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Subaru Liberty 3.6R 2016 review

EXPERT RATING
8
Craig Jamieson road tests and reviews the 2016 Subaru Liberty 3.6R with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Craig Jamieson road tests and reviews the 2016 Subaru Liberty 3.6R with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Wanting to get value for money is a fairly common desire, unless your name starts with 'The Sultan of'. It's always a joy to nab a real bargain. But what defines a bargain, anyway?

Well, it's something that offers you all the benefits of a more expensive product, without the big brand name, and consequent drain on your bank balance.

The top-spec Subaru Liberty 3.6R is a perfect example – it has the toys, space and pace of pricey European rivals at a fraction of the price. So, what's the catch?

Design

Well, it's certainly not in how the sixth-generation Liberty looks, or feels. With handsomely reserved exterior styling, soft-touch surfaces and an ergonomic cabin layout, the 3.6R (and likely the 2.5 Premium, which shares much of the top-spec model's goodies) gives the impression that it's worth far more than its sticker price.

The rear seats are big enough for three Aussie-sized teenagers.

It's a conservatively styled beast, so those interested in making a statement should likely look elsewhere. Subaru's more traditional lines means the 3.6R should age with more grace than those with a more avant-garde approach. At least in part, it's why Liberties tend to hold their value more strongly than rivals.

There is one oddity in the design, however – the same 18-inch alloy wheels feature across the range. So, unless you wheel past a group of fairly dedicated car buffs, no one will be able to tell the variants apart. That said, if that sort of thing is important to you, Audi, Mercedes and BMW have some new clothes to sell you, which are fit for an emperor.

Practicality

Considering that the Liberty is a likely candidate for your next family sedan, it's worth noting that the rear seats are big enough for three Aussie-sized teenagers. If they're all on the wrestling team or basketball squad, they might feel a bit hemmed in, but if they're less than six feet tall and don't have boulders for shoulders, they'll fit comfortably. There's a healthy count of four cup holders – two front, two in the rear centre armrest – and bottle holders in each of the doors. And, joy of all joys, there's directional rear-seat ventilation on a family-oriented car. Fancy that.

With a standard reversing camera, the fairly sizeable Liberty is never a chore to park. You may miss out on one or two inner-city spots that a Corolla-sized hatch would squeeze into, however.

Boot space is particularly impressive, with 493 litres on offer. Another great feature is the gas strut arrangement on the boot lid, rather than the cheaper, space-robbing goose-neck hinges that still disgrace so-called premium cars, let alone more value-driven offerings. The only fly in the Liberty's ointment is the new Skoda Superb, which has a TARDIS-like 625 litres of boot space.

Price and features

With the launch of the new Liberty range last year, Subaru cut a whopping $14,000 from the top-spec 3.6R, bringing it down to $41,990. It's back up to $42,490 now, thanks to the standard addition of Subaru's EyeSight system.

Even with an almost 14 grand pay cut, 3.6R really is an all-expenses-paid trip; you could try to count what it lacks on one hand and still get no further than your thumb. Standard features include AEB, lane guidance, blind-spot monitoring, active cruise control, heated exterior mirrors, heated leather seats, 12-speaker Harman/Kardon stereo, touchscreen satnav, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, dual-zone climate control, sunroof, metallic paint, self-levelling LED headlights, automatic high beam... by now, you might be getting the picture. In fact, only front passenger lumbar support and a start-stop system is absent from the 3.6R, and I'd only miss the former.

Subaru has drawn a clear line in the sand between its sports and touring versions.

As a point of difference from the cheaper models, the 3.6R scores a seven-inch touchscreen, as opposed to the 6.2-inch screen in the base model. The mid-spec 2.5i Premium does get the same interface as the 3.6R, but misses out on the 3.6R's fancy audio system, replete with a subwoofer in the rear parcel shelf.

And then there's Subaru's lusty 3.6-litre engine, which might be worth the extra spend on its own.

Engine and transmission

Subaru has drawn a clear line in the sand between its sports and touring versions, choosing a large-displacement, naturally aspirated six-cylinder engine, rather than the favourably powerful turbo four in the WRX. Unlike the slightly vulgar nature of its smaller turbocharged brothers, the big six is smooth, refined and whisper quiet, stirring only under hard acceleration to produce a satisfying roar.

The 3.6-litre engine that powers the top-spec Liberty uses an exceptionally rare engine configuration. In fact, barring a few Porsches and the Liberty's big brother, the Outback, no other new car uses a 'flat six' engine. So why does Subaru?

Well, because the engine's cylinders are laid out horizontally, rather than vertically, it's not as tall as traditional engines. The biggest advantage here is a low centre of gravity – the car's weight is kept as close to the ground as possible, which keeps things stable. Also keeping things steady and collected is Subaru's all-wheel-drive system, which, in the Liberty 3.6R, is genuinely unflappable. More on that in a moment.

