2013 SUBARU LIBERTY REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Mid-size sedan
Price: $44,490 (plus on-roads)
Fuel economy listed: 8.0 l/100km | tested: 10.6 l/100km
In the third quarter of 2012, Subaru Australia added two new high-riding variants of the Liberty mid-size sedan to the Japanese automaker’s range - a four-cylinder 2.5X and a more expensive 3.6X six-cylinder.
The logic was that the raised ground-clearance would add some extra versatility and appeal for rural buyers and fill a gap between the regular Liberty and the taller Outback wagon.
But does it ‘work’?
We put the 2.5X under our gaze for a week; it’s priced a little higher than others in the mid-sized sedan segment, so, ‘symmetrical’ AWD notwithstanding, it’s reasonable to expect a little more for the money.
There’s a lot of hard plastic around the centre console, and though the leather upholstery feels nice and build quality is good, this is an interior that lacks charm.
For a car that retails for $45k, its interior could be better for quality ‘feel’.
Comfort: There’s lots of room in the Liberty’s cabin. Even the back seat is tremendously spacious for a mid-size car.
Perhaps that’s no surprise: the Liberty’s external dimensions really push the boundaries of what should be considered “medium size”.
Leg room, head room, knee room are all abundant, and only the centre rear passenger will ever feel squeezed for space - although not by much.
There are air outlets for rear passengers too, as well as height-adjustable headrests for all seat positions.
Equipment: Standard features run to long list: included are power windows and mirrors, powered and heated front seats, keyless entry and ignition, satellite navigation, electric sunroof, dusk-sensing xenon headlamps, foglamps and a thumping McIntosh sound system.
Add Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, cruise control, dual-zone climate control and a USB audio input, among other features.
Storage: Rear seats in place, there is just 476 litres of luggage room. Not especially much considering the Liberty’s sizable footprint, and evidence that packaging priority was given to passengers, not cargo.
There’s a small pass-through for long, thin items like skis or tent poles, but the lack of a folding rear seat further handicaps the Liberty’s luggage-carrying ability.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The all-new FB25 2.5 litre flat four replaces the old EJ25 in the Liberty line up, and produces more power and extra low-end torque while reducing fuel consumption... on paper at least.
We couldn’t get our average fuel consumption below 10.6 l/100km, which is a very different figure to the listed 8.0 l/100km average.
With 127kW and 235Nm of torque, the Liberty has to work pretty hard to accelerate its 1500kg mass at a decent pace.
Although the standard CVT transmission gives the right ratio for any given situation (and is rather good, as far as CVTs go), the Liberty feels a tad underpowered on hilly inclines or when accelerating along highway on-ramps.
Refinement: Noise and vibration suppresion is decent, although the Liberty’s blocky and upright body generates a bit of wind rustle at speed.
The CVT doesn’t whine like some CVTs are liable to do (we’re looking at you, Impreza), but there’s still the telltale - albeit heavily muffled - beat of a boxer four coming from under the bonnet.
Suspension: For rural drivers who frequently drive on poorly-maintained gravel roads, the 2.5 X could be just the ticket.
Riding 50mm higher than a regular Liberty, the Liberty 2.5X’s 200mm of ground clearance is approaching that of an Outback.
The extra lift doesn’t compromise handling or comfort though, and besides plenty of bodyroll and a preference for understeer, the Liberty 2.5X handles reasonably well for a big car - although it’s far from the scalpel-sharp Mazda6.
The ride is smooth and supple, with the X’s longer wheel-travel soaking up big bumps with impressive ease. Grip on loose surfaces is also superb, no doubt thanks to the permanent AWD drivetrain.
Braking: The stability control program can be a bit intrusive at times, but the ABS calibration works very well on gravel and wet roads. Brake feel is okay, but the long pedal travel means you need to give a big stomp if you want maximum stopping power.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars
Safety features: Along with the staples of stability control, traction control, ABS and six airbags, the Liberty 2.5X also gets Subaru’s ‘EyeSight’ lane-keeping and collision avoidance system as standard.
In certain lighting conditions, the lane-keeping alarm can get confused by tram tracks, and we noticed that detection of forward objects was compromised when driving toward a setting sun - exactly the circumstances when a crash-avoidance system like this is desirable.
EyeSight is good, but, like other camera-based anti collision systems, we feel it’s not at the same level of performance as radar-based systems.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years, unlimited kilometres.
Service costs: Servicing costs can vary. Consult your local Subaru dealer for clarification prior to purchase.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Suzuki Kizashi Sport ($39,990) - A sadly under-appreciated mid-sizer, Suzuki’s Kizashi holds a $4.5k price advantage, is surprisingly fun to drive and boasts a more up-to-date and similarly-equipped cabin (if just as plasticky) than the Liberty.
Its 131kW/230Nm 2.4 litre engine feels livelier than the Subaru’s boxer four, however the Suzuki’s AWD drivetrain is part-time only, unlike the Subaru’s full-time system. Interior space is also much tighter. (see Kizashi reviews)
Mazda6 GT ($43,220) - Mazda’s box-fresh 6 is undoubtedly the hottest thing in the mid-size market right now, and packs a huge amount of equipment for slightly less than what Subaru charges for the Liberty 2.5X.
With stop-start as standard and Mazda’s new ultra-efficient 138kW/250Nm 2.5 litre Skyactiv petrol engine under the bonnet, it’s also a more economical beast than the Subaru.
Then again, the lack of AWD means it doesn’t have the same kind of all-weather security as the Subaru or Suzuki. (see Mazda6 reviews)
Volkswagen Passat V6 FSI 4Motion ($55,990) - A much more powerful and upmarket offering than the Liberty 2.5X, and that’s reflected in the pricetag.
Equipment levels are broadly similar, but interior quality is higher in the Passat. Then again, you’d expect nothing less given the $10k price differential between the two. (see Passat reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Liberty doesn’t do anything badly, but its main failing is that time - and newer competitors - have caught it. The current generation Camry and new Mazda6 for instance have a fresher classier interior feel.
But the Liberty 2.5X does have its niche appeal. For the intended market of country-dwelling motorists the jacked-up 2.5X offers AWD grip as well as enough ground-clearance to clear the occasional rock or deceased marsupial.
For city buyers though, there are better choices. Get the Kizashi Sport AWD if you value all-weather grip (and want to save a few dollars), or check out the Mazda6 if you want to have a properly world-class sedan in your garage.