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Click to view road test review picture gallery“Subaru’s all-new
  241bhp seven-seat
  SUV comes well-
  specced and with
  rally-bred all-wheel
  drive. With prices
  ranging from 29K
  to 34K, it’s a right
  little temptress...”

COLOUR. IT DEFINES every-thing. Particularly cars. Take Subaru's new B9 Tribeca. Other reviewers have made a big thing about its grille design. Like all grilles, some people will like them; some won't. The only certainty is that it is almost imposs-ible to come up with something that will appeal to everybody. However, match the grille to the right colour and it's a whole new ball game. In the case of the new Tribeca, we thought the grille worked perfectly with the metallic black body. And we also found that it got a lot of complimentary attention.

The Tribeca is Subaru's first entry into the premium SUV market. It is available in both five- and seven-seat configurations — a first for the Subaru range, where loyal brand customers with families have had
to make do with a Forester or Legacy estate. The Tribeca is longer by 80mm in the wheelbase and, overall, 127mm longer than Subaru's largest estate.

Choosing a Tribeca is straightforward because there's just the one B9 model available in three configurations: entry level S5 with five seats; top-spec five-seater the SE5; and the range topping seven-seat SE7. Prices are 28,995, 31,995 and 33,995 respectively. A single drive-train fits all — a 241bhp 3.0-litre flat-six 'boxer' engine, teamed with
a five-speed auto 'box with Subaru's 'Sportshift' that offers adaptive control 'Sport' mode and sequential manual selection. With buyers starting to move out of the bigger 4x4s and into seven-seat wagons — be they SUVs or MPVs — we tested the SE7 model.

Our test car was resplendent in a high quality metallic black finish
and looked good. We registered a number of 'thumbs up' from passing motorists and quite a lot of admiring glances in car parks and on motor-way service areas. Interestingly, some onlookers remarked that it was reminiscent of a Porsche Cayenne. At the back it's equally distinctive, with a meaty chromed oval tailpipe at each corner.

Inside things just get better. The front seats are excellent: electrically 8-way adjustable and very supportive — all the better for being set high, so that your lower legs are at a comfortable angle. The driver sits square to the pedal set and gets a one-shot electric window, and the tilt-only steering wheel is fine thanks to the multi-adjustable seat.
The foot-operated parking brake is easy to use and the dash is visually first-rate. You might even go so far to call it 'cool'. Talking of 'cool', the quiet dual-zone climate control produces a powerful flow of really cold air — good news during the UK's clammy summers. And when it's cool outside, the three-stage heated seats keep you nice and snug.

The 'twin cockpit' layout has bold, curving lines sweeping out from the centre stack that wrap around the driver and front passenger before flowing back to the doors — and it works a treat. It's easy to see and read everything (especially the SatNav) whilst driving and all controls are easy to operate. The clarity of the touch-screen display is impres-sive and there are simple 'zoom' and 'return' buttons. We also liked the sharp, intense white instrument graphics that are illuminated during
the daytime.

The trim materials, with brushed aluminium highlights, are equally im-pressive while the fabrics and leather stand comparison with those of the best branded executives. Soft cascade lighting illuminates the footwells and even the cupholders. And the climate control features large, especially tactile, knobs which feature their own read-outs. Plus there's a plentiful number of practical cubby-holes and storage spaces. The Tribeca's well-designed cabin manages to feel both cosily intimate and light and airy at the same time, making it a very relaxing environ-ment in which to travel.

Entry is easy and even getting into the third row is not difficult, albeit requiring a little familiarity for adults. While smaller adults could travel in the well-shaped thirds row seats (split 50:50 for flexible loading con-figurations), legroom is limited with adults occupying the middle row.
So like most seven-seater vehicles, it's probably best viewed as a five-plus-two rather than a straight seven. Subaru agrees, and says that the third row of seats is "mainly aimed at children."

Kids, for some reason, seem to delight in travelling back there — maybe simply because they're further from the eyes of their parents! In the real world, few family drivers need to carry six adults anyway; and the likelihood is that most customers will be families of two adults with a combination of up to five children. In which case the Tribeca is just fine and dandy. Especially so for those sitting comfortably watching a DVD on the 9-inch screen as the world passes by outside.

Middle row passengers are particularly indulged as the two backrests of the 60:40 seat recline individually and the base slides fore/aft by up
to 203mm to provide limo-grade legroom as well as ease of entry, from either side, to the 6th and 7th seats. Both the second and third rows have their own lighting, as well as heating and ventilation vents in the headlining. Like origami, the second and third row seats can be folded in a variety of ways and provide versatile and flexible passenger/cargo combinations. Seven-seat MPVs/SUVs are sometimes criticised for not having a large amount of luggage space with all seven seats in use, compared to a normal four-seat saloon's boot.

Fair comment. However, there is some space in the Tribeca under these circumstances — although one review said it was only sufficient for one golf bag. This prompts the question: 'Who takes six other people with them when they go to play golf?' If you're off to the club for a round, relax — there's ample room for all your golfing parapher-nalia! Actual load space with all seats up is 128 litres; with just the third row down it is 450 litres; and with all rear seats down there is 1,495 litres.

