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Car reviews - Subaru - Liberty - RS Turbo 4WD 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
The whole package
Room for improvement
Expensive for parts and service

27 Jun 2003

WHEN the first generation Liberty was launched in 1989, the all- new car moved Subaru upmarket in both size and cost to the medium-sized sector.

The Japanese-built range came in sedan and station wagon styles with either front-wheel drive or full-time four-wheel drive.

The Liberty combined the traditional Subaru qualities of practicality and long life - reinforced by Subaru being the first company in Australia to offer a three year/100,000km warranty - with much more mainstream styling.

The RS Turbo wagon, released in October, 1992, one year after the RS sedan, added another dimension to the Liberty range.

Here was a car with sure-footed four-wheel drive grip and a high performance turbocharged engine in a practical, conservative station wagon body. It was a clever package which had no direct rivals.

The competition could offer either turbo power, four-wheel drive or wagon versatility, but not all three in one package.

The clincher for the RS wagon is it is not a stripped out pretend competition special but a well equipped and comfortable car.

Air-conditioning, power steering and cruise control are standard features. There's also electric windows and mirrors. Anti-lock brakes were the only option.

Although the RS is a conservatively styled car, there are subtle external giveaways about what is under the bonnet.

There are a front air dam under the bumper with built-in fog lights, a bonnet-mounted air scoop and RS decals.

The engine is Subaru's traditional flat four design but the RS has double overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. The turbocharger and intercooler boost the power output to 147kW at 6000rpm.

Subaru has used a reasonably high compression ratio for a turbo engine - 8.5 to 1 - to improve low-speed driveability and fuel consumption.

The result is a fast car which is easy to drive in traffic. But there is a small price for this as the engine must have a diet of more expensive premium unleaded fuel.

The RS Liberty's four-wheel driveline uses a manual transmission - there were not automatic versions - and is a permanently engaged system with a viscous coupling to split the torque between the front and rear wheels.

Subaru made the suspension quite a bit stiffer on the RS to suit its sporting character so the ride is firm at low speeds.

At higher speeds the ride improves and the four-wheel drive grip makes it a safe and stable car.

The Liberty RS Turbo wagon is a wolf in sheep's clothing as far as performance goes.

Add good handling and grip with station wagon luggage space and the RS is a practical and safe sporting wagon.

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