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Car reviews - Subaru - Liberty - 2.5i Premium

Our Opinion

We like
Styling, cabin room, features
Room for improvement
Low-speed gearbox abruptness, high service cost

Gallery

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Subaru logo3 Sep 2015

Price and equipment

A NEAT $4000, representing 10 per cent of the car’s previous price, has been slashed off the 2015 Liberty 2.5i Premium.

The incentive, a result of the Japan free-trade agreement that lowers tariffs plus some in-house red ink by Subaru’s parent Fuji Heavy Industries, means the test model is now $35,490 plus on-road costs.

That places it almost $3000 cheaper than a Mazda6 Touring sedan with safety pack but without a sunroof and $5000 cheaper than a Ford Mondeo petrol Trend hatch. What a bargain.

While the feature list of the Premium variant of the Liberty 2.5i tops its rivals, canny buyers who don’t want leather, a hole in the roof and satellite navigation may be lured by the entry-level 2.5i that is a significant $5500 cheaper at $29,990 plus costs – and still has the EyeSight collision-avoidance system. The Premium, it seems, is more for buyers wanting a bit more gloss.

Standard equipment weighs heavily in the safety basket, highlighted by EyeSight and the Liberty/Outback’s five-star crash rating with the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) giving it a 35.99 score from a possible 37.

It then focuses on convenience items, adding an electric sunroof, sat-nav, heated front seats with electric adjustment, leather upholstery facings, dual-zone air-conditioning with airvents for the rear, a six-speaker audio and LED headlights and tail-lights.

Not a lot, however, has changed under the skin. The all-wheel drive design remains a mechanical and marketing point of difference with Liberty rivals, as does the flat-four design of the petrol engine.

There has been some tweaking to improve fuel economy by 7.6 per cent, helped by the more aerodynamic body that claims to slice 10 per cent off the air drag.

The aero kit includes an adjustable shutter beneath the front bumper that closes to improve airflow and opens when the engine needs cooling.

Some culling has occurred to the model compared with its predecessor. There is no manual transmission option and the wagon version has disappeared.

Prospective wagon buyers are steered to the high-rise Liberty clone, the Outback.

Interior

Better use of space, a reconfigured dashboard and a big leap in materials are the most pronounced change to the Liberty’s office.

Designers have kept the driver’s cockpit simple with fuss-free switchgear and a minimalistic approach to the layout, materials and colour.

The dashboard has been lowered and the A-pillars moved forward by 50mm to create a more airy cabin.

It now looks premium thanks to the soft-touch plastic top-dash, low-key trim that adopts gloss black and dismisses fussy chrome used in previous years, and greater instrument clarity.

The touchscreen has far better graphics and is simpler to operate, using pinching and tapping commands, bringing it up to the standard of upmarket European sedans.

There’s also access to internet music providers such as Pandora. The touchscreen also relays trip computer and audio data.

Sound deadening has been increased, as has the comfort of the seats. Subaru states the front seats are wider, slightly higher and 10mm further apart to create more room and support.

The use of the small electric button for the park brake, changed from a manual lever in late 2012, has greatly improved personal storage space, especially the large centre-console cubbyhole behind a flip-down lid.

Compared to the 2014 model, the boot is now bigger by 17 litres at 493 litres with the rear seats up. By comparison, the Toyota Camry has 515 litres, the Mazda6 has 506 litres and the Mondeo has 557 litres, but it is a hatch. The Subaru and the Mondeo are the only ones with a full-size spare wheel.

Engine and transmission

The 2.5-litre flat-four engine remains and though there’s been some internal modifications, they’re aimed at durability and reliability aspects rather than power.

Subaru quotes 129kW at 5800rpm and torque of 235Nm at 4000rpm, both high in the rev range but typical of Japanese petrol engines. The previous model had 127kW/235Nm.

The fuel consumption average is claimed at 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres and run on standard unleaded petrol. Factors that have reduced this from its predecessor’s 7.9L/100km include the better aerodynamics, engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT) tweaking and the adoption of an idle-stop system.

Seemingly guided by a means to reduce vehicle weight, the latest Liberty (and Outback) has a 60 litre fuel tank, down 5.0 litres on the previous model.

Subaru said this saves 0.9 kilograms.

A new engine management computer is quicker at evaluating changes and claims to sharpen up performance.

Subaru has made subtle changes to the CVT to reduce friction and minimise flaring and vagueness. One improvement is its ability to transition from the seamless changes to stepped ratios when it senses more demanding accelerator pedal pressure.

Subaru uses a constant all-wheel drive system with a central viscous coupling and a rear limited-slip differential. The drive is 60:40 front to rear though fluid enough to add more to wheels with less traction.

