The new Subaru Levorg may be the latest Subaru to bring some excitement to the brand, however, the 2016 Subaru Liberty could well be the quiet achiever you need.
Launched locally in late 2014, the all-new Subaru Liberty has resonated well with mid-size sedan buyers, helping the sixth-generation four-door become the third-best-selling car (year-to-date) in its sub-$60k segment – behind the Toyota Camry and Mazda 6, but ahead of the Volkswagen Passat and Ford Mondeo.
Pictured here in Ice Silver, our test car is a 2016 Subaru Liberty 2.5i Premium.
Priced at $35,990 (before on-road costs), the mid-spec 2.5i Premium sits between the $29,990 entry-level 2.5i and $42,490 flagship 3.6R. Coming standard with much of the equipment found in the top-spec 3.6R – bar the latter’s 191kW/350Nm 3.6-litre six-cylinder ‘boxer’ engine – the Subaru Liberty 2.5i Premium comes packed with features.
We’re talking keyless entry and push-button start, self-levelling automatic LED headlights with high-beam assist, engine stop-start technology, dual-zone climate control with rear air vents, rain-sensing wipers, heated power mirrors, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, an electric sunroof, and satellite navigation. All Liberty variants, including the 2.5i Premium, also roll on 18-inch alloy wheels.
There’s (man-made) ‘leather’ upholstery, heated eight-way power-adjustable seats (with a memory function for the driver), a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel with paddle shifters, sports pedals and stainless steel kick plates, rear privacy glass, and a six-speaker stereo/7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment combination, paired to Bluetooth audio streaming and voice command recognition.
A big drawcard of the new Liberty – and standard kit across the range – is Subaru’s world-beating EyeSight driver assist system.
Bundling autonomous emergency braking (AEB) technology in with lane-departure and lane-sway warnings, EyeSight also includes adaptive cruise control, and a handy lead-vehicle-start alert – for when the car in front of you has taken off, but you haven’t.
Safety is further addressed by a five-star ANCAP safety rating, seven airbags (including a driver’s knee airbag), active torque vectoring, blind-spot monitoring, a rear-view camera with rear cross-traffic alert, height-adjustable front seat belts, and two ISOFIX child seat anchor points. Of course, Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive system underpins the whole package, though, front and rear parking sensors are optional (setting you back $724.55 each, or $1449.10 for the pair).
Teaming a Euro 6-compliant 2.5-litre horizontally-opposed four-cylinder ‘boxer’ petrol engine with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), the 2.5i Premium claims the same 129kW of power at 5800rpm and 235Nm of torque at 4000rpm as the base 2.5i Liberty. Its 7.3 litres per 100km combined cycle fuel consumption claim is also a match for its lower-spec sibling, as is the 1568kg 2.5i Premium’s quoted 9.6-second 0-100km/h time.
Inside, the Liberty’s round, multifunction steering wheel looks upmarket and feels nice in the hands, and gloss black and brushed aluminium touches, along with nicely damped indicator and wipers stalks, are solid positives.
That said, the plastic steering wheel-mounted shift paddles are cheap, the central infotainment touchscreen is fiddly, laggy, and largely unintuitive to use, and the climate controls – comprising two rotary dials and 10 buttons – look and feel somewhat dated.
There are well-sized door pockets, two decent cup holders, a good-sized centre console bin with a handy top tray, and a reasonable glovebox, and the heated power seats, while not particularly bucketed, are well bolstered and comfortable.
Vision out is top-notch thanks to a big, wide, windscreen, a big, wide, rear window, a good-sized rear-view mirror, and rather slender A- and B-pillars – even the C-pillar doesn’t restrict vision too much.
Getting into the back is made easy by wide rear-door apertures, and once there, rear-seat passengers are treated to excellent head-room and simply large-car-rivalling amounts of legroom. Additionally, there are grab handles, coat hooks, two map pockets, door pockets, and two rear air vents. A fold-down centre armrest with two cup holders is another nice bonus, however, the Liberty does lack any rear USB inputs or 12-volt outlets.
Drop the 60:40 split-fold rear seats via their seat-shoulder-mounted releases and the Liberty’s 493-litre boot can be extended to accommodate larger items, but bear in mind that while you do get two luggage hooks and a full-size spare wheel, the rear wheel arches do encroach on boot space just a touch.
Kick the 2.5i Premium’s 2.5-litre ‘boxer’ engine over, and, on cold start-up at least, the idle will sit between 1500-1600rpm for a good few minutes before dropping to 700rpm. While stationary, it’s also the best time to pair any phone for the first time, as the system only allows this while the car isn’t moving. Clever for safety, but annoying if you’re on the move and your passenger’s phone is full of music better than yours.
Be it around town or on the highway, the Liberty can’t lay claim to having the quietest of cabins, with quite a lot of audible road, tyre, and wind noise – not to mention the sound of passing cars or trucks – working its way inside. CVT whine too is notable, particularly so when slowing down or coming to a complete stop.
The Liberty’s electric power-assisted steering is light and accurate, and although free of much feedback, it, along with the car’s 11.2-metre turning circle, makes manoeuvring the 4795mm-long sedan a doddle.
Largely comfortable over better quality blacktop, the Subaru can feel a touch finicky and unsettled traversing Melbourne’s tram-track-riddled roads, escalating to a busy, fidgety ride over choppier, undulating roads. On the flip side, most speed humps we encountered were handled with aplomb.
Clearly no STI-honed weekend warrior, the Liberty does benefit from sound and consistent brakes, and high levels of mechanical grip from its 225mm-wide, 50-aspect Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres. It also tips into corners reasonably well – despite plenty of lean and roll, and body control and general dynamism short of the likes of the Mazda 6.
Often caught hunting for the right rpm for any given amount of throttle, the CVT consistently flares revs when driving around town. Apart from becoming tiresome and annoying over longer trips, the indecisive transmission can also throw up the occasional jerk and hesitation.
Happy cruising at 100km/h at 1800rpm, the naturally-aspirated four-cylinder delivers solid mid-range torque between 2400-4000rpm, though, we did see on-test fuel consumption rise to 9.4L/100km – a fair bit higher than its 7.3L/100km claim – by the end of our week with the car.
If you’re keen for more, you can switch the 2.5i Premium’s two-mode Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive) program from ‘Intelligent’ to ‘Sport’ – the Liberty 3.6R is exclusively available with an even sportier ‘Sport Sharp’ mode.
Immediately, the engine, throttle, and transmission are more willing and responsive, and more weight is added to the steering. A little punchier and more excited, switching modes subtly takes the Subaru from feeling a bit reminiscent of your dad’s old Liberty, to a sharper, more interested – and interesting – new Liberty.
Largely pleasingly packaged, the 2016 Subaru Liberty 2.5i is also covered by a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and 12-months road-side assist. Subaru does offer a three-year/75,000km capped-price servicing program, however, with scheduled services required every six months or 12,500km (whichever comes first), ownership costs can creep up. Services range from $299.95 to $524.94 per service for the first three years, totalling $2202.11 for the full warranty period.
Overall, the 2016 Liberty 2.5i Premium is a comfortable, well executed, well-equipped mid-sized sedan, that only falls a touch short in terms of refinement and on some finer details.