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Car reviews - Subaru - Liberty - GT sedan

Our Opinion

We like
GT manual faster than auto, harder edge than similarly priced 3.0R-B, performance and response, refinement, more restrained style than WRX, standard equipment list, build quality, safety level, chassis balance
Room for improvement
Lacks the 3.0R-B's six-speed manual, no stability control, overly light steering, suspension too firm for some, less midrange torque than 3.0R, premium unleaded diet

17 Mar 2005

IT’S interesting, Subaru’s decision on how to present its Liberty range in Australia.

As a basic reflection of the fact that increasing numbers of buyers are spending upwards of $50,000 on their new Subarus, the range of Libertys on offer has been tweaked recently to position the brand as slightly upmarket of the bulk of its Japanese competitors.

At the pinnacle of the Subaru tree are two Libertys – the muscular and luxurious six-cylinder 3.0R (or 3.0R-B manual) and the Liberty GT, which is a sort of grown-up Impreza WRX.

Both sell for approximately the same price, both have quite astounding performance capabilities, both are available in automatic or (just recently) in manual form and both share the same basic Liberty package. But they are two cars of entirely different character.

The six-cylinder Liberty is a smooth, luxuriously fitted-out performance car that is capable, in manual 3.0R-B form, of putting 400 metres behind it in less than 15 seconds, yet it has an essence that speaks of competent, prestige-class luxury.

In manual-transmission form the Liberty GT is even faster, is virtually as well fitted-out, but has a harder edge to it.

This begins with the 190kW, four-cylinder turbocharged boxer engine and continues through the driveline to the suspension. The Liberty GT is altogether more abrupt and businesslike, with an immediacy about it that will appeal to those who love the WRX but see themselves as being past that phase of their lives.

That immediacy was augmented recently by the arrival of a manual-transmission Liberty GT to supplement the existing five-speed auto version that entered the market in 2003.

The five-speed manual GT was apparently developed specifically for Australia, where it has done well, way above sales expectations of 50 cars a month at its launch. All very nice, but it would have been even nicer had Subaru fiddled the six-speed manual transmission seen in the 3.0R-B so it fitted the GT.

Regardless, the manual GT is a car that will hardly go unnoticed.

The engine note is throaty and purposeful, emitting a delightful crackle from outside the car that is quite unlike the reverberating thump you hear from modified WRXs. The GT has a neat pair of twin pipes that are far more refined looking than the outsize drainpipes WRX owners seem to aspire to.

Compared with the 3.0R-B, which is an impressively powerful car in itself, the Liberty GT has a constantly eager feel to it.

The suspension is firm, the steering is lighter than the three-litre and there’s no electronic stability control to look after you if your ambitions exceed your capabilities. There’s just the inherent balance of the all-wheel drive Subaru chassis.

The appointments are actually quite luxurious – power driver’s seat, leather, premium sound system, power sunroof, climate-control – but the plush aura is missing, replaced by a more functional look that does away with the fake-wood glamour of the auto 3.0R.

It’s a nice interior, veering more towards restrained Euro than glittering Japanese, offering plenty of comfort and space up front, with a certain tightness in the back seat that reminds you this is a Mazda6-size car, and not a particularly impressively packaged one at that.

To be fair, the boot’s okay and, like we said, so is the front seat, meaning that a bit of compromising and juggling will usually result in a happy car-full.

The GT’s exterior is a little understated though. The wheels are one inch smaller than the six-cylinder Liberty and there’s not a lot of body embellishment, apart from a purposeful-looking hole in the bonnet that feeds the intercooler.

The quality of the Subaru is clearly at the high end of the scale. The frameless doors shut with a reassuring thud, and the detail around the dash and general interior doesn’t suggest any short cuts with materials. There’s plenty of soft-touch vinyl and even the obligatory Momo steering wheel to imbue a sense of substance.

Subaru scores very highly in safety too, with GT and six-cylinder versions getting full-length curtain airbags as well as dual front-side airbags and active, anti-whiplash front headrests. These all play a part in the Libertys scooping up a five-star NCAP safety rating.

On the road, the manual GT delivers on the promise of the horizontally opposed four-cylinder turbo engine. Unlike the B4 that preceded it, the GT gets only a single turbo, but it’s a twin-scroll device that does a relatively good job of delivering low-speed torque as well as mid-range power – although it’s never going to be as easily accessible as that of the three-litre, six-cylinder 3.0R.

The maximum 330Nm of torque come in fairly low, at 2400rpm, so it’s not too hard to bring it to the boil. It certainly makes smart getaways with a lot more ease than a WRX STi.

And, weighing in at around 70kg less than the marginally less powerful, less torquey and higher-geared 3.0R-B, it certainly feels responsive to a bit of accelerator. Zero to 100km/h in 5.8 seconds, which is the factory claim, is getting along at a decent clip.

But, compared with the 3.0R-B, you have to work a bit to extract its best. Work it, and will respond in way that’s sure to please – and it’s a nice smooth four-cylinder, confirming the perfect balance of horizontally-opposed design.

The transmission might have been better as a six-speed, but it slips quickly and positively enough through the ratios, and the clutch isn’t tricky in the way of the 3.0R-B, which taps into the engine management and tweaks rpm to help prevent stalling. The manual GT’s lower final drive plays no small part in its accelerative abilities.

The driver feels very connected with the GT. The steering, as we said, is quite light – lighter than the 3.0R-B – and is responsive. The all-wheel drive ensures the car tracks with surety on all kinds of surfaces, although we did experience a little steady-throttle oversteer that surprised us.

It speaks volumes for the GT’s balance that it corrected smoothly with only small input required from the steering wheel.

The firm ride feels appropriate for a sporting sedan. It’s not too harsh, and manages to take the edges off sharp bumps quite effectively. It rides firmly, but it grips firmly too.

The 17-inch wheels are one inch smaller than the six-cylinder, but use the same 215/45R dimensions. And there’s a full-size alloy spare in the boot.

A good thing about the GT’s performance is that it’s accompanied by quite impressive fuel economy. It might need premium grade unleaded, but the claimed average figure of 9.7L/100km is quite easy to achieve, and is notably better than the 3.0R-B’s 12.4L/100km.

This is a sharp-edged Liberty, quite blatantly sporty when compared with the six-cylinder 3.0R-B and noticeably more involving to drive.

There’s precious little difference where recommended retail price is concerned – it’s a little dearer than the six-cylinder manual – so it really comes down to deciding what sort of performance Subaru you prefer.

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