Price: $37,990 to $42,490
The lack of a seventh seat had always been something of a handicap for the Subaru Liberty Exiga, given the car’s primary purpose as a people-moving wagon.
A 2+2+2 six-seat configuration was adopted for Australia owing to the Japanese version’s centre middle seat lap-only belt that would have compromised the brand’s range-wide five-star ANCAP safety ratings.
Yet while the intention was admirable it meant little to big families who largely overlooked the Exiga for proper seven-seater people-movers such as the Kia Grand Carnival and Hyundai iMax, sleeker ones like the Honda Odyssey and Dodge Journey, and increasingly, seven-seat SUVs.
But after working with the factory to secure lap-sash belts for all seating positions, the Subaru Liberty Exiga is at last a seven-seater that can be added to the shopping lists of those who need a car that can transport the equivalent of a netball team or a rugby back row.
Visually, there’s little linking the Exiga with the standard Subaru Liberty on which it’s based, despite the two sharing the same platform and powertrain. At 4740mm long, 1775mm wide and 1660mm tall, the Exiga is 45mm shorter and 5mm narrower than the Liberty wagon, but importantly 125mm taller.
The Exiga may look tall and boxy, but its extra height means there’s no shortage of headroom for adults in the second and third seating rows, although the tight legroom for the two rearmost passengers means those seats are best reserved for shorter trips or smaller people.
Plenty of thought has gone into the third-row seats, which get armrests and cup holders just like the other seating positions, and are easy to access thanks to the 60:40-split folding and sliding second row.
Like many people-movers, however, there’s little room in the boot with all seats in use. In seven-seat mode, cargo capacity maxes out at 195 litres (only 10 litres larger than that of a Fiat 500), but grows to a more useful 460 litres with a tall load space with the back seats stowed away.
Another positive of the Exiga’s shape is its big windows and comparatively thin pillars that create a level of rear visibility almost unmatched in the new-car market.
The Subaru Liberty Exiga is available in two trim levels: the $37,990 base model and the $42,490 Premium.
The entry-level Exiga comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels (full-size steel spare), front foglights, automatic headlights, dual-zone climate control, leather-wrapped gearshift and steering wheel with cruise and audio controls and paddles shifters, black cloth upholstery, and a four-speaker audio system with a 4.3-inch display screen, AUX/USB inputs and Bluetooth audio streaming.
The roof-mounted DVD system, which features a nine-inch display screen, remote control and two wireless headsets, is handy for keeping back-seat passengers entertained on long drives.
For $4500, the Subaru Liberty Exiga Premium adds 17-inch wheels, full leather upholstery, eight-way power driver’s seat, and an upgraded six-speaker audio system with a seven-inch touchscreen and satellite navigation.
The factory sat-nav is a disappointment and a frustration, however, and you should think again if it’s your main motivation for considering the Premium. The screen’s graphics look dated and lack clarity, and programming a navigation route is far from intuitive. If you must have sat-nav, a portable unit will do a better job and can cost you as little as $100.
The cabin layout is a bit plain and conservative, although the long silver gearshift paddles and the blue instrument cluster details create a sporty vibe for the driver. The lack of soft-touch plastics emphasises the car’s focus on basic utility ahead of luxury and sophistication, although the quality and fit of the materials present is hard to fault.
The Subaru Liberty Exiga is powered by a 123kW/229Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and, teamed with the standard continuously variable transmission (CVT), the mid-sized wagon accelerates from 0-100km/h in 10.9 seconds and burns fuel at a rate of 8.6 litres per 100km on the combined cycle.
So consumption is more impressive than acceleration.
The efficiency-chasing CVT does its best to extract performance from the engine, but the Exiga’s outputs are modest and progress can be expected to be slower with more people on board. Throttle response is also doughy, while the drivetrain certainly isn’t the quietest, with the drone of the CVT under acceleration, or the hurricane-style whistle that invades the cabin as the revs rise.
Despite the tall body rolling through corners at higher speeds, the Exiga still feels well planted and Subaru’s trademark all-wheel drive system ensures there’s plenty of traction.
The Exiga’s suspension does a good job of smoothing coarse surfaces and absorbing bigger bumps at the front, although the rear suspension can struggle to iron out large potholes.
The steering may feel overly light for some. It’s at its best at highway speeds when the weight increases and the car’s reactions to your inputs feel the most accurate.
The size of the Exiga is again obvious when you prod at the brake pedal, which has a light and spongy feel through the first half of pedal travel before coming on with more haste as you depress deeper.
Like all Subarus, safety is a strong point and rated five stars by ANCAP. Electronic stability control and six airbags are standard across the range, although the curtain airbags do not extend to the third row, protecting only the first- and second-row occupants.
The Exiga is covered by a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty. Roadside assistance is optional and Subaru Australia does not offer capped-price servicing at this stage.
The Honda Odyssey remains the best people-mover to drive, and the Exiga can’t match the new Toyota Prius V hybrid for fuel efficiency or drivetrain refinement.
But with the addition of a seventh seat, the Subaru Liberty Exiga now makes far more sense as an accommodating wagon with the flexibility of an SUV or a bigger people-mover.