Car reviews - Subaru - Liberty - GX sedan
quality engineering, grip on 4WD models
Room for improvement
costly servicing and parts
1 Aug 2003
SUBARU started importing odd-looking small sedans into Australia back in the early 1970s.
They first came under notice with remarkably good results in the rugged Southern Cross rallies of the era, establishing a reputation for reliability that has since been a hallmark of the make.
After being on the fringe of the mainstream family car market through the 1970s and 1980s, the company introduced the Liberty in 1989 as a competitor in the mid-sized passenger field.
The Liberty - sold elsewhere in the world as the Legacy but changed for Australia in respect of the RSL - was a brand new design, although successful features from previous models such as the alloy flat four boxer engine and a four-wheel drive option were retained.
The car was designed to compete directly with Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Mazda and introduced a trendsetting three- year/70,000km warranty.
It is a five-seater with attractive lines and excellent performance.
The model range varies from the front-wheel drive LX and GX sedans, a GX wagon with two-wheel or four-wheel drive through to a four-wheel drive GX sedan and a high performance 4WD RS turbo model.
The latter model was used by Subaru to win the Australian Rally Championship in 1991 and 1992.
The model under review here is the two-wheel drive GX sedan, powered by an all-alloy, 2.2-litre, flat four engine with overhead camshafts and 16 valves.
The redesigned engine, which features a five-bearing crankshaft for greater smoothness and longer life, is mounted ahead of the front wheels and drives through a five-speed manual gearbox or dual mode four-speed automatic.
The manual transmission models have an unusual "hill hold" feature whereby the vehicle is held stationary on an uphill slope with the clutch pedal depressed and the footbrake released.
The suspension is independent all round with MacPherson struts and coil springs at the front and dual link struts and coil springs at the rear.
Emphasis has been placed on long-wheel travel and improved geometry to aid ride and handling and take advantage of the four- wheel drive option on those models where it is fitted.
Brakes are power-assisted four wheel discs, ventilated at the front, while the steering is variable ratio power-assisted rack and pinion.
Wheels/tyres are 14-inch 185/70 radials. Michelin tyres were original equipment.
The body of the Liberty is rigidly constructed with extensive use of galvanised steel panels to prevent rust and all window glass is flush mounted to reduce wind noise.
Inside, the GX has good head and leg room for five adults. There is plenty of cabin storage space with a console box and driver's side oddments tray in addition to the lockable glovebox.
The steering wheel is adjustable for height and the instruments, radio and ventilation controls are combined in a curved binnacle.
Moquette seat trim and high quality carpet are features of the GX and boot space is generous.
Standard features include cruise control, power windows, rear heater ducting, central locking, interior boot lid and fuel door release, air-conditioning, driver's seat height and lumbar adjustment, and electric rear view mirrors.
On the road, the Liberty is an impressive performer. The engine has a very flat torque curve and pulls well in the low and medium ranges, giving excellent acceleration.
Manual gearshift operation is light and precise and the steering is well weighted to give good road feel.
Handling tends to understeer if the car is pushed hard into tight corners but is generally neutral and predictable. Brakes are secure and fade free.
Overall, the Liberty GX is an extremely competent car, combining room, comfort, good performance and a high level of equipment.
Mechanical reliability has always been a Subaru hallmark and it is an excellent buy.
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