All three Tribeca models, from the entry-level S5 to the flagship SE7, pack a lot of kit into their plush interiors. Standard equipment across the range includes full-time all-wheel drive with traction control, dual-zone climate control, powered front seats (driver's with memory),
dual-stage front, side and curtain airbags, front active head restraints and a six-disc CD autochanger with MP3 playback and nine speakers, five-speed automatic transmission with Sportshift, 7-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels, electric windows, leather steering wheel with remote audio controls, cruise control and front fog lamps.

The SE7 tested here also has, as standard: leather interior, heated front seats, power-fold door mirrors, two-setting driver's seat/mirrors memory function, a tilt/slide sunroof with one-shot controls, touch-screen full-colour DVD-based SatNav incorporating a reversing camera, third row of two forward facing seats complete with rear air condition-ing and a rear-passenger DVD entertainment system that comes with two headphones and a remote control.

The Tribeca uses the 3.0-litre powerplant already proven in the most powerful Legacy — the '3.0R spec.B'. This produces a smooth but punchy 241bhp; sufficient to get the Tribeca off the line with a muted six-cylinder growl and up to 60mph in 9.3 seconds. Torque is 219lb ft at 4,200rpm. Flat out, the Tribeca will reach 121mph although a more legal 70mph calls only for 2,300rpm in top gear.

With a kerb weight of 1,920kg to move and permanent four-wheel drive, the auto 'box has to work that bit harder — although you wouldn't know it from behind the wheel, or indeed from any other seat in the cabin, because shifts are impressively silky and the flat-six engine is a real smoothie. And it is refined, even higher up the rev range.

Moving the selector lever to the left engages Sport mode, which holds automatic upshifts until higher up the rev range. To take manual con-trol of the five gears, nudge the lever forwards to move up a gear; a tap rearwards takes you down the 'box. Driven this way, with gears held until the driver decides to change up, the Tribeca is very respons-ive, and there's the added benefit of effective engine braking. 'Skip-shifts' (ie; 4th to 2nd or 5th to 3rd) are easy — just a quick double-tap on the lever. Obviously, the system will only let it happen if the revs will be okay for the lower gear. A clear display in the deeply-cowled rev-counter not only shows you the current gear/mode, but also (by means of up and down pointing arrows) if an up or down shift can be made.

Fuel consumption figures are 16.7, 23 and 29.7mph respectively for city, combined and touring. Our week-long test resulted in an overall average consumption of 21.1mpg, but this was mainly hard-driving on back roads.

Given the Impreza-led 4x4 driving machine Subaru image, you'd expect the Tribeca to handle well. It uses an adapted version of the Legacy's 'symmetrical' all-wheel drive, set up for a sportier rearward bias with
45 per cent of the torque going to the front wheels and 55 per cent to the rear pair. However, sensors ensure torque distribution is altered front to rear in milliseconds, backed up by a sophisticated traction control system which operates only when needed — such as in sudden lane changes or when encountering slippery surfaces. Body roll — helped by the low centre of gravity provided by the low-mounted, all-aluminium boxer engine — is well restrained and doesn't hinder a lively driving style.

The weighting of the speed-sensitive power steering is sufficiently good to ensure the Tribeca changes direction precisely and with minimal inertia; although more sporting drivers might prefer a dash more bite. Visibility out is good and the Tribeca is easy to place. Show it a snaking road glistening with fresh rain and it is eager enough to remind you that it comes from the same family as the Impreza. The firm but well set-up damping ensures a good accord between comfortable ride quality and composed sporty handling and progress is smooth on most UK road surfaces. Cruising at fast motorway speeds, the Tribeca tracks true and is reassuringly stable.

The brakes are more than up to the job of stopping the Tribeca, thanks to large ventilated discs all round and helped by the fat 255/55 Good-year Eagle tyres that provide their fair share of grip. ABS is, naturally, standard; as is Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Brake Assist, as well as a sophisticated traction control system. Overall, and from behind the leather-rimmed multi-function steering wheel, this all-new SUV from Subaru is definitely one of the more enjoyable of its kind to drive.

For the record, and despite the permanent all-wheel drive, the Tribeca is not, nor is it intended to be, a full-blown 4x4. Like Audi's quattro-equipped models, The Tribeca's all-wheel drive is there for all-weather road grip and safety. As a crossover SUV, it's not designed to go seriously off-road — although its 213mm ground clearance, combined with the four-wheel drive, does mean it's happy to cross the odd muddy field or rocky surface. It will also tow a braked 2,000kg.

Even at 34K, the range-topping SE7 offers a lot for your money. Okay, so there's no diesel option — not everybody is a convert! — but the Tribeca is versatile, good-looking and spacious. It's also well kitted-out, enjoyable to drive and interesting enough to be a genuine alternative to the petrol-engined rivals from BMW (X5), Volvo (XC90) and Nissan (Murano). For Subaru customers currently driving four/five seat models but who want more seats or additional and versatile load space, the Tribeca is a very welcome newcomer.

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Subaru B9 Tribeca SE7 | 33,995
Maximum speed: 121mph | 0-60mph: 9.3 seconds
Overall test MPG: 21.1mpg | Power: 241bhp | Torque: 219lb ft

CO2 291g/km | VED Band G 300
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