The Subaru Liberty is one of those cars that inspires an incredible loyalty in its owners. Six generations in, the all-wheel drive mid-sizer commands almost unquestioning devotion among small-ish hardcore audience. The Liberty has had a feature bump for 2016, which has added two new features to the 2.5i Premium's EyeSight system and revised suspension to make the Liberty a bit quieter, more refined machine.

Value

The sedan-only Liberty has one transmission (six-speed CVT) and two engine options, the 2.5 litre flat four and the 3.6 litre flat six. The MY16 "safety" update has added $500 to the Premium and 3.6R models while the 2.5i is unchanged.

The range starts with the 2.5i at $29,990 and tops out at $42,490 for the 3.6R. Sandwiched in between is the 2.5i Premium at $35,990. Both the four cylinder models get Subaru's EyeSight with a plethora of safety features and active cruise control.

Weirdly, there aren't any front or rear parking sensors

The Premium comes equipped with 18-inch alloys, sunroof, full-sized alloy spare, power windows and mirrors, auto LED headlights and wipers, dark tinted rear glass, mostly leather trim, eight-way electric front seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, seven-inch touchscreen with satnav and six speaker stereo with Bluetooth and USB and reversing camera.

Weirdly, there aren't any front or rear parking sensors, they're an option, made all the more bizarre considering that rear cross traffic alert is standard. Metallic paint is a no-cost option, which is a nice bonus.

Design

The fifth-generation Liberty was a shocker. The basic shape was okay but at the time, Subaru's stylists couldn't put the crayons down once they'd got a clean shape. Nothing looked like it fitted on the car (see also: Impreza) and the front end was terrifyingly ugly, covered in random bits of plastic and massive, gurning headlights.

The sixth generation facelift reigned in the excesses and delivered a much sleeker look. While the profile is similar, the better detailed front and rear return to the Liberty a sense of quiet class rather than a car that looks any minute like it's going to crash into a shop. Again.

Storage is in abundance, with a huge 493 litre boot

Inside isn't a lot different but again, it's the details that have massively improved the overall look and feel. The flush-fitting touchscreen, the subtle changes to the trim pieces and materials have all lifted the interior. Sadly, the steering wheel still has way too many buttons and mismatching plastics and the lumpy, overstuffed front seats seem to have been stolen from the Forester XT.

Storage is in abundance, with a huge 493 litre boot (with split-fold seatbacks), door pockets, big glove box and central console along with cupholders front and back.

Safety

Seven airbags (including driver's knee airbag), stability and traction controls, blind spot monitor, forward collision monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, reversing camera, lane departure warning. All this helps the Liberty score a maximum five star ANCAP rating.

Features

The seven-inch Starlink screen is a big improvement. While it doesn't look like much (for some reason Japanese carmakers are having terrible trouble with interface design), the new screen is much easier to use and control but many of the important controls are too small to accurately hit on the move.

The Premium has a six speaker stereo and a Pandora interface (sadly no Spotify or the more advanced CarPlay or Android Auto are available), with two USB ports and Bluetooth streaming.

Engine

The 2.5 litre flat four develops 129kW and 235Nm without the aid of turbocharging. Subaru claims a combined 7.3L/100km which is optimistic given the 10.5L/100km we got with gentle driving and a firm foot on the brake pedal ensuring stop-start kicked in.

From the second you shut the door, the Liberty is a solid-feeling car

The engine is paired with what Subaru calls a Lineartronic CVT and sends the power through all four wheels. The claimed 0-100km/h time for the 1568kg Liberty is 9.6 seconds.

Driving

From the second you shut the door, the Liberty is a solid-feeling car, something that has slowly become one of its things over the years. This newer car is much quieter from start up but also a bit sharper.

The sharpness comes from the much-better-than-before CVT which does away with the rubber-band lawn mower feel and instead (perhaps somewhat mystifyingly) behaves most of the time like a six-speed automatic when going up through the gears. The two driving modes, Sport and Intelligent aren't hugely different but Sport does harden up the throttle response and and you can change "gears" yourself with either paddles or the selector.

The only let down on that overall sharpness is the steering. The electric rack is light and vague, completely insulating you from the road which would be fine for a lot of people but it's also very slow and needs a lot of lock compared to most cars in its class.

To make up for it, though, is the legendary sure-footedness of its all-wheel drive. Subaru has been riding this horse for a long time now, even when it was unfashionable for a time due to its complexity, weight and resulting fuel economy penalty. The result is mountain goat grip in the wet on even the worst Sydney tarmac as well as tons of confidence on loose or muddy surfaces (you'd get even more with better tyres).

The ride is fidgety on all but the smoothest tarmac and weirdly taut. It's weird because the body rolls in corners, belying its firm sometimes fidgety feel. The 225-section rubber is also noisy on a number of surfaces, but this is perhaps to do with the quietness of the engine and transmission. Wind noise is also well-muted so a properly surfaced highway run will be very quiet.