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Subaru's Liberty is probably one of the most recognised badges in the country. Talk to anyone outside of Australia, though, and unless they know their cars, they haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about. It's a mark of Subaru's respect of the Australian market - the company renamed it from Legacy for local consumption - and the power of a brand that's approaching 30 years old.
Just about every Australian reading these words has been in a Liberty of one age or another. Some even remember it for Colin McRae's heroics at the wheel of the blue-and-yellow machine in the early '90s before the switch to another famous Subaru, the Impreza.
The Liberty is now well into its sixth iteration which means time for a mid-life nip and tuck. Subaru has worked above and below the skin to breathe a bit of life into its mainstay sedan.
|Subaru Liberty 2018: 2.5i Premium|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The Liberty's sixth-generation has arrived at middle age and Subaru took the opportunity to tweak the specification as well as the looks. Second in the three car range is the 2.5i Premium, which sits between the 2.5i entry-level and the 3.6R, and carries a $36,640 price tag.
Standard on the Premium are 18-inch alloys, a six speaker stereo with Bluetooth and USB, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, active cruise control, powered and heated front seats, sat nav, auto high beam, active LED headlights, a very impressive safety package, partial leather seats, leather steering wheel, power everything, sunroof and a full-size spare.
The 7.0-inch touchscreen now not only features sat nav and a half-decent media system but also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is still a rarity in this class. Also a rarity is the standard all-wheel drive system (good) and the CVT auto (maybe not so good).
Here's a thing - this week I regularly parked my car in the same street as a fourth-generation Liberty. I kept heading for it at the end of each day because that design feels a lot more contemporary than the current car.
I came to my senses every time before trying to get in, but it does tell you that today's machine is a little on the dowdy side. While not the horror of the lines-everywhere-slab-sided fifth-generation model, I don't think the styling has escaped unscathed from the mess of the car it replaced.
This one won't scare small children or start pub arguments, though, and is a more cohesive, gracefully-ageing design. The LED daytime running lights and, in the case of the Premium, LED headlights, give it a modern feel and its less imposing headlight design is rather more pleasing.
Little has happened as part of the refresh, with just the requisite number of visual tweaks. The front and rear bumpers (now with subtle diffuser) are a bit sharper and new wing mirrors and grille all add a little extra - but not much - to the 2014 original.
Inside is pretty much the same as before. The touchscreen has a flat, glare-prone screen but the rest of the cabin is well thought through, if entirely conventional. The flashy alloy pedals are a fun touch, though, and the materials choices are solid if uninspiring.
The Liberty has a terrifically spacious interior. Rear seat passengers have a huge amount of legroom, with a ton of room behind my driving position (I'm 178cm) for long-legged teenagers. There's also plenty of legroom and even air vents.
The cabin has four cupholders in total and four USB ports, two up front and two in the back.
If you found a way to fill the boot with water you'd get 493 litres aboard and you can drop the 60/40 split fold seats for yet more space.
Like the overall specification, the drivetrain has received some attention. While power outputs are the same as before - 129kW/235Nm - the CVT auto with which Subaru's 2.5-litre boxer engine is paired is slightly improved. Even in the quiet of the cabin you hear that 'flat' four-cylinder's trademark gravelly growl.
Being a Subaru, all four wheels receive their share of power. The Liberty's published towing capacity is 1500kg for braked trailers and 750kg unbraked. If you need a bit more, the six-cylinder 3.6R can handle another 300kg.
Subaru says the combined cycle fuel figure is 7.3L/100km and I got 9.3L/100km with a mix of suburban and 80km/h running.
The fuel tank is a generous 61 litres.
The Liberty ships with seven airbags (including driver's knee), lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise with brake light recognition, ABS, traction and stability controls, reversing camera, forward and side view cameras, reverse cross traffic alert and blind spot monitoring.
Bafflingly, there are no parking sensors at all on any Liberty. I know that sounds churlish, but I don't park watching a camera and like the beepers so I can watch somewhere else. Give me a beeper and a dipping left-hand mirror any day.
On top of all that, the 'EyeSight' system is also fitted. EyeSight is a pair of cameras pointing forward that not only powers the lane keep assist, but lets you know if you're drifting or approaching an obstacle too quickly. It also detects pedestrians and in this latest iteration will work up to 50km/h rather than 30km/h as before.
As you might expect, the Liberty scored five ANCAP stars in December 2014.
3 years / unlimited km warranty
ANCAP Safety Rating
At three years/unlimited kilometres, the Subaru warranty is now starting to look a bit thin compared to, say, Korean rivals. Over the three years of the capped-price servicing you'll wear $2281.66 for up to 75,000km of servicing.
Subaru expects to see you every six months or 12,500km, so that averages out to $380 per service.
Hyundai's Sonata will cost you just $795 over the same period (for fewer visits), a Mazda6 will only hit you for between $308 and $336 per service, and a Camry will cost just over half what Subaru charges every year.
Subaru says the Liberty has undergone some changes to improve the driving experience. To my backside, that hasn't worked out perhaps as intended. At least I hope so, because the results aren't terrific. The ride is particularly odd - in the corners there is noticeable body roll but it bangs and crashes over bumps, the rear passengers suffering worse than those up front.
In the cruise it's perfectly reasonable and the car is very quiet, indeed it's pleasant at speed. At lower speeds, there is a lack of feel contributing to the feeling that the wheel lacks accuracy. Nothing dramatic, but I felt like I was constantly correcting it the way Parisians correct my high school Francais.
Cheeringly, what I expected to be my least favourite part of the car was quite good. I am monotonously on record dissing CVTs because generally, they're pretty terrible. After six months with one in the Forester, I was never comfortable with it.
Here in the Liberty, it seems better integrated with the engine, with much better control of the trademark flaring and it's only when you really get the accelerator up against the firewall that you're reminded you're driving a rubber band. When you switch from I (Intelligent) to S (Sport) mode, it also responds accordingly, but there's never going to be fireworks.
The brake pedal is a bit on the mushy side, too, but its stopping ability was never in doubt. I guess the final verdict is that some parts of the experience are dreamily isolating while others are not as good as you might expect.
The Liberty has a lot going for it - a great reputation for reliability, it isn't terribly priced (although servicing is a little steep) and has that signature all-wheel drive. While I've complained about the ride and handling, apart from STi and RS-badged versions, that has never been the Liberty's strong suit.
While it might be a shrinking part of the market - and Subaru is a founding architect of the modern SUV cult - Subaru and its competitors still care. The Liberty, like Forester and Outback, remains a stand-out in the sector with a boxer 2.5 and all-wheel drive. Sometimes that kind of individuality is enough.
|2.5i||2.5L, PULP, CVT AUTO||$17,500 – 24,420||2018 Subaru Liberty 2018 2.5i Pricing and Specs|
|2.5I (fleet Edition)||2.5L, PULP, CVT AUTO||$19,000 – 26,510||2018 Subaru Liberty 2018 2.5I (fleet Edition) Pricing and Specs|
|2.5i Premium||2.5L, PULP, CVT AUTO||$21,500 – 29,260||2018 Subaru Liberty 2018 2.5i Premium Pricing and Specs|
|3.6R||3.6L, PULP, CVT AUTO||$26,000 – 34,430||2018 Subaru Liberty 2018 3.6R Pricing and Specs|
|Price and features||7|
|Engine & trans||7|