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Car reviews - Subaru - Liberty - 3.6R

Our Opinion

We like
Premium interior execution, compliant suspension tune, generous standard equipment, punchy six-cylinder boxer
Room for improvement
Steering could be tighter, throttle is too sensitive, can be a bit plain, CVT curbs performance

Subaru serves up capable, if somewhat ordinary, Liberty 3.6R mid-size sedan

Subaru logo1 Aug 2018

Overview

SEVERAL mid-size sedans have copped flack over the years for blending too much into the background, namely the cardigan-wearing Toyota Camry. However, it hasn’t been alone as the Subaru Liberty has faced similar criticism.

When its sixth-generation model launched in late 2014, this perception began to shift. Fast forward to early 2018 and the Japanese car-maker is back at it again with an important update.

As such, the Liberty’s mid-life facelift ushered in tweaks to its front grille, front and rear bumpers, side mirrors, alloy wheels and headlights externally.

Meanwhile, a larger touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support was added internally alongside improved voice control and satellite navigation.

Additionally, lane-keep assist and side- and front-view cameras are available for the first time.

So, has Subaru managed to further improve the Liberty’s reputation again? Or is it a case of ‘better luck next time’? We test the Liberty in its flagship 3.6R form to find out.

 

Price and equipment

 

Priced from $43,140 before on-road costs, the Liberty 3.6R is $400 dearer than its predecessor, but buyers are compensated with a strong value proposition.

Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 225/50 Dunlop tyres, a full-size spare wheel, rain-sensing windshield wipers, adaptive LED headlights with dusk-sensing, LED daytime running lights, front foglights, LED tail-lights, power-folding side mirrors with heating and rear privacy glass.

 

Inside, dual-zone climate control, a power sunroof, an 8.0-inch Starlink touchscreen infotainment system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, satellite navigation, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, voice control, an 11-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, a 5.0-inch colour multi-information display, eight-way power-adjustable front seats with heating and lumbar support, driver-seat memory functionality, black leather upholstery, a leather steering wheel with paddle shifters, sports pedals, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, keyless entry and start, and stainless-steel scuff plates.

 

Our test car was finished in Platinum Grey metallic paintwork, which is a no-cost option, while the set of carpet floor mats are a $205 option. As such, the price as tested was $43,345.

 

Interior

 

Slide into the Liberty 3.6R’s driver seat and you will be find a well-presented cabin. Soft-touch materials adorn the dashboard and upper doors to good effect, while leather upholstery covers most other surfaces. There are some cheaper plastics, though.

 

That being said, it is – in keeping with its theme – the dashboard and centre console designs are very much straight up and down. Don’t let the Liberty’s sports pedals fool you, it doesn’t aim to excite, but the restyled steering wheel is a pearler.

 

The centre stack has been completely redesigned as part of the facelift, with addition of the 3.6R’s larger 8.0-inch touchscreen system forcing Subaru’s hand. As a result, the HVAC controls and central air vents have been tweaked, while gloss-black trim abounds.

 

While we do enjoy the Starlink infotainment system for its ease of use, it is disappointing that a night mode is unavailable when using satellite navigation. Its white background is too bright when natural light is non-existent, forcing the driver to reduce brightness until the sun rises once more.

 

Measuring in at 4795mm long, 1840mm wide and 1500mm tall with a 2750mm wheelbase, the Liberty is a touch on the large size in the mid-size class, but that results in generous rear legroom behind our 184cm driving position.

 

However, rear headroom is a little tighter than we’d like due to the second row’s high bench. Nevertheless, cargo capacity is plentiful, at 493 litres, but can be expanded when the 60:40 split-fold second row is stowed. A well-executed premium interior? You bet.

 

Engine and transmission

 

The Liberty 3.6R is motivated by a 3.6-litre boxer six-cylinder engine that produces 191kW of power at 6000rpm and 350Nm of torque at 4400rpm. As these outputs suggest, it is a punchy unit that resists the turbocharging trend its contemporaries follow.

However, its throttle response does feel too sensitive at times, which can create jerky off-the-line acceleration.

 

Subaru says the 1659kg 3.6R can sprint from standstill to 100km/h in 7.2 seconds while on the way to its top speed of 240km/h. These marks seem about right, reinforcing this variant’s position as the pick in the Liberty range.

As such, the powertrain offers a level of smooth power delivery that is highly enjoyable and sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

 

However, Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) is exclusively responsible for sending drive to the 3.6R’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive system with active torque vectoring.

As part of the update, the CVT now has seven ‘speeds’ – one more than it did before – but it is still not perfect.

