Subaru’s Liberty sedan is an unsung hero in Subaru’s fleet, with the Outback and WRX getting all of the eyeballs That’s a shame because it’s big, roomy, nice to be in and not unattractive to look at. When the 3.6 litre boxer engine is slotted into the engine bay, it then becomes an entrant in the large car class, against Aurion, Commodore, Falcon…and so it should. In February of 2016, A Wheel Thing attended the launch of the updated Liberty, Forester and Outback and recently sampled the 2.0L diesel and 3.6L petrol powered versions of the Outback Premium.
The Liberty sedan with the 3.6L is, effectively and essentially, the same as the Outback wagon, bar the extra ride height and sheetmetal. It certainly has the same excellent ride quality and handling, with a lot to be commended. Of note were the subtle changes to the suspension in the wagons. It’s A Wheel Thing’s opinion that the Outback is one of the best in the medium wagon class for ride and handling and the Liberty sedan slots right in there. There is a bit of competition out there such as the Mondeo, Superb, and Octavia, just to mention a couple, but the incremental development work that Subaru Japan and Subaru Australia have jointly been involved in has paid off.
Tested on dirt and tarmac roads in South Australia during the launch, and driven hard in its most likely environment, suburbia, both sedan and wagon exhibited the kind of ride a discerning driver looks for. On undulating roads,there’s no sense of continuing the motion, with the Liberty Premium simply following the up and down movement while simultaneously isolating the cabin from it.
Shopping centre car park speedbumps were ignored, with only the barest thump transmitted through at low speed (say two or three kmh) and at around 20 kmh there was a short, sharp, jolt which was instantly damped. The larger rubber based units on some back roads were noticeable in the relative lack of impact felt inside, with the compliant suspension taking up most of the shock and minimising any bodily movement. It’s well tied down and lacks the floatiness found in others.
It’s also quiet on the road with tyre, road and wind noise very quickly becoming forgotten. This helps in regards to fatigue on a drive, as does the ride quality. It’s a tight handler, with just a hint of understeer in slow 90 degree corner turns but tucks the nose in nicely in roundabouts. Steering is responsive, perhaps moreso in the 3.6R, with the load building up left and right from centre in a progressive manner.
The transmissions provided were CVTs for each, programmed for six speeds with the 3.6R feeling more like a traditional auto. There is a manual option available, as well as a 2.5L four potter. The range starts at $35990 for the entry level 2.5L with CVT with the range topper 3.6R at $48490.The diesel premium CVT is $44490, with that price being an increase of $1500 over the outgoing model whilst the 3.6R seeing an increase of just $500. A Wheel Thing has not been a fan of CVT, for the most part, as the CVT added to the WRX is simply superb. There’s a discernable lag in acceleration, a lag in switching from Reverse to Drive before forward motion is engaged, a lack of smoothness in doing so as well. The 3.6R’s gearbox however is zippy, instantaneous response is given when asked for, and there’s more of a sense of the engine working firmly hand in hand with the gearbox.The 3.6R is more free spirited in its revvy nature, seeing 191 kilowatts at 6000 and showing no restraint in how it spins. There is the question of economy, with 9.9L/100 km for the 3.6R, however final figures finished well under that figure, at 8.5L/100 km.
What is impressive about the 3.6R’s delivery is the torque; although peak torque is at around 4500 revs, there’s something in the order of over eighty percent available from 2500, meaning there;s plenty of low end response and urge to keep the Liberty motivated.
Apart from the all wheel drive system marketing that Subaru has steadily built its following on, there’s been the step by step increase in standard technology. The 3.6R gets the EyeSight package, with stereo cameras and also now with colour recognition programming. The 3.6R also gets the Vision Assist package, giving the driver: Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, high beam assist and self dimming rear vision mirror.
The colour recognition shakes hands with the ACC, Adaptive Cruise Control, by recognising brake lights being activated in vehicles ahead, and will slow the Outback. It’ll also recognise lane changing vehicles ahead, adding to the five star safety rating the range has. A very handy feature is what’s called Unintended Start Prevention, where it’ll hold the vehicle if the accelerator is pressed but the sensors read an object in front of the car.Subaru have also tossed in the Euro style emergency brake light system, which flashes the brake lights when the computer senses input that would be an emergency stop situation. The interior of the 3.6R Liberty sedan is identical to the Outback wagon with the 3.6L, down to the sunroof, somewhat slabby seats, lack of detail on the leather, no cooling for the pews (surely a must for Aussie spec cars with machine made leather seats?), the SI Drive system (which changes the engine mapping and shift points in the autos), the StarLink touchscreen satnav and infotainment system…you get the picture. A Wheel Thing still feels the location of the clock has it lost within the aircon controls, not exactly an ergonomic or safe feature…Of course you’ll get Bluetooth handsfree phone connection, audio streaming and, being wagons, plenty of storage space in the cavernous boot, with over xxxL of cargo and enough bottle holders to suit the family.
You’ll get curtain airbags, side airbags, driver’s knee airbag, power seats and that all wheel drive system with its so user friendly handling.
The exterior hasn’t come in for any major do-overs; there’s a new Dark Blue Pearl paint (verra noice) and a retrimmed grille for the 2.5i and 3.6R aside from the aforementioned driving light change. It’s a handsome looking vehicle, with good looking 18 inch alloys and 225/60 Bridgestone rubber. It’s a good size overall, too, with a total length of 4815 mm encompassing a wheelbase of 2745 mm and tracks of 1570/1580 mm. .
At The End Of The Drive.
Subaru’s Liberty really is a hidden gem for the niche player from Japan; the brand had a massive 344.7% sales increase in 2015 though. There’s a three year warranty on offer, which some would say lacks compared to some of the other brands out there. But the brand has a strong, fiercely loyal following and there’s little doubt an extra year or two warranty makes little difference to that loyalty.
What the Subaru Liberty trades on is a good look, solid engineering, dependability and with the 2016 model, some of the best handling in its class, with the MacPherson struts and double wishbone rear. It’s a pity the CVT nobbles the diesel compared to the 3.6R as the economy of the diesel will always be a winner there but the 3.6R wins thoroughly in the performance stakes. Head across to www.subaru.com.au and follow the links for information on the vehicles available.