The Subaru Liberty X is designed to merge the benefits of a high-riding SUV with the look of a traditional family sedan.
Regardless, the 200mm ground clearance of the Subaru Liberty X makes it a unique proposition. It sits 50mm higher than the standard Liberty, leaving it just 13mm shy of the Liberty wagon-based Outback and 20mm short of the XV and Forester SUVs.
Subaru says the added ride height makes it ideal for the rougher roads of rural and regional Australia, as well as the steep driveways of the urban jungle. Its higher seating position also aids ease of entry and exit for those who find it harder lowering themselves into standard sedans – this, rather than the ability to dodge stones on a rough road that would hit the underside of a regular Liberty, is likely to be the X version’s biggest selling point.
At $44,490, the Subaru Liberty 2.5X commands a $5K premium over the Liberty 2.5i Premium sedan on which it’s based. Along with the boosted height, the extra charge brings 18-inch alloy wheels (up from 17s), chrome exterior highlights and broader side mouldings, windscreen wipers with de-icer, self-levelling xenon headlights, smart key with push-button start, eight-way power-adjust front seats (driver-only in 2.5i Premium), heated front seats, and a McIntosh infotainment system with an eight-inch touchscreen, 10 speakers and a DVD player.
As with the 2.5i Premium, also standard are front foglights, sunroof, rear privacy glass, leather upholstery, steering wheel paddle shifters, dual-zone climate control with rear vents, satellite navigation, AUX/USB ports and Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming and voice recognition.
Disappointingly, despite its boast of added off-road ability, the Liberty X lacks the full-size spare alloy wheel of the rest of the range, instead making do with a 17-inch steel space saver – country folk, especially, will need to note the distance between their home, destination and tyre shop.
Common between the two models is their drivetrain, which comprises a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and Subaru’s active torque split all-wheel-drive system.
The four-cylinder ‘Boxer’ engine produces 127kW of power (at 5600rpm) and 235Nm of torque (at 4100rpm), shifting the Liberty X from 0-100km/h in 10 seconds. (Alternatively, the 191kW/350Nm six-cylinder $55,990 Liberty 3.6X trims that time to a swifter 7.4secs.)
Our seven-day test ended with the trip computer showing fuel consumption of 10.8 litres per 100km – north of Subaru’s official 8.0L/100km claim – although our week had a bias towards city driving and performance testing.
Like the standard Liberty, the 2.5X feels progressive in its acceleration rather than quick. It lacks a strong pull from low in rev range – also a side-effect of its partnership with the CVT – although an immediate reaction to throttle inputs regardless of revs creates an endearing sense of enthusiasm from the drivetrain.
A slightly grumbly idle and a metallic timbre as the revs rise are characteristic of Subaru’s 2.5-litre Boxer, which is impressively quiet and refined throughout the rev range, even on the approach to its 6000rpm redline.
The CVT generally aims to keep engine revs low in the pursuit of fuel efficiency but is also reactive to calls for more power and torque for uphill spurts and overtaking manoeuvres. The signature CVT drone is reasonably well contained compared with some of its rivals.
Unfortunately, its elevated height makes the Subaru Liberty X ride more like an SUV than a sedan. While its performance on good roads and around town is composed, it bounces over undulations, shudders over coarse surfaces and jars over potholes – surface conditions over which the Liberty X is intended to excel – sending vibrations through the cabin.
The steering also has some issues. With plenty of play around the straight-ahead position, the wheel tends to jiggle a little in your hands over less than perfect surfaces. The sensation detracts from the feeling of stability that is created by car’s capable powertrain and all-wheel-drive layout, and overall size as a high-riding medium sedan. The steering is otherwise accurate in corners and has a decent weighty feel.
There’s also pleasant consistency and progressiveness with the accelerator and brake pedals.
The fit and finish is impressive, although there’s a scratchy feel to the predominantly hard-plastic cabin.
The driver’s seat is comfortable, offering good side bolstering and under-thigh support. The elevated seating position is obvious when you jump from a standard sedan into a Liberty X, and large windows offering good all-round visibility give drivers a confident feel behind the wheel.
There’s also plenty of space for rear-seat passengers. Six-footers are not troubled for head or legroom in the outer positions, although the transmission tunnel robs foot space from centre-seat passengers.
The sedan’s 476-litre boot has a wide opening and a flat floor, but unlike most of its rivals its fixed rear seat means it can’t be expanded for lugging more gear and larger items. A cubbyhole through the centre armrest adds some extra versatility for transporting long, thin items.
The deep centre console bin in excellent cabin storage option. The door pockets take drink bottles while the tiny glovebox is effectively maxed out by the owner’s manual.
The McIntosh audio system is good without being spectacular, although it’s let down by its display, with low-resolution and grainy graphics particularly disappointing in a world of slick smartphones and Google Maps. Pairing a Bluetooth device isn’t intuitive, and the navigation system’s refusal to take inputs unless the car is completely stopped can cause frustration if a passenger is on board.
All Subaru Liberty models coming standard with seven airbags (dual front, side, curtain and driver’s knee), electronic stability control and a rear-view camera. The Liberty X also benefits from the brand’s EyeSight driver-assist technology, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure and sway warning, pre-collision throttle and brake management, and lead vehicle start alert.
Like all Subaru models sold in Australia, the Liberty X is protected by a three-year unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Ticking the ‘not an SUV’ box will be enough to get the Subaru Liberty X over the line for a handful of buyers willing to overlook its dynamic limitations and dated cabin in favour of its conventional sedan styling, higher ride height and capable and refined drivetrain. But with the well-equipped (and brand-new) Subaru Forester 2.5i-S starting at $500 less, and the allure of other impressive models like the Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V available for a similar price, the niche-market Liberty X is not an outstanding way to lure buyers away from the ultra-popular SUV breed.