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Subaru Liberty 2018 review

EXPERT RATING
7.3
The Subaru Liberty 2018 range is here, and while mid-sized sedans are hardly the hottest vehicles on offer, there's plenty to like about the updated model.

Trust me, this is the updated 2018 Subaru Liberty. I know, it looks really similar, doesn't it?

But this is the facelifted version that has just launched in Australia with a range of changes which, despite appearances, are more substantial than you might think.

There are still three variants available, and there are still four-cylinder and six-cylinder models to choose from.

How about I stop blabbering and give you the detailed rundown on what makes the 2018 Subaru Liberty better than its predecessor... and in some ways, not quite as good.

Subaru Liberty 2018: 2.5i
Safety rating
Engine Type2.5L
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.3L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$23,100

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

Not a massive change, is it?

At a glance, there isn't much difference between this updated Liberty and the predecessor version which went on sale here in late 2014.

But in fact there have been plenty of subtle adjustments to the styling, including a new, wider grille with different styling elements, new bumpers front and rear (including a rear diffuser), new headlights including adaptive LEDs and auto high-beam on high-spec models like this one, and there are redesigned wing mirrors.

This Liberty has new headlights including adaptive LEDs and auto high-beam on high-spec models. This Liberty has new headlights including adaptive LEDs and auto high-beam on high-spec models.

There's no sporty model bearing STI badges with a body kit, rear spoiler and side skirts - but you can get a genuine mesh front grille, some stylish 18-inch rims, and a few STI bits from the Subaru Accessories catalogue.

That last change might sound like a minor one, but the wing mirrors now sit a little closer to help cut wind noise, and there's a new LED indicator on the outer shell.

Overall, the Liberty is entirely inoffensive to look at, though some might find the current generation version's styling to be a little too focused on American buyer tastes - it is conservative and conforms to mid-size sedan norms in terms of its dimensions, without pushing the boundaries.

It has new bumpers front and rear. It has new bumpers front and rear.

But this update - particularly those new headlights - adds a little breath freshener midway through the date that is a life-cycle of a car.

However, there are more important changes to talk about inside the cabin - you can check them out in our interior photos... or read about them below.

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

The Liberty is already known as one of the roomier mid-size models in the class, with better backseat space than a Mazda6, for example.

And that hasn't changed this time around, as there's easily enough legroom and headroom for 183cm (six-foot) adults like me (behind my own driving position I had about five centimetres between my knees and the seat ahead, and the same between my head and the ceiling).

And if you have small children, the dual ISOFIX points and three top tether anchors will be handy.

Up front it all looks a big more flash, because there are some material tweaks. Up front it all looks a big more flash, because there are some material tweaks.

Plus the essentials are all covered - there are cup and bottle holders where there should be (a flip-down armrest with cupholders in the back seat, a pair of cupholders between the front seats, plus bottle holders in all four doors), and loose item storage is well sorted, too.

Those spending time in the back seat will appreciate the newly-added pair of USB ports, which will make long-distance drives go by a lot easier (for parents, in particular).

Up front it all looks a big more flash, because there are some material tweaks, including piano black finishes here and there, and extra stitching as well. I particularly like the new climate control knobs, which have little digital displays in them - a bit like an Audi.

There's a new, brighter and more impressive looking media system, which measures 8.0 inches in the top two variants, and those models get built in sat nav, too. The base car has a 6.5-inch screen without nav.

the wing mirrors now sit a little closer to help cut wind noise, and there's a new LED indicator on the outer shell. the wing mirrors now sit a little closer to help cut wind noise, and there's a new LED indicator on the outer shell.

All models now have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the media system is largely very good to use and simple, too... though the old one wasn't all that bad to begin with.

The boot space is a family-friendly 493 litres in capacity, which is a bit more than you get in some mid-size SUVs - yes, sedans can still be family friendly. Being a sedan there is no option for a cargo barrier, but you can get things like roof rails/roof racks with ski holders, bike holders and surfboard carriers. A boot liner and floor mats would be money well spent.

