Subaru reveals new Liberty but Australia in doubt
Just when the Subaru Liberty finally rediscovers some stylistic and mechanical flair, a question mark hangs over its prospects of ever seeing Australian soil.
On the surface, this all-new Liberty has ‘hit’ written all over it. Coupe-esque styling, a completely new platform with massive gains in structural strength, a much more upmarket interior, and the return of a turbocharged flagship are the stuff Subaru Australia’s dreams would’ve been made of just five years ago.
But it’s no secret that the medium/large sedan market in this country is shrinking – unlike the Outback wagon’s robust ‘all-terrain’ niche – which begs the question, is engineering a new-gen Liberty for right-hand drive markets like Australia worth the effort?
Unveiled overnight at the Chicago Motor Show in the US, the seventh-generation Subaru Liberty isn’t the guarantee for Australian showrooms you might think it is. When asked about a likely on-sale date for Australia, the official response was “our current Liberty still has a considerable time to run and at this stage, we have no information on future timelines.” Given the depressing sales of the existing model – just 1595 found homes here last year, well below sales of the closely related Outback (10,378) and even the ageing WRX (2139) – that uncertainty is understandable.
Yet the seventh-gen Liberty definitely sparks interest. Gone is the naturally aspirated 3.0-litre flat six – an engine that never hit the highs enthusiasts wanted it to – and in its place is a new 2.4-litre direct-injection turbocharged flat four, producing 194kW and 375Nm in US trim, and capable of 0-97km/h in a claimed 6.1 seconds. It’s joined by the same 90-percent-new 136kW/239Nm 2.5-litre direct-injection flat four that debuted in the Forester in 2018, with both engines tied to Subaru’s ‘Lineartronic’ CVT transmission. No manuals will be offered.
Sharing its all-new Subaru Global Platform with the Impreza and Forester, the new-gen Liberty boasts some impressive structural improvements. Subaru claims its new mid-sizer is 70-per-cent stiffer in torsional and front suspension rigidity, and 100-per-cent stiffer in front lateral and rear subframe rigidity than the existing car, which bodes well for crash safety, as well as dynamic ability.
Subaru claims the new Liberty’s body absorbs over 40 per cent more energy in frontal and side impacts, and in combination with its excellent ‘Eyesight’ electronic safety system, expects to achieve benchmark scores in independent crash testing.
This strong body structure and an all-new suspension set-up should turn around the current Liberty’s reputation for mediocre steering, ride and handling. Up front is a strut arrangement with new internal rebound springs and aluminium lower L-arms, while the rear suspension is by independent double wishbones mounted on a subframe – supported by full-time all-wheel drive and active torque vectoring on all models. Subaru US claims the seventh-gen Liberty delivers “the highest levels of dynamic performance and ride comfort in its [30-year] history,” which argues a strong case for the relevance of a range-topping Liberty GT turbo sedan in Australia.
Up-spec US models feature a huge 11.6-inch full-HD central tablet touchscreen, which brings some Tesla-style visual glamour and incorporates the multimedia, heating/ventilation controls and other vehicles settings into one slick unit. It can be configured into a split screen display – showing navigation and audio at the same time – and still features two physical knobs, one for audio volume (hooray!). New Liberty also offers in-cabin wifi for the first time.
Other equipment highlights include soft-touch, double-stitched dash surfacing that’s colour-matched to the seat trim; 10-way heated/cooled electric front seats with adjustable cushion length for the driver; and a 12-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system.
Expect an announcement about the seventh-generation Subaru Liberty’s Australian visa certification later this year.
Having completed an Arts degree in English Literature and Film, Ponch started out at Hot 4s & Performance Cars magazine in 1997, honing his distaste for bodykits and commercial doof-doof, before editing Australian Volkswagen magazine, then kicking off a 17-year career at ACP/Bauer as Staff Journalist for WHEELS in 2001.