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Subaru enters large SUV competition with B9 Tribeca

April 08, 2005|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

Whether bowing to outside pressure or finally seeing the light, Subaru is set to release the B9 Tribeca, its biggest passenger vehicle ever and its first dedicated sport-utility vehicle.

Why it has taken this niche-product Japanese automaker so long to join the sport-ute club is not a big mystery, but becoming a member does make good business sense. After all, Subaru's entire North American lineup consists of sedans and wagons featuring all-wheel drive and nothing but all-wheel drive. From the entry-level Impreza to the popular Outback series and everything in between, "Subies" have enjoyed a loyal following, particularly in areas where the weather and the roads call for an extra measure of agility during at least one out of the four seasons.

Until now, the Forester, a somewhat upright and tallish wagon, has been forced to play the sport-ute role. By the summer, however, the all-new B9 Tribeca gets the call to become Subaru's official off-roader.

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Products arriving late to this particular jamboree had better make plenty of waves to be noticed and the B9's creators are hoping that a combination of apart-from-the-pack looks and all-wheel-drive heritage will cause more than a few craniums to swivel and nod up and down in appreciation. The flush-mounted projector-style headlamps are positioned in stark contrast to the oddly shaped protruding grille, flanked by a pair of narrow air intake slits. Anyone familiar with the latest in European styling will notice a vague similarity between the B9's nose and the current crop of Alfa Romeo automobiles, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

The only other visual anomaly is a sharp crease that runs from the upper edge of the rear doors to the liftgate. The bulging fenders, must-have items on any self-respecting sport-ute, are put to good use containing the alloy-rimmed 18-inch rubber.

Dimensionally, the Indiana-built B9 Tribeca neatly fits in with a select group of premium off-road types, including the Acura MDX, Volvo XC90, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Volkswagen Touareg and BMW X5. However, note that the last three names on the list are designed to carry five passengers, while the Subaru can accommodate up to seven. In addition, the three-abreast second row can be adjusted fore and aft by up to eight inches, which is a real plus for third-row access and leg room.

In developing a vehicle as large as the B9, Subaru's designers drummed up an all-new platform 50 percent stiffer than that of the Outback. The double-wishbone rear suspension is also unique to this model, as is the B9's ability to tow up to 3,500 pounds.

Under the nose is a 250-horsepower 3.0-liter horizontally-opposed ("boxer") six-cylinder engine similar to the one available in the Outback. The motor is connected to a five-speed automatic transmission that includes a manual mode.

When traction is good, the standard all-wheel-drive setup has a slight power bias in favor of the rear wheels. According to Subaru, this optimizes handling. When traction becomes a problem, power is automatically dispersed to the wheels with the most grip.

Along with the usual assortment of standard and optional upscale content, the B9 Tribeca arrives with a healthy dose of safety accessories, such as side-impact and side-curtain air bags, anti-lock brakes, traction control and a tire-pressure monitor.

With sales of larger sport-utility vehicles slackening of late, there is one obvious question. Will the B9 Tribeca make enough of a buzz to woo buyers into the Subaru camp?

Only time - and a taste for what appears to be increasing popularity for all things Subaru - will tell.

Copyright 2005, Wheelbase Communications

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