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Car reviews - Subaru - Liberty - sedan/wagon range

Launch Story

9 Sep 2009

SUBARU’S fifth-generation, EZ5-series Liberty range landed this week with an all-new platform and body boasting big gains in space, refinement, driveability, safety, economy and emissions reduction.

Kicking off from an unchanged $33,990 for the base Liberty 2.5i, the long-serving mid-sized Japanese sedan and wagon range with symmetrical all-wheel drive gains higher equipment levels to its repertoire.

Yet the range-topping Liberty GT Premium’s price tumbles by $4500 to $52,990 while the new 3.6R Premium model matches its $51,990 3.0R Premium predecessor.

While Subaru has carried over modified versions of the existing 2.5-litre four-cylinder boxer engines, the larger 3.6-litre horizontally opposed item (sedan only) from the Tribeca SUV has replaced the old 3.0-litre six-cylinder unit.

Furthermore, in the name of significantly better economy and emissions, the volume-selling naturally aspirated 2.5-litre powerplant gains an all-new stepless CVT transmission dubbed Lineartronic.

It replaces the archaic four-speed automatic gearbox and serves as an option to the standard six-speed manual that usurps the old five-speed manual transmission.

Meanwhile, the turbocharged 2.5-litre and all six-cylinder models make do with a five-speed automatic gearbox, although the former can also be had with a six-speed manual shifter.

An electronic park brake is new (and safer for front seat occupants in a severe side impact), while more expensive models also get light-sensing headlights, rain-sensing wipers and keyless entry and start.

The newly installed driver’s knee airbag is fitted to every vehicle, helping the Mk5 range to score a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating. Aiding this feat is a cabin that has been strengthened in key areas, as well as an engine cradle that folds to better-absorb impact energy, according to Subaru.

The company is also releasing a Liberty 2.5i Sports model featuring Lineartronic, a different front bumper and grille treatment, Bilstein suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels, high intensity discharge Xenon headlights with washers, and alloy pedals.

Steering wheel paddles are also part of every automatic Liberty’s equipment regime.

At the other end of the spectrum, buyers now have an ‘ECO’ gauge to assist with more efficient driving habits.

Purists may be disappointed to learn that the latest Liberty finally consigns Subaru’s frameless door fetish to the dustbin in the name of better access through a wider opening arc, as well as improved refinement and strength levels.

Also to that end, the engineers have created a new single-cradle engine bay that is also said to benefit ride and stability properties.

The 2.5-litre single-overhead-cam normally aspirated horizontally opposed four-cylinder petrol engine produces 123kW of power at 5600rpm and 229Nm of torque at 4000rpm, representing a 4kW drop and a 2Nm increase over the old four-pot Liberty.

Subaru says the combined fuel consumption average and carbon dioxide emissions ratings are 8.9 litres per 100 kilometres and 209 grams per kilometre for the manual (down slightly), while the 2.5i Lineartronic CVT improves on both with 8.4L/100km and 198g/km respectively.

More performance is available in the Liberty GT’s turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-litre twin-cam version, which delivers 195kW at 5600rpm and 350Nm at 2400rpm.

Its consumption and emissions figures are 9.8L/100km (auto: 9.7) and 230g/km (auto: 228) respectively – much improved over the old Liberty GT.

The 3.6-litre boxer six-cylinder engine ups the ante to 191kW at 5600rpm and an equalising 350Nm – but at a higher 4400rpm than the turbo four.

Its respective economy and CO2 emissions are 10.3L/100km and 242g/km – and again these are better than the previous 180kW/297Nm 3.0i unit. Furthermore, the 3.6R can run safely on just 90 RON unleaded petrol, for a two per cent deficit in performance and economy.

As before, the Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive) system is part of the Liberty GT and six-cylinder model specification, delivering a trio of different driving experience choices in the same car.

Subaru says the chassis is lighter than before despite the increased measurements.

Furthermore, prototypes were sent to Australia for testing and retuning – mainly to the suspension and involving the damper and spring rates as well as anti-roll bar size – to make the latest Liberty better suited to local buyer taste.

The front suspension uses a MacPherson strut-type construction with a larger anti roll bar while a new compact double-wishbone rear suspension set-up similar to that found on the latest Impreza small car is mounted to the sub-frame.

Braking has been improved thanks to a newly designed booster that includes a higher response valve for a 20 per cent performance increase.

Bigger than before, the wagon grows in length (+65mm), width (+50mm) and wheelbase (+80mm), while the sedan’s length and width has been stretched 80mm.

The larger and more aerodynamic body liberates space for cargo as well as passengers, Subaru says, thanks to a 30mm rise in the width between the front seats and a 68mm length increase between the front and rear rows, which results in a 99mm and 62mm boost in rear legroom and shoulder room respectively.

Wagon buyers now have an extra 31 litres of cargo space to play with, due to the 19mm gains in width at the wheel arch and an extra 35mm at the quarter panel. Sedan boot space edges up to 47 litres.

Weight gains over the last Liberty (and Outback) are in the region of 17 to 94kg, depending on model.

Front seat comfort advances include longer sliding rails, an electronic lumbar support for the driver on premium variants, and larger seatback heights to accommodate bigger frame sizes.

Standard features include a full suite of safety gear including stability control, as well as dual-zone air-conditioning, 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Factory fitted voice-activated satellite navigation with a reverse camera facility is now available.

Subaru is hoping to find about 950 buyers a month for Liberty and Outback combined, with 550 settling for the former and 400 for the latter.

Wagons should account for about 30 per cent of all sales, while three out of four customers should choose the 2.5i variants – with about half of these going for the base model. The GT and 3.6R register 15 and 10 per cent of volume respectively.

Subaru says the Liberty demographic is mainly males over 35 years old who are professional/managers, and usually married.

Figures supplied by Subaru show that the $42,490 Liberty 2.5i Premium offers 12 per cent better value than the $42,910 Mazda6 Luxury.

According to Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior, the latest Liberty’s specification versus price equation is a compelling story.

“Every Liberty is keenly priced. The fact that none have increased and some have actually decreased, while specification is enhanced in so many key areas, makes these vehicles an extremely attractive proposition,” he stated.

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