Subaru Liberty

RACV RoyalAuto Magazine

Born free

How to make a good car better? Spread noticeable improvements across the board, pile on the standard equipment and then cut the price significantly, that’s how.

T he long-serving and well-respected Liberty has undergone a substantial makeover as Subaru moves into the sixth generation of this venerable sedan. (The wagon version has been dropped; for that body style, you have to look at the higher-riding Outback.) Not only does the new model have more cabin space, extra standard equipment, greater safety, improved on-road ability and lower fuel consumption, there are also massive price cuts across the range.

Thanks to recent tariff reductions and, according to Subaru, efficiency gains in the manufacturing process, Liberty now starts from an attractive $29,990 plus on-road costs for the 2.5i CVT model (down $3000). The well-appointed, 2.5i Premium CVT, which we tested, is down $4000 to $35,490, while a whopping $14,000 saving on the 6cyl 3.6R has it positioned to take advantage of a changing landscape in the 6cyl family car market as Ford and Holden cease local production.

Even the base model 2.5i has a lot of features that can usually only be found in high-spec versions of Liberty’s rivals. A reversing camera, an electric park-brake, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, DataDot security technology and dual-zone climate control are all standard across the range.

Subaru’s strong focus on safety, which includes all-wheel-drive on all models, continues with a top five-star ANCAP rating for Liberty, and a new generation of the company’s award-winning Eye-Sight driver assistance system is now standard across the entire range. Using two windscreen-mounted cameras and other sensors, the system delivers a wide range of excellent active-safety features and driver warnings, including adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane departure warning and more. It recognises and responds to red lights and pedestrians. The lane detection is sensitive and on some roads can be annoying, but it can be switched off.

A welcoming presentation awaits when you step into the 2.5i Premium. The cabin has a high-quality, upmarket ambience. Supportively shaped, leather-trimmed front seats provide a comfortable driving position with clear dials, logically positioned switches and a large touch-screen adding to the ease of operation. An all-new infotainment system with speech recognition adds to the appeal. This multimedia connectivity has become an important feature for many buyers, and it now brings Subaru into line with a number of other car manufacturers.

Liberty’s seating position is higher now, while better visibility and a greater sense of space has been created by moving the A-pillars forward and adding front quarter-windows. Gains in front and rear legroom and good head room, despite the intrusion of a sunroof in the higher-grade models, make the cabin surprisingly spacious. Although it is still classified as a mid-size car, the new Liberty probably falls into that grey area between medium and large. Boot space has also grown but the limiting factors for carrying some items may be the narrow boot opening and the floor-to-parcel-shelf height. To Subaru’s credit, the Liberty carries a full-size alloy spare wheel.

Engine upgrades for this new model are an evolution of the standard naturally aspirated engines. The 2.5L engine isn’t the most technically sophisticated or sporty in the class but its output is well focused on everyday use. There’s been a modest increase in the engine’s power and torque figures, while greater emphasis has been placed on reducing fuel consumption and lowering emissions with tweaks to the engine, transmission and aerodynamics. An unusual feature is the active grille shutter in the lower air dam which opens and closes relative to operating conditions to help reduce fuel consumption and improve aero­dynamic efficiency.

Liberty’s engine feels at its strongest in the mid rev-range and, with refinements to the CVT transmission, it delivers smooth-flowing performance. It’s responsive and very good in normal driving conditions, however there’s still not an abundance of pulling power in reserve to accelerate quickly from low speeds, particularly pulling up hill. A noticeable difference in the response can be felt depending on which drive mode is chosen. This SI-Drive system allows the driver to select the engine and transmission characteristics to suit their desired driving style, road feel or type of use.

Official fuel consumption is a pleasing 7.3L/100km, an improvement of 7.6% over the previous model and with 8.2% lower emissions. On our test week, we got a respectable 9.0L/100km.

We also drove the 6cyl 3.6R, now equipped with the CVT transmission. It is a solid performer across the rev range without being spectacular. Its official fuel figure is down 3.9% to 9.9L/100km and emissions are 5% lower.

Improvements to noise, vibration and harshness make the new Liberty a quiet car in everyday driving, but in keeping with the 4cyl performance, when a bit more is asked for and full throttle is required, the engine and transmission noise levels rise noticeably. Subaru has one of the best CVTs on the market as it feels more like a conventional auto, but it still produces a distinctive CVT whine when pushed to the limit.

The extra traction of Subaru’s trademark symmetrical AWD and the boxer engine’s low centre of gravity provide a good starting point for assured handling and grip, and with further chassis and suspension refinements the new Liberty inspires confidence, making it an enjoyable city drive and a relaxed tourer. The ride is comfortable enough around town and on smooth highways, however it is quite firm, resulting in noticeable body movement on rougher roads and the occasional thump when medium-size bumps are struck.

Liberty has a good reputation for reliability. But service intervals of every six months/12,500km and a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty are now far from class-leading.

The verdict

Significant improvements across the board, with a focus on everyday driving demands, have elevated Liberty’s standing. Increased cabin space, new safety and connectivity technology features, greater comfort and lower fuel consumption now put it up among the best in class. The icing on the cake, however, is the substantial price reductions.

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Written by Greg Hill
May 04, 2015