And there are some other elements that make this updated Liberty model a great choice for mums and dads, because it's packed with safety equipment. Read about that below.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

The price list for the 2018 Subaru Liberty hasn't moved very much. There are still three variants available, and below is a comparison of the models in the range - our version of a price guide as to how much you should expect to pay (prices before on-road costs).

Opening the range is the entry-level model, the 2.5i. It lists at an identical point to its predecessor, at $30,240.

The 2.5i has a 6.5-inch touchscreen without satellite navigation, but it has Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (so you can use your phone as your navigation system), CD player, a sound system with six speakers, dual front USB ports and a pair of rear USBs for backseat passengers - ultra handy for keeping devices charged up on long roadtrips.

The wheels are 18-inch alloys on this spec, and every one in the range. The wheels are 18-inch alloys on this spec, and every one in the range.

Other specification highlights include dual-zone climate control, a leather steering wheel with paddle-shifters, auto headlights and auto wipers, front fog-lights, seven airbags (dual front, front side, curtain and driver's knee) and rear tinted windows. The wheels are 18-inch alloys on this spec, and every one in the range, and the Liberty 2.5i has two drive modes - 'Sport' and 'Intelligent'.

The next step up is the 2.5i Premium, a fairly sizeable jump up the money ladder at $36,640. But you get quite a bit more stuff for the extra expenditure.

The 2.5i Premium adds LED headlights with steering responsiveness and adaptive high-beam lights, as well as LED daytime running lights (DRLs). Those LED DRLs are on the entry-grade models too, but the main headlights are halogen units.

In the 2.5i Premium you get an 8.0-inch screen with integrated GPS/navigation (and still with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), plus leather seats, heated front seats, electric front seat adjustment (driver's seat with adjustable lumbar), an electric sunroof, powered and heated folding side mirrors, front wipers with de-icing function, keyless entry with push-button start, electric boot opening and closing and piano black interior trim highlights.

The new bumper includes a rear diffuser. The new bumper includes a rear diffuser.

The flagship model is the 3.6R, which is listed at $43,140. As well as getting a bigger six-cylinder engine, the 3.6R has a few unique items when compared to the 2.5i Premium.

The 3.6R model includes a three-mode drive select system (Sport# - sport sharp – mode added), and it also gets chrome side sill garnishes and a 12-speaker haman/kardon sound system (with subwoofer).

There is no digital radio on any Liberty model.

I've already covered a few of the options you can choose from the accessories list - it's pretty extensive, but you won't find a bull bar or nudge bar on there.

As for colours? There is one new hue to choose compared to the pre-facelift model - 'Crimson Red Pearl' - and you'll still have the choice of black, blue (x2), white, silver, grey (x2), brown (x2), and Subaru doesn't ask buyers to splurge any more cash for the colour they choose.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   7/10

Outputs of the two petrol engines remain the same as they were before.

The entry-level 2.5-litre four-cylinder 'boxer' horizontally-opposed engine produces 129kW of power and 235Nm of torque. It can only be had with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) auto, which has a seven-speed manual mode. Those engine specs are unchanged.

The 2.5-litre drivetrain have been tweaked for better response, and the CVT auto has seen some changes, too.

At the top of the range is the single 3.6R model, for those who like their engine size in XL.

Every Liberty remains all-wheel-drive, which gives it a unique selling proposition in the segment.

While competitors are moving towards turbo engines for their high-end models - the Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata and updated Mazda6, for example - the Liberty's high-end motor is a six-cylinder.

It isn't on its own in that regard - Toyota reintroduced a six-pot to its Camry model for 2018 because the Aurion was axed - but the specifications haven't changed for the 3.6-litre horizontally-opposed six-cylinder in the Liberty, which still has 191kW of power and 350Nm of torque. It also has a CVT.

Both the 2.5 and 3.6 models come with a timing chain, not a timing belt.

Every Liberty remains all-wheel-drive (AWD, as opposed to 4x4 or 4WD), which gives it a unique selling proposition in the segment. But if you prefer a manual gearbox and a clutch, you're out of luck - every Liberty has a CVT automatic transmission. Likewise a diesel - no dice.

