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First drive: Subaru B9 Tribeca



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Asked to list the key selling points for the new B9 Tribeca SUV, Subaru UK managing director Peter Kinnaird emphasizes on-the-road driving performance, safety, traction and grip. “There’s no compromise,” he adds.

Retailers, looking to sell 1,000 units next year, will need to get prospective buyers behind the wheel – and away from the external styling – as quickly as possible to test these selling points.

At first glance, Tribeca’s look could most kindly be referred to as individual. The aggressive ‘chin out’ front styling and goggle eyes put the car in the Cayenne school of styling – but, of course, without Porsche’s brand appeal.

At the rear, clashing angles sit uneasily on the eye. It leaves Tribeca in the wake of rivals Murano and RX.

Step inside, however, and what a difference. The internal design has rightly won awards in the USA, where Tribeca has been on sale since last year.

The innovative symmetrical layout and curved lines are well thought out, functional, create open space and stand out among its rivals. Subaru should’ve discarded the cheap plastic, however.

Key features include rear vision camera, sliding centre seats, dual-zone aircon and nine-speaker audio system.

The seats – leather on SE and above – offer good support, while head and legroom space is outstanding. Subaru calls the car a five- plus two-seat layout; as such, the flat-folding sixth and seventh seats, available only on the £33,995 top specification, sit low in the floor and are best used for short journeys or by children.

The seven-seat version is likely to account for 40% of sales and will hold the stronger residual values, with the rest of the volume split between the five-seat £28,995 entry ‘cloth-trim’ S and £31,995 SE.

The pricing puts Tribeca against Lexus RX and Nissan Murano, which is slightly cheaper like-for-like. Subaru is also looking to lure away buyers from BMW X5, Volvo XC90 and Land Rover’s sector leading Discovery.

“We expect the B9 to have a positive affect on dealers’ profits. It is a more expensive car in our range with bigger gross margins, which we would expect them to retain,” says Kinnaird.

However, it will be another 18 months at least before the Tribeca gets a diesel engine – by far the most popular choice for this type of model. Dealers will have to rely on the 3.0-litre Boxer engine taken from the Outback. It’s a solid performer, though a little under-powered in this car (see behind the wheel).

Subaru is making a big effort to push the brand into the premium segment. It believes the Tribeca, named after an upmarket area in New York, is the next step to achieving this ambition.

Although points are lost on looks, the company’s flagship car has enough innovation to appeal – it should find its 1,000 buyers with only minimal discounting.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Behind the wheel

Ride comfort is outstanding with the pliable suspension cushioning pot holes but tightening for the twisty bits.

The 3.0-litre Boxer horizontally-opposed engine provides a low centre of gravity, so the car sits flat when cornering – it’s better than most rivals.

The engine lets it down a little. Its power peak is high at 6,600rpm, which means sluggish pull in low gears.

The light steering is not engaging and the car is no more involving to drive than, say, Murano or RX. But it is grippy, thanks to all-wheel drive, and doesn’t induce heart flutters if cornering speeds are misjudged.

Price: £28,995-33,995
Engine: 3.0-litre Boxer 242bhp @ 6,600rpm, 219lb ft @ 4,200rpm
Transmission: five-speed automatic
Performance: 0-62mph 9.7sec; top speed 121mph
Efficiency: 23mpg; 291g/km CO2
Rivals: Nissan Murano, Lexus RX, Volvo XC90, BMW X5
Strengths: Internal design, space
Weaknesses: Looks, underpowered
Opportunities: New segment for dealers, move Subaru brand upmarket
Threat: Established competitors
USP: Individual looking SUV

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