Back in 2008, Subaru sought to breathe life into its slow-selling Tribeca premium SUV by subjecting it to a massive external facelift and replacing its original 3-litre engine with a larger, more powerful 190kW/350Nm 3.6-litre unit.
Four years on, the Tribeca remains a niche seller: just 42 were delivered in New Zealand in 2011, down from 56 the year before. By way of comparison, Subaru sells 10 times as many Legacy Outbacks and the Tribeca is outsold 20 to 1 by its most obvious rival, the Ford Territory.
Perhaps it is not surprising that a vehicle named after a neighbourhood in downtown Manhattan has struggled to fire up the Kiwi motorist. On the other hand, with full-time all-wheel drive, a standard seven-seater configuration, and the well- respected Subaru name behind it, the Tribeca should not be short of appeal here.
An excuse for Drivesouth to reacquaint itself with the machine was provided courtesy of a relatively minor upgrade for 2012. Leather remains the upholstery of choice in a cabin that is better finished than before.
An excellent nine-speaker surround-sound audio system and standard roof-mounted DVD player, large power sunroof, dual-zone climate with a separate rear-seat control and cruise control are also retained on the manifest, joined now by satellite navigation and Bluetooth connectivity.
Then there were the non-standard wheels fitted to the test car: goodbye standard 18-inch alloys shod with 255/45 tyres, and hello 20-inch specials with a dark metallic finish and 255/45 tyres.
Does the Tribeca need these wider, lower-profile tyres and larger wheels?
Assuredly not. But do they give it a substantial visual lift?
Assuredly yes. To my mind they are among the nicest-looking wheels I have seen on a test car this year, and they lift the Tribeca from the status of a fairly plain looker to quite a slick machine. The wheels and tyres do reinforce the Tribeca's status as a soft-road rather than off-road SUV and add
a little jiggle to its normally adequate ride. That said, overall, it remains a thoroughly competent open-road steer.
With its three rows of seats (the rears being kid-sized, for sure) and heated front seats, it is also an obvious choice for the skifield run, at least for those who live close to the slopes.
For the rest of us, the fact the only engine on offer is a fairly thirsty petrol one is bound to count as a minus. Just think what's changed since 2008: petrol prices are higher than ever and, crucially, diesel now features under the bonnet of the Territory, and other likely alternatives too.
All of which leaves the Tribeca awkwardly placed, with an update adding items to the standard equipment list that are certainly must-haves by current luxury SUV standards, but which does not deal with what is now, in the larger SUV class, the fairly fundamental handicap of petrol power.
A nice set of wheels, though.
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