Subaru's also persisted with a constantly variable transmission in the Liberty 3.6R, and it's really starting to pay off. It keeps the big six-cylinder right where it needs to be and, thanks to a fat spread of torque, you'll never be left wanting.

Fuel consumption

As befits a six-cylinder family sedan, the 3.6-litre Liberty is happiest when gently ticking over on the open road. On a cruise-controlled run on Australia's national highways, with no special effort to save fuel, the trip computer registered 7.3L/100km, a decent effort from a big, six-cylinder engine.

Around town, consumption increases dramatically, with an official figure pegged at 14.2L/100km. Expect this kind of figure if your day-to-day drive doesn't include a generous helping of highways.

The official combined 9.9L/100km fuel economy figure, if you actually do manage to mix up highway and city driving, is probably a touch optimistic. That said, it's not all doom and gloom if yours is a city-based commute – the Liberty 3.6R is happy to run on Regular 91 octane fuel.

Driving

The Liberty 3.6R's biggest drawcard is its constant all-wheel-drive system. There's an overabundance of grip on every surface, fostering a relaxed trust in its abilities that's much harder to find in its two-wheel-drive – or even part-time four-wheel-drive – competitors.

The 3.6R is definitely set up for touring comfort rather than out and out attack; those seeking a back-road belter should look to the WRX, or even more potent WRX STI. There's a pliancy in the suspension that makes touring a true pleasure, at the expense of darting, nimble reactions. That isn't to say that the Liberty 3.6R is any kind of dynamic dud, rather that it's best enjoyed as a grand tourer, rather than in a Gymkhana.

Subaru really sets the bar for safety with the Liberty 3.6R.

The 3.6R is a consummate mile-eater, making light work of burdensome highway treks. Thanks to active cruise control and lane departure warning, your only real job is to apologise to your significant other when a lapse in concentration sets the warning systems off – or blame it on a false positive. More on that in a sec.

There's only one real downside: a fair bit of road noise enters the cabin, mainly through the wheel arches. It's only a concern on coarse chip roads, however, and is easily overcome by the Harman/Kardon stereo. After Subaru's recent work improving the Forester's NVH, the amount of noise that enters the cabin is a little disappointing by comparison. It's really the only blemish on what is otherwise a flawless highway cruiser.

Safety

Subaru really sets the bar for safety with the Liberty 3.6R, with the EyeSight system – Subaru-speak for its suite of active safety gear – fitted as standard. For about 99 per cent of the time, it works faultlessly, keeping you in your lane and a safe distance from the car in front. And, in the worst circumstances, the AEB element will react at quite literally superhuman speed, doing everything in its power to bring you to a controlled stop, as opposed to a rather loud, abrupt and potentially painful one.

The EyeSight system can get a bit panicky at times, should the sensors register imminent danger. It's not perfect yet, erring pretty heavily on the side of caution. It's the lesser of two evils, yes, but it can get a little unnerving when it makes an error in judgement and screams that you're about to crash into thin air. Think of it as an unscheduled test of your fight-or-flight response. Or a good excuse when it catches you napping, figuratively speaking.

Ownership

Second-hand Liberties hold their value better than most, retaining more than 50 per cent of their value over three years. That mightn't sound very inspiring, but when competitors from VW and Skoda struggle to make the mid-40s, the 3.6R becomes an even better value equation.

Subaru offers capped-price servicing and a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is every six months or 12,500km, running the three-year capped plan to a total of $2625 over eight services, including a free one-month-in check-up.

Verdict

If you're in the market for a mid-sized sedan and are a stickler for value, you're almost compelled to buy the Liberty 3.6R. Even with its around-town fuel thirst, you'll still come out ahead.

Now, if it feels like what you've read so far is almost unswervingly positive, it's because the Liberty 3.6R is a car that deserves every bit of praise you could care to heap on it. It's a bona fide bargain – no catch.

What is the most important factor to you when buying a family car? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Subaru Liberty 3.6R pricing and spec info.

Pricing guides

$22,743
Based on 74 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$12,900
Highest Price
$27,850

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
2.5i 2.5L, PULP, CVT AUTO $12,900 – 25,990 2016 Subaru Liberty 2016 2.5i Pricing and Specs
2.5i Premium 2.5L, PULP, CVT AUTO $16,950 – 27,850 2016 Subaru Liberty 2016 2.5i Premium Pricing and Specs
3.6R 3.6L, PULP, CVT AUTO $21,990 – 26,990 2016 Subaru Liberty 2016 3.6R Pricing and Specs
Exiga 2.5L, PULP, CVT AUTO $33,550 – 39,930 2016 Subaru Liberty 2016 Exiga Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8