Welcome to the future of motoring. The quintessential farmer's car, the Subaru, now has so much technology it nearly drives itself. You don't need to spend long in a country town to know how popular the humble Subaru is. There are all vintages from the still coveted Brumby ute to shiny new Libertys and WRXs.
And it's not hard to see why. They have 4WD, better ground clearance than many cars, plenty of room inside, they're “tuff'', somewhat utilitarian and they just keep on going. Having owned a number of them myself, it was a little daunting to get into the latest Subaru.
Unlike my first variant a 1970s 4WD wagon, in which the greatest technology was the optional stereo-cassette deck the new Liberty X is a radar-guided, talking, automatic braking, technological marvel. It even has its own set of eyes. Seriously. One either side of the revision mirror.
The Liberty X is a car that aims to be the best of both worlds, and is essentially a top of the line Liberty planted on the chassis of an Outback. This makes it ride 5cm higher, making it easier to get in and out of and providing more clearance on the road about 20cms to be exact.
It's one of Subaru's major selling points for the Liberty X, which comes in two versions: either a 2.5-litre engine with continuously variable transmission or 3.6 litre engine mated to a five-speed automatic gearbox, which is the model we tested.
At the heart of the technology inside the Subaru is the company's EyeSight system, similar to that found only in Volvos. That's where the eyes come in. Among other things, EyeSight warns the driver when they are veering out of a lane, keeps them from crashing into the car in front (at low speeds) and controls the highly intelligent cruise control.
Unlike normal cruise control, in this version you can set the distance you want between you and the car in front. If the car in front slows, so do you as the car maintains the distance between you. Without even touching a brake. It's a seriously clever system, although it takes a lot of faith to take your foot off the brake and let the car do the work for you.
Control freaks will never be comfortable with it and it's not flawless so you should never rely solely on the aids in the car. In one instance during our test drive the system applied the brakes hard when we passed a pedestrian, closely but not closely enough to make contact with them.
The braking was brief, but enough to startle everyone on board and, if another car had been too close, they would almost certainly have rear-ended us. That said, most of the time the system was a reassuring background aid, particularly useful in stop-start traffic.
ON THE ROAD
Technology aside, however, the main business of the Subaru is to be a car. And, as it turns out, it does a pretty good job at it. On the road, the car has quite a “sporty” feel. Steering is light but quite direct and the ride is firm.
On typical bumpy Australian roads, the ride was in fact sometimes a little too firm, although the tight suspension combined with the constant all wheel drive system makes sure the car was always sure footed and confident in its place on the road. A little more give in the suspension for Australian roads would have been nice.
The five-speed automatic gearbox was not as slick as some these days, but fast, smooth and almost always chose the right gear at the right time. There are sport settings for more spirited driving, which allow the gearbox to rev harder and hold each gear longer. It works well. There's also manual mode, of course, which can be accessed at any time through the paddles on the steering wheel.
There's no shortage of power under the bonnet, with the 3.6-litre variant producing 191kW/350Nm and propelling the car from 0 -100 in under 8 seconds. In the real world, this means that overtaking is a breeze at freeway speeds and you're rarely left wanting at any speed. The smaller 2.5-litre cousin produces 127kW and 235Nm.
Typical for Subarus, there's plenty of room inside for two adults and three kids, and a cavernous boot that will easily swallow a weekend's worth of luggage. The (heated) leather seats are comfortable and the dashboard trim is a mixture hard plastics and fake metal.
While it's not unpleasant, some of the materials do feel a little flimsy and look like they would be prone to scratching and damage. Taller or larger drivers will appreciate the additional 50mm of height, which makes a surprisingly large difference when getting in and out of the car.
Overall the cabin is a very comfortable space, although at highway speeds there was a fair amount of tyre noise from the big 18 inch rims not enough to disrupt a conversation, but enough to notice and get a bit tiring on a long trip.
There are two variations of the new Liberty the 2.5X and the 3.6X, with the 3.6 starting at $55,990 (plus on-roads) and the smaller 2.5 starting at $44,490. Most options you'd want are included, such as heated seats, sat nav, bluetooth, dual climate control, McIntosh sound system, reverse camera and sunroof.
3.6 Litre Liberty X
Price: from $55,990
Engine: 3.6-litre 6-cylinder, 191kW/350Nm
Transmission: 5-speed auto, 4WD
Thirst: 10.3L/100km, CO2 242g/km
2.5 Litre Liberty X
Price: from $44,490
Engine: 2.5-litre 4-cylinder, 127kW/235Nm
Transmission: 6-speed constantly variable, 4WD
Thirst: 8.0L/100km, CO2 185g/km