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MOTORNET: If You Can’t Beat 'Em...

MOTORNET: If You Can’t Beat 'Em...

SCOOP MOTORNET with Karl Ferguson
Images by Neil Mackenzie -

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For a brand that markets itself heavily on lifestyle attributes, Subaru are very late to the SUV party, but arrived they have, and it’s an arrival that has not been without controversy.

Subaru have an enviable brand and a range of vehicles that offer not only 4WD (for the most part), but also practicality, ruggedness, and also enviable driving dynamics. But in the current market, where SUV is king, the crossover Forester (which is also looking a little long in the tooth) just didn’t have the pulling power Subaru needed.

Crucially, neither did they offer a vehicle with seven seats. In other words, loyal Subaru customers who needed a bigger vehicle than say the Legacy or Outback, had to go to another manufacturer for a full sized SUV. But not any longer.

The US sourced Tribeca is here and it’s turning some heads. Unfortunately, some might say for the wrong reasons. The Tribeca is in many respects an innocuous SUV, but its face is distinctive. Prominent headlights, a narrow central grille framed by a large ‘mouth’ ensure it’s anything but forgettable. The definition of a good looking car is in itself, somewhat subjective, but apparently Subaru have taken heed of customer feedback on the look of the Tribeca and it has been reported that a front end redesign is already underway.

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Subaru in New Zealand have acted even more swiftly, offering local versions with a ‘style package’ which adds some tasty extras, not least of which is 20” alloys and a new mesh grille, which is really quite distinctive and manages to give the Tribeca a whole new personality.

Styling issues aside, there is no reason to be put off. Apart from offering a good level of practicality – it genuinely is a seven seater – the Tribeca also comes equipped with Subaru’s most powerful engine – the 30 litre boxer which pumps out a very respectable 180kW of power and 297Nm of torque. And by SUV standards, it’s quick sprinting to 100km/h in around nine seconds. The charismatic boxer sounds great getting there too.

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Handling is a little soft by Subaru standards generally, but then it is intended for the American market as I mentioned, so perhaps not surprising. Subaru have still made a good fist of the steering and the Tribeca will tackle corners with some degree of enthusiasm, portraying pretty neutral handle and some mild understeer. There is no low range gearbox but the 4WD is permanent so the Tribeca will still have some pull on the skifields and at the boatramps

When it comes to equipment, the options list is decidedly short. That’s because Subaru have eschewed the traditional route and decided to import the Tribeca in one spec only, and that’s fully loaded. Apart from all the usual fruit like leather and climate controlled air con, the rear passengers can access a drop down TV screen on which DVDs can be viewed. I took the trouble (while stationary of course!) to try it out, and I have to say the quality of the speakers was exemplary. I struggled to drag myself away from my favourite music DVD in fact. The space age dash and some of the other materials are a little low rent compared to the rest of the Subaru range, but generally everything feels pretty well put together.

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Fortunately for Mum and Dad, rear passengers shouldn’t get sick while watching the Wiggles, as the Tribeca rides extremely smoothly soaking up potholes with aplomb. In fact, virtually every passenger I had while driving the Tribeca commented on this virtue in fact. As mentioned, it could be a little less woolly in the handling department but at least there’s a tangible pay off.

The Tribeca is at the medium to high end of the market priced at around $72k but it does feel like a reasonable ‘bang for buck’ deal, especially when you consider the brand cache of Subaru. Suspect looks aside, no doubt dealers around the country are smiling when for once the answer to the question of ‘do you have one with a few more seats?’ can finally be met with an emphatic ‘right this way sir…’

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