A lot happened in the four years since we last drove the second-generation Subaru Tribeca. Two new countries declared sovereignty, more than 40,000 species were discovered, and an exuberant Antoine Dodson rose to YouTube fame in mere days. But unlike the ever-evolving globe it traverses, the 2011 Subaru Tribeca remains roughly the same mid-pack contender it was when it debuted as a 2006 model. And after a week behind its three-spoke wheel, we have a better understanding why.
But before all the juicy details are revealed, some important data must be considered. If an ever-changing lineup of contenders incuding the Toyota Highlander, Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, and Dodge Durango wasn't enough reason for a major mid-cycle revitalization, consider the Tribeca's sales figures.
Dealers moved 16,790 Tribecas in 2007, when a revamped model was introduced with a more efficient 3.6-liter flat-six, updated five-speed automatic, and a less offensive snout. A year later, that mark fell to 10,975 units. In 2009, sales dwindled to 5930 units. Last year, Subaru sold just 2472 Tribecas in the U.S. By comparison, industry giant Toyota sold 92,121 Highlanders. The good news for Subaru is the rest of its lineup is selling relatively well.
Subaru's product planners implemented a few packaging readjustments for the 2009 and 2010 model year Tribecas, which included dropping certain trim designations and establishing a standard seven-passenger seating configuration. The changes obviously have had little effect on sales.
Back to the juicy details. Looking at the mid-range 4219-pound Tribeca Limited, it's easy to mistake it for an overgrown Outback. Most staffers did. Since seeing a Tribeca "in the wild" is as rare as spotting a Yeti at the mall, a brief moment of surprise when encountering one is normal. This brings us to a major sticking point: its confusingly plain styling. It isn't unattractive, but it garners no second looks and even a few stern stares. No showiness, dynamic character lines, or bold wheel arches here.