2016 Subaru Liberty review | first drive

Last year, the arrival of the sixth-generation Liberty saw Subaru chop a whopping $14,000 off the price of its top-of-the-line 3.6R, making it a very appealing alternative to other six-cylinder sedans, of which there are an ever-dwindling few, and larger SUV rivals.

Well, nothing so dramatic happened this year at the launch of the refreshed MY16 Liberty. In fact, Subaru had the audacity to raise the price of the upper spec models (insert sarcastic tone here) by a whopping $500! The entry 2.5i still lists at $29,990, with the Premium and 3.6R now $35,990 and $42,490 respectively. For the cash, buyers get a fair few extra goodies including, most importantly, some more safety tech.

This range refresh comes at a crucial time for Subaru because they're looking to build on a very successful 2015. Subaru Australia Managing Director Nick Senior said Liberty was one of the company's "stand-out performers" last year; its "massive" increase in sales up 294 percent. We reckon much of that was surely attributable to the pricing chop.

Last year, the top-spec 3.6R accounted for 25 percent of total Liberty sales here and Subaru reckons that will remain so.

In the biggest news in safety terms for Liberty add-ons, new Vision Assist features have been added to the EyeSight active safety system that was already standard across the board. These include blind-spot monitoring, lane guidance, auto-dimming rear view mirror and high beams, and rear cross traffic alerts.

The 3.6R is a masterclass in fit and finish at this price-point and perhaps beyond; it feels solid and looks stylish.

Other key functions of the EyeSight system include adaptive cruise control, auto emergency braking, Pre-Collision Steering Assist, lane departure warning and Front Vehicle Start Alert.

Subaru reckons their system is now standard in more models than any other brand with competing driver-assist systems.

Another safety addition to all Liberty models is Emergency Stop Signal (ESS), which detects an emergency brake situation and flashes the hazard lights automatically, to warn following vehicles.

Other changes include free map updates for three years on the satnav-equipped Premium and 3.6R Liberty variants, a new Dark Blue Pearl paint option, and electric folding mirrors on the base model.

The Liberty range – Liberty 2.5i, Liberty 2.5i Premium, Liberty 3.6R – continue to be paired with a CVT automatic.

Inside, the 3.6R is a masterclass in fit and finish at this price-point and perhaps beyond; it feels solid and looks stylish. For starters, there are top-quality, soft-touch plastics everywhere you need them, and ample leather trim throughout the cabin.

Only an electric sunroof stands between you and blue-sky enjoyment on a sunny day.

Outside, it really does look the business; all upper-class Euro style with a bespoke cut to it.

The interior is comfortable. The seats are broad and supportive in the base, and electric-adjustable, as well as heated, for driver and front passenger. The rear seat will fit a child's car seat or two – there are ISOFIX points back there.

It's also very roomy, a feat for a medium car. Subaru's designers worked overtime to stretch the Liberty's internal dimensions as far as they could with the sixth generation and this spaciousness remains. It should fit a five-strong family with ease – unless of course one of your family members is The Mountain.

Boot space, with rear sets up, remains at 493 litres. There is an full-sized 18-inch alloy spare under the boot floor.

Visibility is on the right side of impressive; thin pillars and big glass all round makes for a clear view in every direction. One point though; the bulkhead EyeSight camera cover, up high and centred on the windscreen, still seems a bit blocky.

The touchscreen mulitmedia unit has a big easy-to-see-and-use screen, backed up by an ear-meltingly crisp 12-speaker Harman/Kardon unit; ideal for when your travelling companion wants to turn his "Whitney Houston Best of" up to "11".

Outside, it really does look the business; all upper-class Euro style with a bespoke cut to it. The upgraded grille is a welcome touch. The 3.6R fits comfortably into its metal skin – 4795mm (length), 1840mm (width), 1500mm (height) with a 2750mm wheelbase – and rides on 18-inch alloys. This looks like it should cost a hell of a lot more than it actually does.

Driving

This Liberty's 3.6-litre six-cylinder Boxer engine – producing 191kW@6000rpm and 350Nm@4400rpm – is partnered with a Lineartronic CVT auto. As with many car-related facts and figures, this means little until you drive it.

The pairing is a good one and from the start, the 3.6R offers an all-round pleasant driving experience. There's a low healthy rumble to the engine and the car moves off the line smoothly and swiftly. In the words of my cantankerous, hard-to-please journo mate: "Acceleration is great! It gets out of the blocks quickly!"

The CVT is clever enough, although we preferred to work around it; there are steering-mounted paddle shifters if you get the urge.

Steering is well balanced and responsive, with little to no understeer evident on our drive along country roads and dirt tracks.

There are revised suspension settings for all MY16 models; spring and damper revisions coming as a result of engineers' visits to Australia last year. And the hard work shows.

We were more than happy with the Liberty's pull-up each time. The brakes bit, held and dug in.

The Liberty ride and handling are great. Body-roll and pitching is almost non-existent. Most bumps, except for one rather deep pothole, were confidently soaked up.

The Liberty feels settled through long, sweeping corners and tighter curves as well. The all-wheel-drive's balance is superb. Handling has been improved without compromising ride.

NVH was impressive too, which is a good thing because Subaru made a bit of a song and dance about it at the Australian launch. When we drove bitumen and later gravel, in-cabin noise was kept to a polite low level.

When it came time to do our patented Stop for Skippy TM emergency braking tests on bitumen and dirt, we were more than happy with the Liberty's pull-up each time. The brakes bit, held and dug in – strong and smooth. Country roos were safe, as were we.

The fuel tank is 60 litres and claimed fuel consumption is 9.9L/100km combined.

A minor general quibble: the lane-departure warning is a touch on the sensitive side and a bit intrusive. It can be switched off.

Verdict 

The 3.6R is a well-built unit, it looks great and if there were boxes for everything you could ever want in a family sedan, this Liberty pretty much ticks them.

Again, in the words of my grumpy journo mate: "Why would you pay so much for European brand snobbery when you can buy this? It has the same dynamics, same fit and finish but for less cash."

The 2016 refreshed version of the Subaru Liberty has cemented the model's reputation as a classy, well-priced and safe-as-houses family sedan.

Check out the Subaru Liberty in action

Would you consider a Liberty over a European alternative? Let us know in the comments below.

At a glance

Price from: $42,490 (as tested)
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited kilometres
Capped servicing: 3 years/75,000km
Service interval: 6 months/12,500km
Safety: 5 stars, 7 airbags, 2 ISOFIX child-seat points (rear seat)
Engine: 3.6-litre 6-cyl Boxer, 191kW/350Nm  
Transmission: 6-speed auto – AWD
Thirst: 9.9L/100km
Dimensions: 4795mm (L), 1840mm (W), 1500mm (H) , 2750mm (WB)
Weight: 1605kg  
Spare: Full-size/alloy

 

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