Special Coverage

logoNew York Int’l Auto Show

NEW YORK – Responding to complaints of a polarizing design, Subaru of America Inc. takes the wraps off of its refreshed Tribeca cross/utility vehicle at the international auto show here.

Set to go on sale early this summer, the new Tribeca loses the previous-generation’s Italian-inspired nose. The new grille, which is wider and taller than on the current B9 Tribeca, sits on an entirely new front end that also boasts a raised hood and new fenders.

The rear of the vehicle is all new, with a revised rear-quarter panel design, Tom Doll, executive vice president-SOA, says.

The ’08 Tribeca is powered by a new 3.6L H-6 engine making 256 hp, an increase from the previous generation’s 215-hp 3.0L. Torque is rated at 247 lb.-ft. (335 Nm) vs. 215 lb.-ft. (291 Nm) in the outgoing model.

Although more powerful, the new mill helps the Tribeca achieve a 5%-10% savings in real-world fuel economy, Doll says, adding regular-grade fuel now is recommended instead of premium.

Subaru didn’t change the vehicle’s interior, as customer response has been positive. However, the auto maker did improve access to the optional third row.

Second-row seats get a tilt-and-slide control on driver and passenger sides and an assist spring is added to make the seats easier to slide, Subaru says.

“Our biggest challenge is getting people to know about Tribeca,” Doll says, adding the CUV has the lowest name recognition of all Subaru models.

Since its sales launch in May 2005, the auto maker only has sold 35,000 Tribecas in the U.S., far below initial production expectations of 26,000 units annually at the auto maker’s Lafayette, IN, plant.

Doll emphasizes the “U.S. market is critical” for Subaru. He says Subaru expects to sell 230,000 units annually by 2010, up 15% from 2006’s tally.

Pricing for the ’08 Tribeca will begin under $30,000, he says. While the ’07 Tribeca starts at $29,995 sans destination and handling charges, the ’06 model began at slightly more than $30,000.

A company spokeswoman declines to divulge sales targets for the refreshed model, saying only that the auto maker hopes to sell more than it has in previous years.

Subaru will unveil its all-new Impreza and WRX models at the show Thursday.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com