Launched as a 2006 model, Subaru's B9 Tribeca had us scratching our collective heads. One name too many. Good looks too few. A 3.0-liter engine in a 3.5- to 4.0-liter world. Sales were tepid at best. Instead of letting this otherwise worthy crossover twist in the wind, the company acknowledged its misstep in record time and bucked up for a substantial round of fixes. The result now puts the Tribeca squarely in the game.

Gone is the "B9" piece of its moniker, so it's just Tribeca now. Gone too is the strange, aero-inspired visage. The nose job resulted in a face some call too generic ("Chrysler? Kia? What is that?"), but it's clean and pleasant-looking. The tushy tuck is an unquestioned improvement. Tribeca's revised D-pillar and rear-window design looks nicer, too, and help aid driving, as do larger, reshaped rearview mirrors.

A new-from-scratch 3.6-liter flat-six underhood is at least as significant as the plastic surgery. Horsepower increases by 11, but it's the 32-pound-foot jump in torque that moves the needle - and the vehicle. We haven't run test numbers yet, but midrange and passing power feel stronger. The B9 version was strained when fully loaded, and the richer torque curve will help that as well. What makes the bigger motor such an achievement is that it produces the extra power and torque on regular gas, while the less gruntworthy 3.0-liter demanded premium - all with no decrease in EPA mileage ratings. A revised five-speed automatic transmission offers nifty throttle blips during manual downshifts, quicker shifting response, and less hunting between ratios. Increased third-row-seat access, a new 18-inch wheel design, upgraded nav software, the addition of Sirius and XM Satellite Radio prewiring, and a few other detail refinements round out the changes.

The Tribeca drives much as it did before, which is to say nice, although quicker and more communicative steering would be welcome. But it's now competitive with the rest of the segment. Different is often good, but in this case, a bit more mainstream likely will result in wider appeal and stronger sales.



2008 Subaru Tribeca
Base price $31,000-$35,000 (est)
Vehicle layout Front engine, AWD, 5/7-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 3.6L/256-hp/247-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve flat-6
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb weight 4150-4200 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 108.2 in
Length x width x height 191.5 x 73.9 x 66.4 in
0-60 mph 8.2 sec (mfr est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 18/23 mpg*
On sale in U.S. Currently
*16/21 mpg according to 2008 standards