Subarus: No longer winter bound

by The Car Family: Internationally Syndicated

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In what could only be called a dramatic shift upscale, Subaru has pushed the prices of some of its vehicles into the upper $30,000 bracket and equipped them fairly lavishly for cars that are primarily sold in the salted road sections of the nation. Thus a vehicle that made its fame for its can do attitude and sporty nature has turned south and, hopefully, to a new group of buyers more interested in the stock market than weather reports.

At the top of Subarus offerings is its flag carrier, the B9 Tribeca which is priced competitively with such luxury brands as Lexus and Acura and following up with its Legacy wagon and sedan that are actually more expensive in some cases. Regardless, these well endowed all wheel drive vehicles have failed to capitalize on the success of the smaller WRX vehicles of rally racing fame and clearly indicate that Subaru is pushing into the richer fishing waters of the near luxury buyers. It took us a couple of weeks behind the latest in the Subaru line to decide that this just might be the right move for the company, if they can reach this new audience with a better advertising campaign and some hot leases.

First off we tested the B9 Tribeca and were impressed. Fuel mileage on premium was an acceptable 21-mpg, but don’t look for much more considering the fact that it takes a long push on the petrol pedal to get to the meat of the engine’s 250 horsepower at 4200 rpm. Even with the smooth five speed automatic transmission’s ability to readily downshift when a full family onboard passing isn’t going to be swift. On the other hand the ride is as good as a Lexus and the handling is in Acura territory. Cargo space is more than adequate with over 67 cubic available with the rear seats folded down.

Mom’s view: You really need to test drive this Subaru. It grows on you daily. I liked the overall styling both inside and out and was impressed on how easy it was to drive. Visibility was good, but the rear view camera made backing up safely simple. This camera is as good as those on the Nissan/Infiniti models. The rear hatch liftover was high for me at 5’4” and without a pull down strap I could barely reach it to pull it shut. The Tribeca comes in either five or seven passenger configurations, but in the latter there is very little legroom for the third row occupants.

In daily driving the engine is very unobtrusive as the 3.0-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinders work well in unison with the five speed automatic transmission, but when you really need a burst of speed it is at best short lived. Parking isn’t too much of a problem and the raised ledges on the front fenders greater help indicate there the vehicle’s sides are. Very handy.

The ride is exceptional and is the Tribeca’s greatest asset. However, the Legacy Wagon that the underpinnings are based on is every bit as good and it easier to load and park. It is also less expensive. Please note that we have owned Subarus in the past and enjoyed everything about them except their high cost of replacement parts. The handling reminded me of a softer BMW X3 or Nissan Murano, however it is far more family friendly than either of those SUVs.

I truly felt the interior was a great treat. The sweep of the gauges as you turned on the ignition was fun to watch and it was quite simple to master the controls. The leather was thick and the many curves of the dash added a sense of drama to the interior. There were a number of storage bins and the center console had enough room to be usable. The cupholders were a little shallow, but well placed. The heating and cooling were adequate, but the heated seats were great with three levels of intensity offered. Overall, only the much less expensive and more powerful RAV 4 tops the Tribeca for those who need a SUV. Personally, I find the Legacy/Outback wagons just as useful. Perhaps for those who live where unplowed roads, lake effect snow, and tropical cloud bursts are realities the higher seating and stance of the Tribeca would be an advantage, but at the cost of higher fuel costs.

Young working woman’s view: A treat for the eyes, the Tribeca is trendy and serves the owner well with good work ethic and plenty of style. The problem is it’s pricing which is on the high side for vehicles of this class. The reason is the number of features that the Tribeca is loaded with. Correctly titled the Subaru B9 Tribeca, you get Vehicle Dynamic Control and Variable Torque Distribution with the all wheel drive SUV and traction control, 18-inch aluminum alloy rims, a tire pressure monitoring system, and an antilock and Electronic Brake-force Distribution system. Add in Subaru’s many safety features such as and auto-retracting brake pedal assembly, dual-stage frontal airbags, seat-mounted side impact airbags and active head restraints that automatically push forward and up in rear-impact collisions, curtain airbags for the front and second row seats, adjustable head restraints, and child safety seat anchors. There is also a driver’s eight-way power adjustable seat with the passenger having four way power adjustments all with lumbar support. I could have used more cushioning and a longer bottom pad, but I am fairly tall. The A pillars are very large and block your view of pedestrians, but not as badly as the Dodge Durango’s.

Dad’s view: Very flexible, this Tribeca is more utility than sport, but nevertheless is a pleasant driver with a good attitude. The rear seats fold 40/20/40-split and have fore and aft adjustments and I could easily load a road bicycle into the back with a minimum of fuss thanks to the high ceiling. No question, this is one of the easiest SUVs to fold the seats down. The seven-passenger model’s third row is split 50-50 and is simple to fold flat. Steering is vague and the brake feel is soft, but the overall feel is not one of incompetence, but of softness. The information center is easy to use and the optional heated seats worth the cost. There is an abundance of standard equipment, but nothing unique or trend setting. The horn is hefty enough to get a cell phone users attention. Of interest might be the fact that women overwhelming liked the Subaru and it could probably capture a lot of Volvo sales, as it is a better driver.

