New models - Subaru - Liberty
First drive: Subaru's hot new Liberty trio
Subaru, in the midst of a sales surge, introduces three new Liberty models
13 Aug 2004
By TIM BRITTEN
IMPRESSIVE July and year-to-date sales for 2004 underpin Subaru’s introduction of three new versions of its medium-size Liberty model – 3.0R six-cylinder wagon and sedan, and a manual transmission Liberty GT.
With July sales for the Inchcape-owned importer 16.5 per cent ahead of June and, on year-to-date sales, a running rate that is a healthy 18.6 per cent ahead of 2003, Subaru is on target for 32,000 sales by the end of the year.
This is in a market that has, for many car-makers, showed signs of softening as a federal election looms and loan interest rates are on the increase.
Only a handful of importers operating in the segment have improved sales and only one – Honda – has bettered Subaru’s percentage gains over 2003.
The relatively new (August 2002) Liberty, which is running at 58 per cent ahead of last year – and the Outback – are the star performers for Subaru, although sales across the board are up for the company.
A surprise has been the acceptance of the Liberty GT, originally forecast at 50 sales a month but currently doing more like 140 a month.
Significantly, Subaru says the Liberty is becoming more of a presence in the prestige market, where it is able to hurt Europeans such as Saab and Volvo, and is also taking some sales from market leaders BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
A pointer to this is that, although Liberty prices start at just a little more than $30,000, one third of sales are above $50,000.
With this realisation in mind, Subaru has just broadened the Liberty product line-up to introduce a six-cylinder engine – previously only available in the slightly beefed-up H6 Outback – and a five-speed manual version of the GT into the range.
The six-cylinder version enables Subaru to target what it sees as viable competition from Germany. It points to significant price and equipment advantages over, for example, Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series, which become even more marked if six-cylinder variants are taken into consideration.
A maybe slightly cheeky point, but a relevant one nonetheless, is that Audi’s less powerful, all-wheel drive A4 V6 is priced at more than $35,000 above the 3.0R auto Liberty.
The Subaru engine – a reworked, more powerful version of the horizontally opposed, three-litre six-cylinder H6 first seen in the H6 Outback four years ago – is the motivating force behind the new Liberty 3.0R models.
Its installation into both sedan and wagon versions creates a second line of high-performance Libertys, supplementing the 190kW Liberty GT (which has just become available, exclusively for Australia, in five-speed manual form to supplement the existing five-speed automatic).
The new H6 engine builds substantially on the original 154kW six-cylinder. It is available in either six-speed manual transmission (3.0R-B) or as a five-speed sequential auto (3.0R) and has already been seen in auto form in the latest Outback H6. The six-speed manual is essentially the same transmission used in the Impreza WRX STi.
Although the capacity remains unchanged at 2.999 litres, the adoption of variable valve timing, as well as Honda VTEC-style variable valve lift, helps overcome the relative torpor of the original.
The power (up 17 per cent to 180kW at 6600rpm) and torque (up five per cent to 297Nm at 4200rpm) enable the 1.5-tonne Liberty, in manual form, to scorch through the standing 400 metres in 14.9 seconds, even though Subaru says the new engine is more economical and more environmentally friendly.
The auto and manual versions, be it sedan or wagon, are set up differently to better match the perceived preferences of buyers.
The 3.0R-B manual’s suspension has been given a thorough, locally tuned Bilstein workover with inverted struts up front and a set of 18-inch alloy wheels with 215/45R18 tyres. The automatic uses a slightly softer KYB-shocker suspension with smaller 17-inch alloys and the same 215/45R17 tyres as the GT.
As premium Libertys, the 3.0-litre cars come with full leather upholstery, power front seats, climate control, Momo steering wheel, sunroof, trip computer and a 13-speaker sound system with in-dash, six-stack CD player.
The manual version adds the bigger wheels (like the auto, incorporating a full-size alloy spare), alloy floor pedals and is trimmed in black, rather than the auto’s ivory leather.
With all Liberty models claiming a five-star ANCAP rating, the six-cylinder models – and the GT – come with dual front airbags, as well as front side airbags and full-length curtain airbags.
Only the auto version however gets Subaru’s stability control system (Vehicle Dynamics Control) but all, of course, have ABS brakes and all-time four-wheel drive with a viscous-coupled centre differential.
The Liberty range generally has been given a slight spruce up, with speed sensitive wipers now standard across the range, as well as double pretensioners for the driver’s seatbelt and a shift-lock mechanism on all auto versions.
Liberty pricing is generally carry-over from before, with some models actually tagged at slightly less.
2004 Subaru Liberty prices:
DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:THERE is very little connection, in a primeval sense, with the latest Subaru H6 engine and its Outback-only predecessor.
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