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Car reviews - Subaru - Liberty - MY2007 sedan/wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Quality, handling, GT acceleration, vehicle dynamic control
Room for improvement
High-gloss reflection from audio controls, narrow body, fussy styling cues, overly light steering

Subaru logo6 Sep 2006

By NEIL MCDONALD

IT IS pretty easy to become a fan of the Subaru Liberty line-up.

They're well packaged, well equipped and well built. Strong resale values also ensure that when trade-in time comes, you can reasonably expect a positive change-over price.

However, in recent years we’ve seen their competitive edge eroded by newer, just-as-competent rivals and some larger, well packaged SUVs of the caliber of Ford’s Territory.

Subaru’s catch-cry of symmetrical all-wheel drive was no longer enough.

However, Subaru has responded by sharpening its pricing pencil on the refreshed 2007 models to prevent any leakage of Liberty sales.

The entry 2.0R remains at a starting price of $31,990 but there are some nominal price cuts of $1000 and $1500 on other variants.

It’s all positive news, particularly as the new models gain some welcome additional equipment, like reach as well as height-adjustable steering, a six-stacker in-dash CD player and brake assist, quite apart from the refreshed exterior.

Combined with a revised front-end, new headlights and improved interior with better quality trims, the Liberty starts to redress the imbalance brought about by some of its keenly priced rivals.

We also welcome the return of the GT, which in 2.0-litre form failed to meet tougher emission requirements that came in from January 1 and was quietly faded out of the line-up late last year.

This time around the auto-only GT – if you want a manual you must opt for the GT spec-B - gains a 2.5-litre four that develops 184kW at 6000rpm and 339Nm at 3600rpm.

However, the real interesting addition to the GT, like the other premium Libertys, is the Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive) and it is something you will hear much more about in coming months.

In a nutshell it offers three different drive modes – Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp – which optimise performance to a given driving situation.

Intelligent mode ensures a gentle smooth power output and contributes to great in-town economy.

In the GT, it reduces power by 20 per cent to 148kW and torque by 19 per cent to 275Nm. Subaru’s own testing has shown that the GT, in Intelligent mode, can deliver a 14 per cent improvement in fuel consumption around town and gains of six per cent on the highway over Sport mode.

As the names suggest, Sport and Sport Sharp mean performance for the enthusiast.

Sport Sharp modifies the engine mapping to deliver lightning-quick throttle response and more power sooner than even Sport.

It works reasonably well but the onus is on the driver to remember which mode you’re in. Don’t expect rapid acceleration in Intelligent mode, and likewise, do not expect to dawdle in Sport Sharp mode. The default mode is Sport for all-round normal motoring.

To flick between the settings, the SI-Drive control button is on the centre console behind the gearshift. It’s all relatively straight-forward and a boon for those who appreciate the flexibility afforded by the system.

Downsides? None specifically to speak of however, we’d like to think that there are engines out there that combine performance and economy without the fussiness of a three-mode driving system. It borders on gimmicky.

Apart from taking stock of the console control, there is also a Sport Sharp switch on the steering wheel, bringing to 14 the number of steering wheel controls at your fingertips, not including the paddle shifters or wiper and indicator stalks. That’s too many.

Visually too the styling changes to the facelifted GT – and the rest of the range for that matter - come across as a little too fussy for our liking.

The faux vents in the rear bumper look like an afterthought and the front under-bumper area does not look as cleanly styled or harmonious as the previous model.

Fortunately the interior, specifically the dashboard, has been left largely alone.

Improvements here have seen the centre console gain a more complete look and the faux-brushed alloy look is reasonably tasteful and the steering wheel mounted paddles are of a size that makes them useable even with the steering wheel turning into a corner.

The only glaring note is the console’s shiny piano-black effect. In direct sunlight, or even just bright sun, it reflects so badly that it is impossible to read the ventilation controls.

If the GT sends out mixed messages in a styling sense, there is no doubt about its on-road credentials.

The GT lives up to its name as a solid, performance machine. The five-speed automatic is smooth, responsive and mates well to the engine. Steering, brakes and comfort levels are all what we expect from Subaru that is, good.

However, our drive of the GT was rudely arrested after just 21.8km when the engine developed a glitch that resulted in a major shutdown just at the wrong time, through some twisty uphill corners. A barrage of lights on the dashboard indicated a catastrophic failure of some sort.

The GT came to a grinding halt and refused to restart. Subaru Australia believes the fault lay with the wiring loom and is investigating.

To be fair, it is the first time ever that we’ve heard of a Subaru failing to proceed.

Before the malfunction the GT was behaving impeccably.

The steering, although a tad too light, was precise and the car displayed a near-neutral stance through the corners while the suspension soaked up bumps with an impressive level of suppleness.

The flexibility of the 2.5-litre turbo four was as impressive as it was responsive. Prod the accelerator and the car was punchy, accelerating quickly and smoothly. Likewise, the paddle shifts allowed smooth shifting and, like some Euro rivals, could be used in manual mode even with the car in D.

Subaru quotes a combined fuel economy figure of 10.9L/100km, which is commendable for a performance sedan. The car is tuned to run on 95 RON fuel.

There are things about the Liberty you cannot escape, like its narrow body and cramped rear legroom for adults. But we’ll have to wait until the all-new car arrives in 2009 to see improvements in those areas.

For now, enthusiasts will welcome the return of the GT. It remains true to the Subaru's successful formula.

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