritance too vehemently. They tend to want a diesel. Subaru would have been well aware of the likely response from the public when it launched the B9 Tribeca in mid-2006. The car was designed for the American market where they apparently have hot and cold running gasoline in every home and without a more economical diesel power option, the Tribeca was only ever going to have niche appeal here. It was in a similar position to petrol-only contemporaries like Mazda's CX-7 and the Nissan Murano. In short, it looked a long way from home. The B9 Tribeca was launched with its 3.0-litre petrol engine and three trim levels. The S5 was the entry-level model, then came the plusher SE5 and the range-topper was the SE7 which had a DVD player and seven seats as standard courtesy of an extra pair shoehorned into the boot. These seats were available as a cost option on the other models. All versions have an automatic gearbox.
What You Get
Measuring 4,857mm long, the B9 Tribeca stands comparison with some of the largest 4x4s on the market. The Subaru is noticeably lower than most off-road capable vehicles, although its ground clearance is reasonable. This hints at one clear fact - the interior, while stylishly designed, isn't particularly capacious and in seven seat guise, both the middle row and back seats can be a squeeze if you're endowed with both a head and legs. Even if you opt for the five-seater, the rear seats are in the same position, making them best for youngsters. The upside is that you can carry more gear than you might reasonably assume. Fold the rear seats down and you'll manage a hefty 1,502 litres. The exterior styling, with its large central nostril, is an acquired taste. The interior feels a good deal more premium than expected if your abiding memory of a Subaru cabin is spawned by the grating cupholders and shoddy plastics of old Imprezas. Soft cascade lighting illuminates the footwells and cupholders. There's a swooping Y-wing design to the dash with nary a straight line in sight. This alone will be enough to sell the Tribeca to many customers in the same way that dotted lines were signed as soon as many prospects landed their bums in the original Audi TTs. The clamshell doors on the centre console are particularly neat, but the twin cowled dials, the acres of metallic finish and the big, easy to use controls also help to create a good first impression. The entry level models, the S5 and the SE5, both feature five seats. Alternatively, customers can go for the SE7, which features the seats as well as a DVD rear seat entertainment system including two sets of headphones, a remote control and rear air conditioning controls. Even the entry level S5 is well equipped, with as six-disc CD autochanger with MP3 compatibility, nine speakers, leather trim for the steering wheel with remote audio controls, dual zone air conditioning, 18-inch alloys and stability control. Opt for the SE5 and that adds leather seats, an electrics pack, a tilt and slide sunroof and DVD navigation with the LCD screen also coupled to a reversing camera. That little lot makes the prices being asked seem all the more attractive.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
There aren't two many Subaru B9 Tribecas pounding our highways and byways, so it's proved difficult to keep track of any recurring faults. What we can say is that the durability of Subaru products is usually second to none so buying a used Tribeca shouldn't cause too much concern, at least not from a reliability point of view.
(Based on a 2006 S5 excl of VAT) A clutch assembly will set you back around £280 and a new exhaust about £200 excluding catalyst. Front shock absorbers are close to £170 each. An exchange alternator comes in at around £350 and an exchange starter motor at around £190. A new radiator is about £230.
On the Road
The engine is the weak link in the Tribeca package, the lack of a diesel counterpart putting a serious dent in this car's market reach. That said, the petrol engine itself is a cracker, pumping out 242bhp and capable of generating 297Nm of torque. In case you were wondering, it is the same boxer engine used by the Legacy 3.0R spec.B saloon and is matched to a five-speed auto gearbox that features Sportshift, Subaru's take on a Tiptronic-style sequential 'manual' override. Performance is fairly lively for a vehicle of this size, the B9 getting to a top speed of 121mph and capable of a sprint to 60mph in 9.3 seconds. The Tribeca would doubtless feel quicker were its torque peak not at 4,200rpm. Laden down with a family and gear, this could become tiresome and respectable progress would blunt economy quite badly. Even as it stands, the Tribeca is no sipper, quaffing fuel at a rate of 23mpg on the combined cycle - a best case scenario. With emissions of 291g/km, the running costs will soon mount up.
The 3.0-litre petrol engine has definitely proven to be an albatross around the neck of the Subaru B9 Tribeca but heavy depreciation means it might just make sense as a used car for some UK buyers. Its unusual looks and rarity will count for something and performance is quite lively. There are more practical, desirable and economical choices out there however, and you'd be well advised to do your sums before taking the plunge.