There's nothing wrong with a vehicle having personality--but you don't want it to make you cringe. This is the controversy surrounding the B9 Tribeca. Subaru has found success by thinking differently and incorporating unique styling into its cars. Remember the Brat? The SVX? Its new, three-row-seat, crossover sport/utility is attractive, inside and--mostly--out.

It makes sense for a company that's earned a solid reputation for its wagons to offer a larger sport/utility--especially to accommodate Subaru loyalists who've outgrown their Outbacks. Subaru's first, the Tribeca, rides on a stretched and widened variant of the Legacy and Outback platform. It can seat five or seven passengers and comes in regular or Limited trim levels for each configuration.

The Tribeca also shares the Outback's 3.0-liter horizontally opposed flat-six, with 250 horsepower and 219 pound-feet of torque. This engine's power ratings are consistent with a competitor base that includes the Nissan Murano, Acura MDX/Honda Pilot, Volkswagen Touareg V6, and BMW X3/X5 3.0i. While the Subaru's horsepower exceeds all but that of the MDX and Pilot, its torque output is lower than every one except the X3's--and that six's peak twist is available at lower rpm. Its 8.9-second 0-to-60 time is comparable with vehicles in its class, but it's only faster to 60 than the 2.5-liter X3, which gets there in 9.8--though the Subaru's five-speed automatic transmission proves an excellent dance partner. It's programmed to squeeze every drop out of the flat-six, and under hard acceleration holds gears until near redline, making for a fun-to-drive combination. The B9 feels peppier around town than many of its competitors and has a surprising amount of thrust off the line. It doesn't run out of steam until it's going up grades, fully loaded with gear.

Adding to the fun is a well-tuned independent suspension, with MacPherson struts and lower L-arms in front and a double-wishbone setup with separate coilover springs in the rear. Subaru gave this crossover a ride that Grandma won't complain about, yet made sure it would hold its own on canyon roads. The B9 has rack-and-pinion steering with variable power assist; it's responsive without being twitchy or feeling too light. As with all its other models, Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel drive is standard and works in conjunction with vehicle dynamics control and stability control. Traction control is standard on all Tribecas, as are four-wheel disc brakes and four-sensor, four-channel ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution.

Every B9 also comes with tire-pressure monitoring, dual-stage and seat-mounted side-impact airbags in front, and side curtain airbags for the first and second rows. Three-point seatbelts with pretensioners and force limiters are at every seating position. The unibody construction uses high-tension steel beams and impact-absorbing foam, and the Ring Frame reinforced structure, which forms a series of rings around the cabin, has a hydroformed subframe.

The cabin resembles an airplane cockpit, with the driver and front passenger separated by the wraparound center console. Thin, brushed-aluminum accents start at the doors and run along the dash, dividing the black dashboard from the beige bottom panels. The aluminum section widens and continues to the curved center stack, which houses the HVAC controls, AM/FM/CD head unit, and shifter.

Above the center stack is the information screen, also used by the optional touchscreen navigation system. Whether or not the vehicle's equipped with nav, the screen can display fuel consumption and A and B trip meters (and each one's distance, time, and average fuel use) and allows you to store that information. It also features a maintenance section as well as a calculator and calendar. Optional rear-seat entertainment comes with a nine-inch flipdown screen mounted in the headliner, a wireless remote, and a set of wireless headphones for each second-row passenger. Behind the left second-row seat is a set of inputs for a video-game console or video camera.

Interior space is plentiful in the front row, with excellent head- and legroom. The second row, though lacking lateral and thigh support, is comfortable for most. The seats recline and can slide up to eight inches, and each of the three passengers has his own headrest. The third row can snugly seat two small adults. The second and third rows fold flat when cargo's the priority. While the B9's roof is stepped, providing enough headroom in every row, the third row is better suited for children.

Subaru's first venture into the sport/utility market is bold, stylish, and a good conversation-starter. The face isn't for everyone, but it's the driving experience that counts, and Subaru's done an excellent job keeping it sporty enough to make the daily commute more enjoyable. Its starting price of $31,320--making it the most expensive Subaru to date--does offer a lot of standard equipment in base configuration. Even the top-line seven-passenger Limited costs less than almost all its rivals' top models and has rear-seat DVD entertainment and a navigation system. If you enjoy spirited driving and need more room for kids and cargo, the Tribeca should have a place on your short list.

Lack of Conformity
Subaru looked to its own history for design inspiration: Fuji Heavy Industries, the parent company, has built aircraft since the early 1900s, a tradition that continues to this day. (It's currently a supplier of air frames for Boeing.) While this is the first production model for the American market with the new Subaru front end, Japan has seen this face on the company's R1 and R2 microcars. It's likely to spread from there: We hear the new front end will go on vehicles that suit it, but it won't necessarily be plastered on every Subaru.

2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca
General
Location of final assembly Lafayette, Indiana
Body style Four-door, 5/7-pass SUV
EPA size class Sport/utility
Drivetrain layout Front engine, AWD
Airbags Dual front, front side, side curtain
Powertrain
Engine type F-6, alum block/heads
Bore x stroke, in 3.51 x 3.15
Displacement, ci/L 183/3.0
Compression ratio 10.7:1
Valve gear DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Fuel induction Sequential multiport fuel injection
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 250 @ 6600
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 219 @ 4200
Transmission type 5-speed automatic
1st 3.84:1
2nd 2.35:1
3rd 1.53:1
4th 1.00:1
5th 0.84:1
Reverse 2.77:1
Axle ratio 3.58:1
Final-drive ratio 3.00:1
Recommended fuel Premium unleaded
Dimensions/Capacities
Wheelbase, in 108.2
Length, in 189.8
Width, in 83.4
Height, in 66.5
Track, f/r, in 62.2/62.1
Headroom, f/m/r, in 38.9/38.2/38.2
Legroom, f/m/r, in 42.3/34.3/30.9
Shoulder room, f/m/r, in 58.1/57.5/51.3
Total cargo area volume, cu ft 74.4
3rd row, seat up 8.3
3rd row, seat down 37.6
Ground clearance, in 8.4
Approach/departure angle, deg 18.0/21.1
Load lift height, in 29.2
Curb weight, lb 4251 (MT)
Payload capacity, lb 1250
GVWR, lb 5500
GCWR, lb 9000
Max towing capacity, lb 3500
Fuel capacity, gal 16.9
Chassis
Suspension, f/r MacPherson strut, lower L-arms, stabilizer bar/double wishbone, coil-over springs, stabilizer bar
Steering type Rack-and-pinion
Ratio 18.0:1
Turns, lock to lock 3.44
Turning circle, ft 37.4
Brakes, f/r Power-assisted disc/power-assisted disc, 4WABS
Wheels 18x8.0-in alum alloy
Tires 255/55R18 Goodyear Eagle LS2
Load rating 104H
Performance
Acceleration, sec
0-30 3.2
0-40 4.8
0-50 6.8
0-60 8.9
0-70 11.9
0-80 15.8
0-90 20.1
Standing quarter-mile, sec @ mph 16.7 @ 84.1
Braking, 60-0, ft 124
Lateral acceleration, g 0.78
Speed through 600-ft slalom, mph 61.2
EPA fuel economy (city/hwy) 18/23
Price
Base price $31,320
Options Third row, nav, rear-seat DVD entertainment
Price as tested $38,320

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