 

For most drivers, the Liberty’s CVT will provide a seamless experience as it endeavours to prioritise efficiency over performance, but that’s the problem – it does its very best to prevent the driver from reaching maximum power, or even peak torque, with the exception of manual mode. For that reason, a torque-convertor continues to be preferential.

 

For those who want a little more urge, however, three different Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive) driving modes – Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp – allow the driver to alter engine and transmission settings on the move.

However, the bad news is that the CVT continues to curb performance, no matter what mode is engaged, despite engine speeds climbing that little bit higher.

 

Claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle test is 9.9 litres per 100 kilometres, while carbon dioxide emissions have been tested at 230 grams per kilometre. During our week-long test of the 3.6R, we averaged 11.2L/100km, which was impacted by more city-based driving than highway stints. An admirable result, all things considered.

 

Ride and handling

 

The Liberty 3.6R’s true test is how it rides and handles, and we’re happy to report it’s almost there. Subaru has done a really good job with the suspension tune for its new-generation Impreza and XV, with the Liberty not far off their mark.

 

The 3.6R’s suspension consists of a MacPherson-strut front axle and a double-wishbone rear axle, with each featuring coil springs and a stabiliser bar. It successfully wafts along, welcoming uneven or unsealed roads with confidence while remaining flat around corners. However, speed humps and pot holes can upset ride comfort, adding a little bounce, but depending on their size, that’s to be expected.

 

Conversely, the Liberty’s electrically power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system tells a slightly different story. While it does an admirable job, we can’t help but feel it could be a little tighter. Its tendency to get loose with minimal lock can have a negative effect during cornering as the driver wrestles it back into line. Unfortunately, it holds this package back due to its often wild behaviour.

 

Furthermore, while you can throw the 3.6R around corners, it’s not the first word in dynamism. Our test car’s steering was definitely off-centre, and we doubt it was a wheel alignment issue due to its limited mileage.

Unfortunately, while the suspension is compliant, the steering puts up an unwelcome fight. Close, but no cigar.

 

Safety and servicing

 

The entire Liberty range was awarded a five-star safety by the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) in December 2014. Overall, the model scored 35.99 out of 37 – or 97.3 per cent – with perfect results in the side impact at 50km/h (16 out of 16) and oblique pole at 32km/h (two out of two) crash tests. Pedestrian and whiplash protection were rated as ‘acceptable’ and ‘good’ respectively.

 

The 3.6R’s EyeSight advanced driver-assist safety technologies extend to forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, lane-sway warning, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, side- and front-view cameras, a reversing camera and hill start assist, although it is disappointing that front and rear parking sensors are not included as standard.

 

Other safety equipment includes seven airbags (dual front, side and curtain plus driver knee), anti-skid brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and the usual traction and stability control systems.

 

As with all Liberty variants, the 3.6R comes with a three-year/unlimited-kilometre factory warranty, which includes one year of roadside assist. Service intervals are biannual or 12,500km, whichever comes first under the three-year/75,000km capped-price servicing program. A three-year all-inclusive service plan is available optionally.

 

Verdict

 

The Liberty very much remains the sixth-generation model that launched in December 2014. In many ways it is a class leader, but in others it falls just short. Part of this is to do with the fact that Subaru did not go all out with its mid-life facelift, meaning it continues to tread water.

 

While infotainment and active safety have taken a welcome step forward in a move that will appeal to many tech-savvy and class-concious buyers, those looking for an engaging drive and a playful character might want to look elsewhere.

 

Nevertheless, the 3.6R’s premium interior execution, compliant suspension tune and generous level of standard equipment are sure to please, even if its loose steering and performance-sapping CVT continue to hinder.

That being said, it is still one of the better mid-sizers on the market. We can’t wait to see what Subaru has in store next for the Liberty.

 

Rivals

 

Toyota Camry V6 SL (from $43,990 before on-road costs)

The Camry is finally enjoyable to drive thanks to its impressive ride and handling and gutsy V6 engine. However, its styling can divide opinion, while the automatic transmission holds onto gears.

 

Ford Mondeo Titanium EcoBoost (from $44,790 before on-road costs)

Starting to feel long in the tooth, the Mondeo does offer a smooth ride and plenty of interior space, but its steering can be slightly lazy and the cabin doesn’t not feel premium enough to justify the cost.

 

Skoda Octavia RS245 (from $45,890 before on-road costs)

While this Octavia does have a distinct performance flavour, it delivers in spades due to its stellar turbo-petrol powertrain and superb steering. However, some cheap cabin materials disappoint.


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