2010 (MY10) Subaru Liberty Review
It was back in 1954 that Subaru produced its first car, now some 55 years later, the once small and unrecognised brand has become a powerhouse for producing reliable and good performing vehicles.
Subaru has done exceptionally well of late, so much so that it even outsold Mazda, month on month, in the United States for the first time ever recently. In August this year, Subaru Australia sold 2602 cars and came in ninth overall in the national sales tally.
But what makes a Subaru a Subaru? Although the styling has been questionable in recent times, the Japanese brand has got its formula right with the launch of the fifth generation Liberty, known as Legacy in other markets, in Australia this week.
As a model that first came to light back in 1989, so far more than 130,000 of the Liberty model have been sold and there is no sign of that slowing down.
In order to launch the new generation Liberty and Outback, Subaru took a group of automotive journalists out to Daylesford in central Victoria to test the ins and outs of what will surely be the best Liberty to date.
To start with, lets come clean, the styling is questionable for some, although photos really don’t do it justice.
The new Liberty is a good looking car, but it was always going to be a big challenge to improve on the previous generation, which seemed to have it almost completely right in the looks department.
As a car, it certainly stands out and that was one of the aims of the new design, to have more road presence and attract buyers away from its Japanese rivals.
Along with the new shape, longer, wider and higher stance, there is now a 3.6-litre engine, taken from the Tribeca, that replaces the 3.0-litre.
Subaru has dropped the Liberty GT Spec B for now but will offer a standard 2.5-litre turbocharged GT variant for the enthusiast. It will also offer a sports version of the naturally aspirated 2.5-litre, now called Liberty 2.5i S.
Unlike some manufacturers that like to create Sport variants by adding a body kit and not much else, Subaru has taken its sporting heritage seriously. The Liberty S variants get sports tuned Bilstein suspension, carbon fibre dashboard and door trim highlights, xenon headlights, 18-inch wheels and of course, sports bumper and grille.
The naturally aspirated sport variants are only available with the company’s all new Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT).
One the biggest criticisms of Subaru has always been a lack of good automatic gearboxes with four-speed automatics still in use. Thankfully Fuji Heavy Industries (Subaru’s parent company) has heard the call and built an entirely new transmission system.
As far as CVT transmissions go, almost all major car companies have now had a go, most notably the Europeans who started the trend some time ago.
Subaru says its CVT is similar to that of Audi’s but is completely built by Subaru in Japan, apart from the chains, which come from Germany.
For those of you who are unaware, CVT is a completely different type of transmission compared to your usual automatic. For a start, there are no real gear-sets, but two belts that produce an infinite number of ratios as the transmission adjusts while you drive.
This is great for fuel economy as you’re no longer ever in need of a longer or shorter gear. However given the infinite range of ratios available, in some cases CVT transmissions can take the edge away from the driving experience, but not so with Subaru.
The company decided that in order to stay sporty and provide a good feel to its owners, the CVT was to be programmed to behave similarly to a standard automatic gearbox.
This means when manual mode is used, via either the steering-wheel mounted paddles or the central gearlever, pre-programmed ratios are selected, and although there could have been 60, it made sense to stick with six ratios.
By using the pre-programmed ratios, you can drive the new Liberty or Outback essentially the same as a manual or traditional auto, so you can engine brake using the gears and the revs increase as you accelerate (as oppose to staying the same while the ratios change).
Sound a little too complicated? No need to worry, it does all the work for you like a standard auto, only better, and it would take a real car enthusiast to even realise there is a CVT transmission in use!
The only limitation with the new transmission is that it currently can’t take the extra torque produced by the 2.5-litre turbocharged engine or the 3.6-litre engine so for now it’s only available on the naturally aspirated 2.5i.
To get the maximum volume of cars to the most buyers, Subaru will focus on four different types of Liberty for its customers in this segment.
Those after a flexible model can opt for the 2.5i or the 2.5i premium. If you’re after something more sporty the already mentioned GT and the 2.5iS fill the gap. Versatility is provided by the soon to arrive Liberty Exiga six-seater, whilst the recreational and more adventurous types would go for the Subaru Outback.
Technicalities aside, lets take a closer look at the new Liberty. The more notable change is the increase in rear-seat legroom, it now feels as big as a Ford Falcon on the inside and can easily and comfortably seat five adults for long distances.
Cargo space has been improved in both sedan and wagon variants while overall dimensions have increased in all respects. Not surprisingly, the weight has also increased, yet the fuel consumption has decreased!
The standard 2.5-litre has gone down from 9.4 litres per 100 kilometres to 8.4L/100km and CO2 emissions has also improved by nine to 12 per cent depending on variant.
The 2.5-litre engine remains relatively unchanged from the previous generation, apart from the addition of lighter pistons and better cooling.
The arrival of the new 3.6-litre engine also gives the Liberty range a new perspective, now powered by an engine that can easily match that of the local offerings, the 3.6-litre Liberty has great pulling power and serves as a more refined family orientated alternative to the turbocharged GT.