Young working male’s view: A lot of little touches make the Tribeca a nice place to spend time, but not my type of vehicle. First, it weighs over 4000 pounds and the engine just doesn’t provide enough torque to make it fun to drive. Secondly, it doesn’t have the fuel economy I want. The interior is loaded with features such as a large glove box, a large center console, molded pockets for water bottles, four power points to run your laptop and radar and still leave those in back two outlets of their own. There are also storage bins in the cargo area, an optional net, and an available 160-watt system with a six-disc, in-dash CD changer and nine speakers, including a sub-woofer. The system is nice, but hardly more than adequate and there the ability to use MP3 media, but it is not a state of the art set-up.

Beware that the unusual placement and shape of the Subaru’s stereo may make replacement units difficult to fit. The ride is fine and handling above average for a SUV thanks to the placement of the engine low in the chassis.

I found it a very long reach to get to some of the navigation commands and found the GPS more difficult than others to use. The placement of the fuel gauge was horrible and unreadable as it resides behind the steering wheel. Fortunately, the driver’s computer carries all you really need to know with distance to empty and miles per gallon. I never could bust 22 mpg and averaged 18 around town. Forget the optional third row seating, as there isn’t any legroom if those in the middle row slide their seats back.

Next we used the hot Spec. B Legacy sedan and its easy to shift six-speed manual gearbox and competition proven all wheel drive system. Using all of the turbocharger’s 13.5 psi to create 243 horsepower 241 lb-ft of torque and a world of come rain or snow. The result of this creation is a performance-oriented sedan that can ride sedately on the highway in sixth gear without the need to downshift for passing in normal situations. The variable timing in the four-cylinder engine makes if more efficient and we were able to squeeze 24 mpg out of it without much effort to be gentle. The problem here, as with the Tribeca, is the cost. The Spec. B is priced more than some models of the Tribeca and can push the mid $30,000 range with options.

Interestingly, Subaru has a new system that is called SI-Drive that can be accessed with a dial on the center console and controls the various modes of response for throttle pressure with the S mode turning the Legacy into an aggressive driver. This Sharp setting is best left to professionals with the Sport setting being just fine for a balance between fun and the frugal driving of the Intelligent mode setting. Remember, when you buy the Spec.B. you aren’t just getting a base Legacy, but a much more race oriented sedan.

Dad’s view: Don’t even think about the Spec.B unless you really like to drive. The extra money you pay for this model goes for upgrades that the average driver simply well never understand. Besides the SI-Drive there is a suspension anchored by

Bilstein inverted front struts and control arms in front, and a rear multi-link unit. There is aluminum under the Subaru and also on top in the form of its hood and the wagon’s tailgate. More aggressive tires, aerodynamic ground effects, better brakes, and more responsive steering are all part of the package. The result is a lot of fun to drive every day and a joy on curves and gravel.

Mom’s view: I wouldn’t pay the extra for the Spec.B because it simply didn’t make any sense to me. It is actually heavier than the GT Legacy and comes with a lot of features I don’t find sports oriented such as dual climate control and GPS. If you want to go fast get the STi and save yourself some cash. If you need the extra room of the Legacy get a bare bones GT. We have owned a Subaru Legacy in the past and I liked the Tribeca, but the Spec.B. just didn’t win me over.

Young working woman’s view: Nice interior with alloy pedals, leather upholstery, and an interesting, bordering on obnoxious, gray and blue trim package. The electroluminescent analog gauges with red-lighted indicators are easy to read and the visibility is excellent. I found driving the Spec.B. simple and enjoyable, but the drive can get noisy at times with the stiff settings of the suspension and wide tires becoming irritating over roughened roads. Safety wise you get a vehicle that is the tops according to the testing companies and it comes with standard side and side-curtain airbags, active front restraints, and child safety features.

Young working male’s view: The sound system is similar to the Tribeca and adjusts the volume when changing between the XM Satellite radio, the iPod input, and the AM/FM channels. When I tested this machine the overwhelming question was why would someone buy this rather than an A4 Audi or BMW 325 xi. After just a few hours the question should be why would someone serious about all wheel drive sedans consider the A4 or the 325? It is edgy, eager to please, and once mastered can be more fun.

Family conference: Subaru has raised its MSRP bar and it remains to be seen if the buyers will jump it. You get a lot for the money, but do you really need all wheel drive? The Car Family feels that the Tribeca, properly optioned, is a good vehicle. We happen to like the smaller Forester better and we definitely like the Legacy GT better than the Spec.B. The bottom line is that Subaru is no longer just for winter and it deserves a better ad campaign to get people into them. For a list of vehicle websites go to