2010 Subaru Tribeca review

Vehicles take years to create.

Unlike newspapers, which can create a new front page in the time it takes to reset a ripped paper roll, cars and trucks don't magically transform themselves during the same edition.

That might explain why Subaru, one of hottest carmakers in America, and one of the few to show an increase in sales last year, recently launched the 2010 Subaru Tribeca Touring. Back when this vehicle was under development, gas prices had yet to spike to $100 a gallon and the economy had yet to bottom out. At least I hope that's the case.

In 2007, when the Tribeca received its massive makeover, someone must have come up with the idea of a top-of-the-line Touring model.

Introducing an SUV with a combined mileage under 20 and a starting price tag over $36,000 must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

How times have changed. The Tribeca Touring was outdated even before it arrived. The big body, once considered spacious, is now cumbersome. The multi-terrain capable all-wheel drive is just rough. The inconspicuous styling is just boring, but that was true before.

It looks like any other run-of-the-mill SUV, and big and bulky have already fallen out of favor with consumers. After the superb Legacy, Outback and ever-capable Forester, Subaru was due for a dud.

The Tribeca Touring may have a gutsy little engine, and it is still fun to drive, but it's as exciting as a bag of rock salt in the summer. It has a purpose; it's just the wrong time. Bulky, but powerful

But first, the good news: The 3.6-liter Boxer engine is very responsive. The 256-horsepower engine creates 247 pound-feet of torque to help this heavy SUV (it weighs 4,256 pounds) merge on highways easily and tear down any city street. The all-wheel drive system also helps keep this lug rolling.

The all-wheel drive system remains one of the best around and explains why every Subaru sold comes with it. The Tribeca splits its power 45 to 55 percent with a rear axle bias, which adds to the sporty feel when you're on the road. Add to that an independent suspension, and the Tribeca, despite feeling more like a true highway cruiser, can handle itself off-road, as well.

Now some bad news: The ride remains harsh and noisy no matter what surface you're driving on.

The five-speed automatic transmission, which is smooth and responsive to aggressive or mild driving, remains one gear short of a modern vehicle.

The exterior looks outdated, and it's only 3 years old. The 2007 Tribeca may have been homely -- what with the triple grille fascia and sharp headlights cutting into the hood -- but at least it had some character. Now, the Touring adopts the much more staid and flat front end with a single grille stretched across its face and rectangle headlights. Before it was the Lady Gaga, now it's the Grey Lady.

The sides of the Tribeca add lots of sheet metal and a rising belt line that was stylish a few years ago but now seems garish. Really, there's nothing that stands out with the Tribeca's dated exterior. Its proportions focus on the pudgy midsection. Its roof line recedes the farther back it goes. It could be a middle aged man if it didn't rest on 18-inch wheels.

If the design needed a headline it would be simple: Zzzzzzzzzzzz. Lots of room, features

Despite my displeasure with the vehicle's exterior, I found the interior quite accommodating. Of course, this typically happens with top-of-the-line, fully loaded vehicles. As the top-end Tribeca, the Touring comes as loaded as an overworked office at an open bar Christmas party.

The twin cockpit design flows nicely in easy moving curves traced in aluminum trim. The two-tone color adds depth and a sophisticated look. The front leather seats are comfortable and come with two memory positions that keep different drivers happy. The seats offer lots of space, and heat comes standard -- a feature that every vehicle should include in Michigan.

Other standard features include: dual climate controls, an auxiliary air conditioning system for the second and third rows, 385-watt harman/kardon stereo, XM satellite radio and Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity. There's also an auto-dimming rear view mirror that shields your eyes to bright lights behind you and has become a favored feature I always forget to notice until I don't have it.

The deep-set optional navigation system is easy to use, though the touch screen feels a little out of reach for most people. If you're the type of person who programs the navigation system before leaving the driveway, this system works great. If you're the type who tries to program it at stop lights, it's a little more difficult. Included in the system is a back-up camera and optional reverse assist sensors that beep faster as you approach an object.

If you need a second-row entertainment system, Subaru offers a 9-inch wide LCD screen and DVD player for movies. There are also inputs for a video game system or a video camera -- allowing kids the chance to see home movies before they even get home.

While the second row is roomy, the third row looks pointless. If you put a dog back there, you might end up on "Animal Cops" facing cruelty charges. On paper, it reads well: 30.9 inches of legroom, 43.3 inches of hip room and 36.2 inches of head room. But climbing into the third row is difficult. In reality, you can squeeze a gym in there, but it would be difficult to reach. I'd suggest removing the third row to take advantage of the space. If the third row is folded down, the Tribeca Touring has 37.6 cubic feet of cargo room; if the third row is up, there's only 8.3 cubic feet.

But that suggestion only comes if I were to recommend the Tribeca Touring, which I can't.

The Tribeca Touring may be capable, but it's also overpriced in comparison to other seven-passenger vehicles. With a starting price tag at over $36,000, there are a lot more vehicles you can get for a lot less. And if you consider a crossover, such as the Chevy Traverse, you'll find more space, more flexibility and a more stylish vehicle.

Every vehicle has its time. And despite Subaru's success, the time for the Tribeca Touring should have never arrived.

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