Car reviews - Subaru - Liberty - RX sedan
Quality, refinement, driveability, value, comfort, AWD
Room for improvement
Tight rear legroom, thirsty 2.5-litre models, slightly chintzy up-spec interiors
7 Feb 2001
By P TIBBLES
SUBARU'S third generation Liberty sedan is just as accomplished as its wagon counterpart, voted Wheels Magazine's Car of the Year for 1998.
Although similar in size to the 1994-1998 Liberty Mk2, the Mk3 model is all-new from the ground up. But traditionalists can relax: the Subaru hallmarks of a boxer engine and four-wheel drive remain.
Launched almost six months after the station wagon, the sedan uses the same platform and mechanicals as its load-carrying counterpart, so its driving characteristics are much the same - but it is tauter, quieter and more refined.
Its character is defined by the distinctive throbby beat of its flat-four "boxer" engine - referred to as such because the horizontally-opposed banks of cylinders virtually box each other.
The advantages of boxer engine configurations lie in the space efficiency and low centre of gravity they provide.
The Liberty's engines proved smooth, tractable and gutsy - particularly the 2.5-litre version.
Although not as quiet as a Toyota Camry, the Liberty's unique exhaust note will appeal to many drivers.
The engine is best mated to the five-speed manual transmission, although this combination is not available in the top specification Heritage.
Even though the optional four-speed automatic is an all-new unit, it appears ill-matched to the engine's characteristics, proving reluctant to "kickdown" when instant acceleration is required.
The four-wheel drive layout inspires confidence, particularly in wet conditions, enabling the driver to power out of corners without developing white knuckles.
The handling is beautifully balanced, ranging from a neutral attitude to mild understeer, while the well-weighted steering provides ample feedback.
Despite the sporty handling and lack of body roll, the ride quality is compliant and even rutted dirt roads do not unduly upset the Liberty's composure.
The new-generation Liberty has a more sporty visual presence than its predecessor, drawing some styling cues from contemporary BMWs.
The cabin is also all-new, although the ambience is unmistakably Subaru.
Big, simple instrument faces are as easy to read as the surrounding switches and controls are to use.
The materials look and feel good, although the fake wood console surround looks more Las Vegas than Milan or Stuttgart.
Never mind. The comfortable seats, nice-to-behold fabrics and superb build quality are a league ahead of the previous Liberty.
Only tight rear legroom (a constant gripe with Subarus of late) is a cause for concern.
The standard features list is a long one. Even the base GX model scores dual airbags, anti-lock brakes, air-conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control, power mirrors, windows and steering, and a six-speaker CD player.
The mid-range RX - expected to be the model's volume seller - adds climate control air-conditioning, alloy wheels, a body kit, fog lights and the 2.5-litre, four-cylinder engine under the bonnet.
A plethora of storage spaces, cupholders and a large cargo area complete the capable family car role the latest Liberty plays.
The Liberty is refined, well built and highly rewarding to drive.
- Automotive NetWorks 16/06/1999
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