Subaru has earned its reputation by offering reliable station wagons with all-weather capability, but recently had to watch loyal customers shop elsewhere when their needs got bigger. Now the company's filled the gap. Subaru's new SUV, based on a stretched, widened version of the Legacy/Outback platform, is the B9 Tribeca.

The Tribeca is more crossover than off-roader, which puts it squarely in one of the hottest vehicle segments in the industry. The B9 has a unitized body and comes standard with five-passenger seating, or is available with a third-row option, with room for seven. Standard towing capacity is 2000 pounds, but an optional Class III hitch, stiffening the rear end, brings that up to 3500.

The Tribeca uses the Outback's 250-horse-power, 3.0-liter horizontally opposed flat-six. Its power is competitive with the MDX/Pilot, Murano, Touareg V-6, and X3/X5 3.0i I-6, but its 219 pound-feet of torque is the lowest of the group, save one. We like the five-speed automatic transmission as it seems programmed to squeeze everything out of the flat-six--on hard acceleration it holds gears close to redline. Around town, the B9 feels peppy and has a surprising amount of thrust off the line; however, it runs out of steam going up grades or when fully loaded with gear.

The independent suspension provides a comfortable ride, but the B9 can hold its own on canyon roads. The Tribeca has rack-and-pinion steering with variable power assist, which is responsive without being twitchy or feeling too light. As with all of its other vehicles, Subaru's all-wheel-drive system is standard, as are traction control, ABS, and four-wheel disc brakes.

Inside, the look is a little quirky with the curved center stack housing the HVAC controls and AM/FM/CD head unit. Space is plentiful in front, with excellent head- and legroom. The second row lacks some back and thigh support, but will be comfortable for most as the seats recline and slide forward and back up to eight inches. The third row is for small children only, and will require second-row passengers to slide the seat forward, thus drastically reducing legroom. And for big loads, both rear rows fold flat.

Subaru's first venture into the larger SUV (or is it a crossover wagon?) market is relatively bold, and we found it to be a conversation starter. Yes, the aircraft-inspired front end isn't for everyone, but don't let that scare you away--this vehicle is a lot of fun to drive and can make a daily commute more enjoyable, and, for the money, provides a lot of standard equipment and even a surprising amount of luxury.