Ride and handling

The spec sheet indicates the 2.5-litre aspirated engine is no powerhouse and restrained by the Liberty’s relatively tubby 1528kg weight.

But it’s smooth, relaxed and economical when used sensibly and only becomes noisy and thirsty when pushed out of its comfort zone.

It has a driver-select program, offering Intelligent (marked by an “i”) and “s” for Sharp on steering wheel buttons. Intelligent is the default for normal driving, while Sharp does just that – sharpening engine response and commanding the CVT to delay upchanges.

Using “s” is akin to a caffeine hit, producing a more lively response in conjunction with higher revs and a more throaty exhaust note.

Gentle motoring will keep the gearbox in its seamless ratio mode but more spirited driving will flick the box through six stepped ratios – a move that allows the engine to run hard to its 6000rpm red line and extract maximum performance.

While the transmission is efficient in lowering the engine’s fuel thirst, it can occasionally hesitate between changes. It can be particularly indecisive when changing from reverse to drive.

The more enthusiastic engine performance complements the Liberty’s more rigid chassis and the all-wheel drive layout. Small changes to the suspension have tuned the handling to become predictable with positive turn-ins while the electric-assist steering is one of the best in the mid-size category.

Ride comfort is very good. The long wheelbase, cushioned seats and low cabin noise – even on coarse bitumen – make this a superb cruising car.

Safety and servicing

In reflecting on its 35.99 ANCAP score from a possible 37.00, Subaru said its 2015 Liberty and Outback are the safest it has made.

That score is attributed to a comprehensive safety suite but also a stronger and more rigid body.

It has seven airbags, folding and heated mirrors, automatic headlights and wipers, a reversing camera, front and rear park sensors, lane-departure warning, DataDot security inscription and adaptive cruise control that gauges and adjusts speed according to forward traffic.

The EyeSight device, now standard on Liberty and available on most Outback variants, has been overhauled and now sees a 40 per cent increase in width and range.

The unit, which uses stereo cameras tucked at top-centre of the windscreen, is now smaller than before and allows a return to standard-sized interior sunvisors. To allow it to see clearer, there are three windscreen washer nozzles instead of two.

There are three main modes within EyeSight – the pre-collision auto braking the ability to work with the cruise control to keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead and the ability to identify and avoid pedestrians, bikes and other obstacles.

New for 2015 is its ability to recognize colours, particularly the red of brake lights, and immediately prepare for collision avoidance.

Subaru’s warranty is three years and unlimited distance, with one-year roadside assistance.

It has a lifetime capped-price service program but service intervals are every six months. Over three years, the service bill will be $2216.

This is expensive in comparison to Camry at $560 and Mazda 6 at $924.

In its favour, Subaru does have a strong resale value and a reputation for reliability.

Glass’s Guide quotes the Liberty 2.5i Premium as having a three-year residual value of 55 per cent. By comparison, the Camry has a 37 per cent residual and the Mazda 6 is 54 per cent.

Verdict

This is a surprise package. Anyone in the mid-size sedan bracket should add this car to the list.

It’s quiet, comfortable, roomy and reasonably economical. The safety list is gobsmacking, especially as everything is standard and the Liberty’s price represents a big discount to its rivals.

Perhaps the biggest downside is the cost of servicing which is four times that of the Toyota Camry. Perhaps Subaru should look at annual servicing that potentially cuts the cost in half.

That aside, the CVT, though clever, could be more responsive. But, as a package, it’s a winner.

Rivals

Skoda Octavia Elegance 132TSI from $35,140 plus on-road costs
The stylish Skoda Octavia boasts impressive room and solid features. The equipment level is generally higher than the Subaru and the ownership costs are lower, but the 45 per cent residual value is down on the Liberty at 55 per cent. The 132kW/250Nm 1.8-litre turbo-petrol claims 5.9L/100km. The spacious Octavia looks like a sedan but is actually a liftback. Storage space is a high 568 litres.

Hyundai Sonata Elite from $36,990 plus on-road costs
The recently-launched Sonata competes strongly in the mid-car segment, including against the company’s own i40. But the Sonata is more conservatively styled and thanks to an 180kW/350Nm 2-litre turbo-petrol engine, has impressive performance and handling. Hyundai claims 9.2L/100km. The sedan has 510 litres of boot space.

Mazda6 Touring from $37,280 plus on-road costs
Recently refreshed, the Mazda 6 is a strong competitor in this medium-size class. The latest model gets upgraded connectivity, electric park brake, a “sport” mode for better engine and transmission response, and better refinement to the ride and handling. The 2.5-litre engine is rated at 138kW/250Nm and averages 6.6L/100km. The sedan’s boot has a 506 litre capacity.

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