AFTER LITTLE MORE THAN A YEAR ON SALE IN ITS CURRENT SHAPE, THE SUBARU LIBERTY IS STILL RELATIVELY FRESH. Unsurprising, then, that the updates for the 2016 Liberty range are relatively minor - the new model is really just a little finessing of the old.
But the Liberty was, and remains, a good strong car to begin with. And, at $29,990 (plus on-road costs) as a starting offer, it also remains good buying value despite a slight revision upwards of the price.
For 2016 Subaru has added some features (namely some helpful active safety tech), and adjusted the suspension to improve ride comfort, but otherwise left things pretty much alone.
Vehicle Style: Medium sedan
Price: $29,990 (Liberty 2.5i) to $42,490 (Liberty 3.6R)
- 129kW/235Nm 2.5 petrol 4cyl | CVT automatic
- 191kW/350Nm 3.6 petrol 6cyl | CVT automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.3 l/100km (2.5i), 9.9 l/100km (3.6R) | tested:10.2 l/100km (3.6R)
The current Liberty has hit the mark in the midsize segment, taking it from a bit-player in monthly sales to now sit behind just two competitors, the unassailable Toyota Camry and the evergreen Mazda6.
Perhaps, given that sales performance, the Liberty recipe didn't need to be messed with, but the addition of new safety equipment and a more refined ride improves the value and the enjoyment at the wheel.
So, rest easy, the updated Liberty remains one of the better buys among the mid-size pack.
- Standard equipment: Foglamps, reversing camera, dual-zone climate control, active cruise control, 18-inch alloys, trip computer, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlamps. Leather upholstery, power/heated front seats, sunroof, push-button ignition on Premium/3.6R.
- Infotainment: 7-inch colour touchscreen display (satellite navigation on 2.5i Premium/3.6R), AM/FM/CD audio system (12-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio on 3.6R), Bluetooth phone and media streaming, Pandora app compatibility, USB audio input.
- Cargo volume: 493 litres
Not a whole lot to report in here, as the MY16 Liberty’s interior is barely any different to last year’s model. The only new feature of note is a button for the electrically-folding wing mirrors on the entry-level Liberty 2.5i.
Were wholesale changes necessary? Not really, given the Liberty’s cabin is still pretty fresh. More substantial updates will likely come at the car’s mid-cycle update some time in late 2017 or 2018.
Right now though, there are few faults with this cabin.
It’s plenty spacious with generous headroom front and rear, along with huge rear-seat legroom and enough room for two adults or three kids across the rear bench.
We do, however, wish for a little more under-thigh support on the front seats - our sole comfort-related complaint about the new Liberty.
The presentation is slick thanks to quality materials and sound - if unadventurous - design. The touchscreen infotainment display is seamlessly integrated into the centre-stack and surrounded by capacitive buttons, and the button layout of the climate control and steering wheel controls is logical and easily navigated.
At the base of the centre-stack is a large cubby hole with a retractable panel to keep prying eyes away from your wallet, phone or other valuables when parked, and the glovebox and centre console box provide additional storage options.
In the boot you'll find large-car levels of cargo room, with the 2016 Liberty offering 493 litres of seats-up capacity.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 129kW/235Nm 2.5 litre petrol flat four (2.5i, 2.5i Premium), 191kW/350Nm 3.6 litre petrol flat six
- Transmission: CVT automatic, all-wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, double A-arm rear
- Brakes: Ventilated discs with sliding calipers, front and rear.
- Steering: Power steering, 11.2m turning circle
- Towing capacity: 1500kg braked (2.5i), 1800kg braked (3.6R), 750kg unbraked (all models)
Powertrains carry over unchanged for the 2016 Liberty, with a 129kW/235Nm 2.5 litre petrol flat four in the Liberty 2.5i and 2.5i Premium and a potent 191kW/350Nm 3.6 litre flat six powering the flagship Liberty 3.6R.
That latter engine is something of a powerhouse, and moves the Liberty along very smartly on the highway (and can flatten hills effortlessly), but the 2.5 litre flat four isn't left red-faced and embarrassed if some extra urge is needed.
To get the best out of it though, you do need to summon a few more revs.
All models are fitted with a CVT automatic as standard, and, as far as continuously-variable gearboxes go, it’s a good one.
CVT-equipped cars are normally characterised by the monotonous drone they emit whenever the throttle is given a hefty prod.
With the gearbox essentially having just one infinitely-variable 'gear', CVTs fix the engine at one rpm (typically somewhere between where peak torque and peak power occur) and instead vary the gear-ratio to accelerate.
And the Liberty’s gearbox behaves this way too - but only under light throttle, where the resulting single-rpm drone isn’t so noticeable. Use more than 50 percent throttle, and the Liberty’s CVT steps through six pre-set ratios to simulate a conventional auto.
You can also row through those virtual gears via the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles, and shift response time is generally quite good given the transmission underneath.
But while the engines and AWD driveline remain the same, the suspension is reworked for 2016.
Damper settings have been revised to reduce ride harshness over sharper bumps, and while the 2016 Liberty still has a somewhat firmish response to small-amplitude high frequency bumps like manhole covers, expansion gaps and corrugated tarmac, there’s much less of an edge to it.
Over longer, undulating bumps, the Liberty rides impeccably well. This is a car that’s well suited to eating up big kilometres on lengthy road trips, with taut body control but excellent ride comfort.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.99 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist and seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee) are standard on the Liberty.
Subaru’s EyeSight active safety system is also standard across the range, and bundles together active cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and pedestrian/collision detection.
And for 2016 the EyeSight system is joined by Vision Assist, which adds blind spot monitoring, lane change assist, a self-dimming rear view mirror, high beam assist and rear cross traffic alert. Vision Assist is standard on all models bar the entry-level Liberty 2.5i.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The midsize sedan market is a tough one for manufacturers thanks to plenty of competition and declining sales in the segment, but that’s great news for consumers thanks to the number of excellent products on the market - like the new Liberty.
And the size-price ratio is pretty hard to beat, with many midsize cars offering large car interior space for very reasonable money. The Ford Mondeo is certainly among the better in the segment, as is the Mazda6, but none among the following list are poor buying:
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The changes are incremental, but this car is a better Liberty thanks to those changes. There is a saloon-like maturity about the Liberty that makes it seem 'just a little smarter' as an investment.
It still drives with that settled on-road feel particular to Subaru, still feels as tight as a vault, and still imparts that sense of long-lasting robustness that is a key part of the appeal of the Liberty badge.
And though it’s hard to pick from the preceding model year, the under-the-skin improvements give a tangible benefit to the way the Liberty drives and to how safe it keeps its occupants - we’d take that over an upholstery change or a new bumper design any day.