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2011 Subaru Tribeca: Practicality goes upscale

More urban than country, but still loaded with value
by: Patrick Cote, Subaru's entry in the upscale crossover field, the Tribeca mixes  
practicality and premium touches at an affordable price.

Since it was first introduced in 2006, the Tribeca has always been the odd duck in the Subaru lineup. While the base versions of the rest of the company's vehicles stress affordable practicality, even the entry-level Tribeca strives towards sophistication.

Rather than trying to appeal to the outdoor-minded like most of the other models, the Tribeca is named after a neighborhood in New York. In fact, the original name was B9 Tribeca, which sounded like a film festival. And the cozy wrap-around dash is more about driving to a nice restaurant than catching your own dinner.

But because the Tribeca is a Subaru, it is still practical. Like all the other company vehicles, it comes standard with Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive, greatly improving traction in wet-weather conditions. It also has enough ground clearance to easily conquer poorly maintained and rutted streets. It is not as off-road ready as the Outback, though, which is better designed for back roads and dirt trails.

The Tribeca was not intended to compete against other Subarus, however. It was designed to compete against the other mid-size crossovers with premium touches out there. Against this field, the Tribeca offers contemporary styling, good power, a smooth ride and seating for seven at a reasonable price - beginning at just over $30,000 and topping out about $6,000 more fully loaded, including heated front leather seats, a superb 10-speaker Harmon/Kardon stereo, a navigation system and back-up camera.

Subaru considers the combination so successful that the Tribeca has undergone few changes over the past five years. The original grill - which resembled those on older Alfa Romeos - was soon replaced with a more conventional one. The 3.0-liter flat six was replaced with a more powerful 3.6-liter version in 2008. The suspension, sound and navigation systems have been tweaked over time. And interior was slightly redesigned and upgraded this year.

As a result, although the 2011 Tribeca looks pretty much the same as the last few years, it drives, handles and simply feels better. The 256-horsepower flat six moves the Tribeca swiftly off the line and through traffic, including freeway traffic. The ride is nimble, with body roll being reasonable for such a tall vehicle. The interior is quiet and looks well put together. The control knobs and buttons are easy to read and use. And the optional leather seats in our test vehicle were both comfortable and supportive.

The Tribeca is one of the few mid-size crossovers to offer a third row of seats. Like the others, it is relatively tight and most suitable for children on short trips, but at least it's there. When the third seat is folded down, cargo space is more than respectable.

On the outside, the Tribeca is attractive but somewhat generic, resembling more expensive mid-size crossovers from some other Japanese manufacturers. Sporty touches include a wide air dam, low halogen fog lights, 18-inch alloy wheels and an integrated rear spoiler. A built-in roof rack reinforces its practical side.

The Tribeca is not aimed a typical Subaru buyers. Both the Forester and Outback offer impressive interior room, cargo space and even better off-road capabilities. But the Tribeca is a good value for those who want more style, luxury and seating capacity, while still retaining the practicality of the company's acclaimed all-wheel-drive system.

• Model: 2011 Tribeca.

• Manufacturer: Subaru.

• Class: Mid-size crossover.

• Layout: Front engine, all-wheel-drive (as tested).

• Style: Five door, five or seven-passenger SUV.

• Engines: 3.6-liter horizontally-opposed 6 (256 hp).

• Transmissions: Five-speed automatic with manual shift mode.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 16/21.

• Price: Beginning at approximately $31,000 ($36,920 as tested).