Subaru of America Inc. introduced its B9 Tribeca in 2005, and the cross/utility vehicle was widely panned for its unorthodox front end, featuring a triangular horse-collar grille reminiscent of the infamous Ford Edsel of the '50s.

Less than a year after launch, Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., which owns Subaru, replaced much of the chrome accents on the grille with black plastic and offered other upgrades as well.

Another year later, another re-do. For '08, the CUV gets a modified engine, a more conventional front end and body panels — and a new name (B9 has been dropped from the badge).

Subaru's willingness to tweak its product portfolio to meet market demand is admirable. But the result of the latest makeover is a CUV that looks, well, like most other CUVs. That may not prove to be a bad thing in this hottest of segments.

The styling of the '08 Tribeca is less polarizing than its predecessor, with a wider, taller grille and new front fenders and hood design.

But the Tribeca really shines beneath its fresh sheet metal, where a more powerful engine, coupled with Subaru's trademark Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system, performs well. During a recent test drive in southern California, the Tribeca proves more than capable on steep, winding desert roads, gobbling up asphalt with car-like ride and handling characteristics.

The unique horizontally opposed 3.6L 6-cyl. boxer engine, replacing the 3.0L mill, provides balance and contributes to extremely responsive handling.

The new 3.6L produces 256 hp and 247 lb.-ft. (335 Nm) of torque, up from 245 hp and 215 lb.-ft. (292 Nm) in the 3.0L, placing it among the most powerful CUVs.

The new engine also is able to run on regular unleaded gasoline, rather than the premium required by its predecessor. Subaru has yet to share its fuel-economy ratings for the new 3.6L. The new mill is mated to a smooth-shifting 5-speed automatic transmission. During the test drive, the tranny rarely hunted for gears.

Antilock braking comes courtesy of 4-wheel vented discs with electronic brake-force distribution. During aggressive driving, the brakes were spectacular, bringing the Tribeca's more than 2-ton (1.8-t) mass to a standstill with surprising ease.

Carried over for '08 is an optional third row designed for two passengers. But unless a passenger is shorter than 5 ft. (1.5 m), the third row is an impromptu lesson in contortionism. Interior materials are topnotch, with soft surfaces, pleasing colors and splendid fit and finish.

Subaru officials won't disclose how many units they plan to sell annually. The old model sold 35,000 units in the U.S. since its introduction two years ago.

Pricing likely will be announced closer to the June 1 on-sale date.

Subaru might have a winner if it can come in with a base price of about $30,000, similar to the '07 model.

Anything more and the new Tribeca could be lost in a crowd of CUVs that are just as competent and more affordable.

At that point, another facelift may be in order.

'08 Subaru Tribeca

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5- or 7-passenger cross/utility vehicle

Engine: 3.6L (3,630 cc) DOHC horizontally opposed 6-cyl., aluminum block/heads

Power (SAE net): 256 hp @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 247 lb.-ft. (335 Nm) @ 4,400 rpm

Compression ratio: 10.5:1

Bore and stroke: 92 × 91 (mm)

Transmission: 5-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 108.2 ins. (275 cm)

Overall length: 191.5 ins. (486 cm)

Overall width: 73.9 ins. (188 cm)

Overall height: 66.4 ins. (169 cm)

Curb weight: 5-passenger, 4,140 lbs. (1,878 kg); 7-passenger, 4190 lbs. (1,901 kg)

EPA fuel economy: N/A

Market competition: Honda Pilot, Nissan Murano, Toyota Highlander, Ford Edge