Ah, the Liberty. In my mind, the forgotten hero of the Subaru range. At least until 2009, when this fantastic fourth generation was retired in favour of the hideous land-yacht that is the fifth generation. Anyway, back to the car in question.
I love this car. I really, really do. Despite my bias of being a huge Subaru fan, and wanting one of these cars since driving it around in Gran Turismo 4 many moons ago, I’ll remain objective… ish.
The first thing to touch on are the looks. Regardless of whether you like them or not (hint: you should like them), it’s hard to argue this car hasn’t aged beautifully. By today’s standards it isn’t particularly exciting, but it isn’t ugly either. A svelte, sleek shape, almost with a hint of mid-size European sedan about it. Personally, I love it. But then again, I did say I’d be objective here.
So then, objectively, how does it drive? Pretty damn well to be honest. The steering is direct and reasonably quick, if a bit light and lacking in feel. It improves a fair bit when you’ve got some lock on and are going faster though.
I can’t really comment on the ride though, because the previous owner of this particular car decided to fit lowered springs. I will say that the car is never too uncomfortable though, especially at motorway speeds.
Despite the ‘eh’ steering, you can always feel what the car is doing beneath you, and how planted it feels on the road, regardless of the road surface. In the dry, it’s composed, grippy, and sure-footed. In the wet, or on gravel, it’s nothing short of phenomenal. It’s so hard to get the car unstuck (not that I’ve tried…), and the level of confidence and assurance the all-wheel drive system gives you is worth it’s weight in gold. And it’s a lot of weight.
Neatly, that brings me on to the performance of the thing. Subaru performance falls on two extremes of the quickness scale. Blistering, or glacial. This car is definitely on the latter.
It might have a surprisingly revvy 2.5-litre flat-four, all-wheel drive, a great chassis, and a five-speed manual, but good God is this a slow car. 127kW and 225Nm isn’t enough. At all. My 2006 Hyundai Elantra was quicker by almost a full second from 0-100.
The gearbox you use to rapidly ascend to the national speed limit isn’t bad, but nor is it particularly good. In much the same way as the steering, it’s direct, has a reasonable throw, and is pretty well geared. But it’s all just a bit ‘eh’. The six-speed manual offered in the face-lifted cars is way, way better, and a genuinely great transmission.
Annoyingly, the lack of performance doesn’t equate to efficient motoring either. Subaru EJ engines aren’t particularly efficient at the best of times, and this isn’t helped by the fact you are constantly flat on the accelerator to achieve anything resembling progress.
Admittedly, I am a bit of a leadfoot, but an average, an AVERAGE of 12.0L/100km is atrocious, especially on 60 per cent motorway driving at 80-100km/h. The fuel consumption I can get over, because I understand the reasoning.
The oil consumption on the other hand, I don’t. This thing drinks oil like no tomorrow. One litre for every 1000km is about right. The engine doesn’t leak oil, and there’s no obvious cause of it burning oil either. It just does. At this point I’m bankrolling Nulon.
Continuing the theme of stuff I don’t particularly like about my Liberty, there’s a few more things that irritate. It’s a bit noisy at speed, thanks to the frameless windows. The servicing ain’t cheap, even at independent mechanics, and it isn’t helped by six-month intervals either.
The paint on the car is also less than stellar. It’s not that the paint looks bad, because it certainly doesn’t, but more the fact that the paint (and especially the clear coat) is so soft, and wafer thin. This means that even the slightest mark shows very easily, and an errant bat poo one night means paint damage the next morning. Not ideal.
So, apart from the stuff I mentioned earlier, is there anything I like about the car? Yeah. A lot.
The build quality is exceptional. There is genuinely not a squeak, rattle or loose bit of trim after 200,000km and 12 years. All the materials are soft to touch, don’t mark easily, and still look fresh. The seats especially are great. The interior itself is actually very good.
The standard sound system is good, the seats are supportive and comfortable, the visibility is great, and there’s a decent amount of space both front and back. The only real downsides are the lack of an AUX input, and an overall lack of interior storage, especially the narrow door bins.
The car is also as safe as houses, apparently. I haven’t crashed (yet), so can’t personally vouch for its credentials, but the Liberty (with Safety Pa, importantly) was one of the first mainstream cars in Australia to be awarded a five-star ANCAP rating. With six airbags, and a very strong passenger cell (go watch a crash test, the A-pillar doesn’t even bend!), it’s part of the reason I settled on a Liberty, and not some other competing cars.
Reliability is also another strong suit. Apart from a blown foglight bulb, a faulty oxygen sensor, and a driver’s side window switch that cracked, nothing else has gone wrong in two years and 50,000km of motoring. Just routine maintenance, and replacing some worn suspension components (thank you, lowered springs). Everything works, everything functions, and nothing is looking even remotely like it’s going to fail soon.
So then, to summarise.
I love my Liberty. It has its share of drawbacks, which would understandably be a deal-breaker for some. But the positives overwhelmingly outweigh the negatives. The handling and AWD system is worth the not-so-odd oil top-up, and the lethargic performance.
It looks great, drives well, is safe, and has never let me down. But above all, it’s fun. It’s fun to thrash on a windy road and let the mechanical grip string each corner together, it’s fun to attack a gravel road with confidence, and it’s fun to own. Objectively, I’d recommend it. Subjectively, it’s amazing.