Speaking of the new 2.5-litre turbocharged GT, Subaru have changed the position of the turbocharger, it now sits closer to the exhaust (it’s energy source), the Japanese engineers made the change to create a more logical and efficient design.
Furthermore a bigger intercooler has been installed, allowing for full boost to be achieved in two seconds instead of three. The GT goes from 0-100km in 6.2 seconds, or 6.3sec for the manual, and it will do the 400 metre sprint in 14.4 seconds.
Heading out from Lakehouse resort in Daylesford, I took the Liberty GT and the 2.5i Sports for a spin around the country roads.
The easiest way to tell that you’re in a Subaru is the feel of being grounded thanks to the company’s symmetrical all-wheel drive.
Handling is improved thanks to the redesigned suspension, the rear set-up is now more similar to that of the Impreza and Forester allowing for better cornering ability.
During our test we had nothing but moderate to heavy rain, which as Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior said, was the perfect weather to appreciate the car’s all-weather capabilities.
Perhaps the only criticism I could mention regarding handling and driving dynamics is Subaru’s slightly intrusive Electronic Stability Control (ESC) or as Subaru terms it VDC, which tends to kick in a little early. It can of course be turned off if you want to chance your luck.
Some have wrongly criticised Subaru for sticking with the all-wheel-drive system, arguing that front-wheel drive would suffice while providing better fuel efficiency.
The Japanese manufacturer has debunked these claims, the new Liberty and Outback are still driven through all wheels but now provide better fuel efficiency than the majority of their competitors. Mainly thanks to engine refinement and the new CVT.
So far as the interior goes my biggest criticism of Subaru still stands, while it’s built great cars for the last 20 or so years, it continues to be let down by its interiors.
The use of hard plastics is still common place and even in the top of the range GT models, the interior’s otherwise classy look and feel is tarnished as a result. To make up for it, the GT premium comes with a McIntosh sound system and can be optioned with satellite navigation, Bluetooth and leather trimmed seats.
Safety wise Subaru stands as the only car company in the Australian market that has a five-star ANCAP safety rating for all its cars, other brands have five-star safety ratings across the range but some models may have been tested in Europe.
With the addition of the driver’s knee airbag, the fifth generation MY10 Liberty now has seven airbags. Active safety features include VDC which encompasses ESC, TCS, brake assist, ABS, EBD and more.
I can rave on about the car’s safety but it would be easier if you just watched this video of the Subaru Outback crash test, Outback is based on the Liberty.
Additionally, as a family car, it’s hard to argue with the all-wheel-drive system, it’s just much more sensible to pick a Liberty over its competitors for that reason alone.
Overall it’s hard to fault the new Liberty, it’s a solid performer as it has always been. However I suspect the styling may take some time to be appreciated by the masses.
CarAdvice will be putting the new Liberty through our Road Test regime in the near future so stay tuned.
Liberty 2.5i manual : 8.9L/100km
Liberty 2.5i CVT: 8.4L/100km
Liberty 2.5i GT manual: 9.8L/100km
Liberty 2.5i GT auto: 9.7L/100km
Liberty 3.6R auto-only: 10.3L/100km
Model feature list:
Liberty 2.5i Premium adds:
Liberty 2.5i Premium with SatNav adds:
Liberty 2.5i Sports adds (to 2.5i):
Liberty 2.5i Sports Premium adds (to 2.5i Sports):
Liberty 2.5i Sports Premium with SatNav adds:
Liberty 2.5i GT Premium with SatNav:
Liberty 3.6R Premium with SatNav (sedan-only):
Pricing (all manufacturer recommended price):
Liberty 2.5i manual sedan $33,990
Liberty 2.5i Lineartronic CVT sedan $36,490
Liberty 2.5i manual wagon $35,990
Liberty 2.5i Lineartronic CVT wagon $38,490
Liberty 2.5i Sports Lineartronic CVT sedan $39,490
Liberty 2.5i Sports Lineartronic CVT Premium sedan $43,490
Liberty 2.5i Sports Premium Lineartronic CVT SatNav sedan $46,990
Liberty 2.5i Sports Lineartronic CVT wagon $41,490
Liberty 2.5i Sports Lineartronic CVT Premium wagon $45,490
Liberty 2.5i Sports Premium Lineartronic CVT SatNav wagon $48,990
Liberty 2.5i Premium Lineartronic CVT sedan $39,990
Liberty 2.5i Premium Lineartronic CVT SatNav sedan $42,490
Liberty 2.5i Premium Lineartronic CVT wagon $41,990
Liberty 2.5i Premium Lineartronic CVT SatNav wagon $44,490
Liberty 2.5 GT Premium manual SatNav sedan $52,990
Liberty 2.5 GT Premium auto SatNav sedan $54,990
Liberty 2.5 GT Premium manual SatNav wagon $54,990
Liberty 2.5 GT Premium auto SatNav wagon $56,990
Liberty 3.6R Premium auto SatNav sedan $51,990