We’ve been us­ing trucks for seven-up mo­tor­ing for too long; the all-wheel-drive Tribeca is a far bet­ter fam­ily bet, says But it costs.

DAVE MOORE.

Kapi-Mana News - - MOTORING -

Of course that’s only true if you have $70,000 or there­abouts to play with. But when you see so many toplevel Pra­dos, Pa­jeros and Dis­cov­erys about at school drop-off time, with stick­ers rang­ing from $85 to $157k, such a bud­get is not un­rea­son­able.

A few days with Subaru’s oft­for­got­ten six-cylin­der cross­over-cum MPV, the Tribeca, il­lus­trates just how ef­fec­tive a ve­hi­cle can be when it’s de­signed for peo­ple rather than merely tough ter­rain we may never try to ac­cess.

The Tribeca gets its name from the arty-crafty New York area known as ‘‘The Tri­an­gle, Be­low Canal street’’ – where trendies gather and im­press each other.

The car com­petes with two other three-row seven-seaters with six­cylin­der power: the Aus­tralian Ford Ter­ri­tory, which spreads from $60k to $70k in all-wheel-driven spec, and the Mazda CX-9, which in sin­gle spec­i­fi­ca­tion asks $60k and like the Tribeca was de­signed to meet the needs of the United States mar­ket more than any other.

It’s a mar­ket that wants seven-seat lux­ury, agility close to that of a pas­sen­ger car and enough space for a grow­ing fam­ily.

We’ve never liked prac­ti­cal cars in New Zealand, pos­si­bly pre­fer­ring less com­fort­able hunter-gath­erer high-rise truck-based SUVS in­stead, even though our off-road­ing sel­dom ex­tends much fur­ther than a carpark ramp. Which is why cars like Tribeca and the CX-9 are rel­a­tively un­com­mon here.

The Tribeca has been avail­able since 2006, first ar­riv­ing with a clock­stop­pingly ugly three-slot grille and a en­gine very low on torque and a lit­tle too prone to rev.

Since then a cleaner body de­sign and a sim­pler grille has sorted the looks, and for our test, Subaru threw on a nice set of al­loy wheels, turn­ing our dark blue eval­u­a­tion ve­hi­cle into some­thing of a fam­ily stealth cruiser.

Most age-groups ap­proved of this, though the firmer ride qual­ity is a com­pro­mise – the stan­dard car has higher-pro­file wheels and tyres and rides a tad more com­fort­ably.

A new 3.6-litre power unit has in­vested the car with the kind of flex­i­bil­ity and re­fined progress the early model didn’t have and a 5-speed adap­tive elec­tronic di­rect­con­trol au­to­matic trans­mis­sion with man­ual shift mode al­lows you to ei­ther drive how you want to, or, with the help of cruise con­trol, to merely set and for­get.

Fuel con­sump­tion is rated at a com­bined 11.6L/100km. I saw a lit­tle bet­ter than that with­out try­ing to hard, and would ex­pect feather footed driv­ers to man­aged to slot into the 10L bracket.

The car is well-suited to New Zealand traf­fic pat­terns in the city and on the open road, the im­proved torque pro­vides suf­fi­cient punch with­out re­sort to too much kick­down for most sit­u­a­tions, though I’d have liked to have six-speeds for a wider spread and a longer cruis­ing gait, some­thing most cars of­fer when you spend this kind of money.

While Subaru is fa­mous for its of­froad en­gi­neer­ing, don’t think of the Tribeca as an SUV in the trail­blaz­ing sense. It doesn’t have the ground­clear­ance for se­ri­ous off-road­ing, but most in this bracket don’t have to ne­go­ti­ate more than forestry trails and gravel roads.

The car’s all-wheel drive sys­tem should be re­garded as a safety at­tribute rather than a pass­port to in­trepid week­ends in the bush. The way the all-fours set-up bal­ances and keeps the car neatly placed on gravel is a good in­di­ca­tion of what it can do, with its axle to axle torque dis­tri­bu­tion. When a wet-leaf lined round­about comes your way, you’ll be glad of the Tribeca’s com­bi­na­tion of trac­tion and rel­a­tively low cen­tre of grav­ity rather than that of a truck.

On the safety side, the Tribeca re­flects the US ob­ses­sion with tick­ing all the boxes. It has twostage front airbags, side-cur­tain airbags, rollover sen­sors, vari­able torque dis­tri­bu­tion for the all-wheeldrive sys­tem, stan­dard ve­hi­cle dy­nam­ics con­trol, a trac­tion con­trol sys­tem, a tire pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem and of course ABS.

The sole choice Tribeca R Pre­mium model in New Zealand is well loaded with equip­ment, with three-tem­per­a­ture heated front seats, flat-fold­ing seats in the sec­ond and third rows, 3-stage two-zone au­to­matic cli­mate con­trol, a glass/ shade power sun­roof pack­age, satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion, a rear-vi­sion cam­era and a rear seat 9 inch screen DVD en­ter­tain­ment set-up.

Accommodation’s good, and un­like many truck-based of­fer­ings, the rear­most pair of seats is not of the padded lap­top va­ri­ety, but al­most full-sized items, ob­vi­ously de­signed for big Amer­i­can kids, and able to be used by adults too.

How­ever, when all seven seats are oc­cu­pied, you can only re­ally take soft bag­gage with you, though when the rear places are folded away, the vol­ume is more than use­ful.

Mid­dle-row seat­ing is wide enough for three and of­fers ex­cel­lent leg room, even when the front seats are pow­ered back for taller oc­cu­pants. The front pair of chairs, ev­i­dently con­trived to cos­set the back­sides of full-sized oc­cu­pants from the land of the burger and hot dog, are like well-de­signed arm­chairs, set be­hind a dou­blesweep of dash that looks not in­ap­pro­pri­ately, like a par­ody of a stylised Mcdon­ald’s ‘M’.

These heated and pow­ered chairs are ter­rific on a long drive and while they don’t ex­actly grip you like a rac­ing bucket, they didn’t cause my time-rav­aged back a sin­gle twinge.

Although the big­ger di­als and switches are easy to see and use, those buttons on the dash’s met­allised sur­faces had printed in­struc­tions that of­ten be­came in­vis­i­ble in the glare of sun­light.

Apart from a thick pil­lar to get used to when wait­ing for peo­ple com­ing to­wards you from the left – some­thing we’re more con­scious of these days and that tight load space when trav­el­ling seven-up – I couldn’t pick many holes in the Tribeca.

It’s a re­fresh­ingly re­fined and well­sorted multi-seater, with loads of equip­ment. How­ever, by my cal­cu­la­tions, I reckon it’s about $10,000 too ex­pen­sive.

In­clud­ing ship­ping and fac­tor­ing in ex­change rates, I can’t see how its US sticker of $30,595 trans­lates into al­most $70,000, es­pe­cially when the com­pany’s Im­preza costs from $18,000 in the US and trans­lates to $34,990 in New Zealand.

Where there’s a wheel: Once an ugly duck­ling, Subaru’s seven-seat Tribeca has been restyled into a real swan, and an af­ter-mar­ket set of wheels helps too.

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