One could be charitable in describing the look of the new 2006 Subaru Tribeca SUV by calling it distinctive, or interesting.
Or, one could try to be nice in describing it as not the best-looking of the Subaru line-up.
Or, more entertainingly, one could surmise that the Tribeca's designers came up with such a distinctive and interesting look by beating the modeling clay with an ugly stick. Or that the Tribeca is the kind of SUV other cars hang out with to make themselves look prettier. Or....
Well, you get the idea.
I say this as someone who has expressed a certain fondness in the past for Subaru's function-before-form designs -- the ugliness of Subarus such as the Baja, the Forrester and the Impreza WRX was an intrinsic part of those cars' quirky charm.
But at some point a line is crossed and you get the Tribeca, a charmless attempt to expand the Subaru line-up into the SUV market.
The new upside-down snout has been on the Subaru horizon for awhile now, a new badge that will unify the brand's look. And while initially, at least, the new grille lends the Impreza an impressive new look, it leaves the Tribeca with a bad case of fish mouth. Unfortunately, the Tribeca doesn't get any better looking from behind, where the clunky lines and high-tailgate create a clumsy, top-heavy appearance.
It would be nice if one could take refuge in the aphorism, ''It's what's on the inside that counts.'' Unfortunately, things don't get that much better once you climb inside. The Tribeca tries very, very hard to present a cool, fashionable and modern interior, with lots of faux-brushed-aluminum, swoopy curves and forced symmetry. It's a little too Star Trek for 2006.
One bright spot on the Tribeca's too-short list of postive attributes is the handling. As you'd expect from a Subaru, the all-wheel drive system and well-tuned suspension offer a stable and fairly enjoyable driving experience.
Detracting from that, however, is the rough automatic transmission that makes every gear shift a race to the redline on the tachometer. Sure, you can tame the Tribeca somewhat by switching gears yourself with the available SportShift, but it's reasonable to expect that an automatic transmission work correctly on its own. It's kind of the point, after all.
Although the Tribeca offers a fair amount of comfort for the driver, it can't reasonably be described as spacious. In fact, the Tribeca can be downright cramped if you fill it with full-grown adults. One of Subaru's big selling points is the Tribeca's third-row seating, which technically brings the seating capacity up to 7 passengers.
Well, that depends on the passengers. Five adults aren't going to be happy about squeezing themselves into the back rows, and a gaggle of larger kids will probably balk as well.
If you're a pioneering member of the gay baby boom looking for a vehicle to haul your kids and their friends from ball games to music lessons to the mall and back, then you really should be looking at any of the multitude of minivans out there that offer far more flexibility than the Tribeca (or most other SUVs, for that matter). Not every SUV has to be converted into a personal short bus so insecure, primarily male buyers can avoid driving a soccer-mom minivan.
If you're not a gayby boomer and simply want an effective mode of transportation for yourself, some occasional friends and a fair amount of your belongings, here's a suggestion: Go test drive the Subaru Outback. It's got room for adults, plenty of cargo capacity, a transmission that's both sporty and manageable, and a design that's easy on the eyes. And it's even prettier when it's sitting next to a Tribeca.