Towing capacity is rated at 750kg for a trailer without brakes, and 1500kg for a braked trailer for the 2.5i. The 3.6R can deal with 1800kg of weight for a braked trailer.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

The 2.5i model still uses 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres, so the changes made to the engine and transmission haven't affected its claimed fuel consumption - we can't vouch for what it'll use in the real world, as our time was spent in the 3.6R.

That six-cylinder version has a claimed consumption figure of 9.9L/100km, and - pleasingly - I saw a 9.8L/100km economy rating displayed on the trip computer during my time in the car, which consisted of highway commuting, urban to-and-fro and some country sprints, too.

The fuel tank capacity is 60 litres.

What's it like to drive?   7/10

Subaru has made a bunch of little changes to the Liberty that should have made it better to drive. But I'm not sure the amendments have been for the better, at least in the case of the 3.6R I drove.

I'm not saying it's not good to drive - in some situations it's entirely fine - but the Japanese brand says it tweaked the suspension so it doesn't rebound as abruptly after a bump, which will in turn improve the way it handles. To me it felt a lot clumsier than before.

Ride comfort on the highway is fine, if a little boaty, but it's when you hit a section of potholes, or roll over a sharper-edged speed-hump that you notice the suspension attempting to move the 18-inch wheels over the surface, but failing to do so without feeling utterly flummoxed.

There is longitudinal and lateral wobble, the front-end will crash and send a harrowing thump sound into the cabin, and the worst bit is that it still feels fidgety at times.

Let me just say this: it isn't unbearable, but I sure didn't find it pleasantly comfortable or particularly controlled.

Fortunately the all-wheel-drive system helps ensure excellent traction in corners or when it's wet, and the Dunlop SP Sport tyres wrapped around the 18-inch alloy wheels hang on with heaps of grip.

The 3.6-litre engine is a delightfully refined and reasonably punchy thing. 

In contrast to the suspension, the steering - which has been tweaked for more linear response, particularly at higher speeds - is good, assuring the driver most situations. There is some kickback over mid-corner bumpy sections, but it's never violent.

The brakes have been improved with better pedal feel, which further adds to the peace of mind offered from the Liberty.

As for the powertrain, the 3.6-litre engine is a delightfully refined and reasonably punchy thing. You won't break any land-speed records with its acceleration, but with a 0-100 time of about 7.2 seconds, its performance is brisk enough.

It can be caught out a little when you stand on the throttle from a stop and that has more to do with the transmission than the engine itself, but it is manageable, and once you hit about 2000rpm it starts to sing. In the most aggressive drive mode, S# (Sport Sharp, which is reserved for the six-cylinder in the Liberty range), it is properly fast, yet remains quiet.

The vast majority of buyers choose the more affordable 2.5i models, which makes a lot of sense. And while we haven't tested the updated 2.5i drivetrain in the Liberty, it is vastly improved in the Outback.

While the Liberty has AWD, it doesn't have terrific ground clearance (150mm), and while you could fit it with air suspension and head off road if you wanted, it wouldn't be advised.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   9/10

The Subaru Liberty retains the same five-star ANCAP score it managed back in 2015, with a reverse camera as standard in all models, plus the fitment of seven airbags (dual front, front side, curtain and driver's knee). There are no parking sensors on any model, though.

Plus the entire range has Subaru's 'EyeSight' safety kit, which uses a pair of cameras mounted on the windscreen and can warn the driver of pedestrians or cars, braking the car if it needs to - now up to 50km/h, where it used to be 30km/h.

There is also lane-keeping assist (which will warn the driver if they are straying from their lane), adaptive cruise control with brake light recognition and forward vehicle move-off alert (handy if you take your eyes away from the road), and the 2.5i Premium and 3.6R models get a forward-view camera and side-view camera, which help when parking.

Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert is fitted to the top two models, along with adaptive LED headlights with auto high-beam.

Despite the extensive equipment list, there are a couple of notable omissions - no model comes with parking sensors or automated parking assistance, and while the smaller Impreza and XV models have been updated with a reverse auto-braking system with obstacle detection, the Liberty hasn't got that.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   6/10

Service costs for the Liberty is dependent on the model you choose. The 3.6R model requires a check-up at 5000km that will cost you just over $250, where the 2.5i doesn't need that.

After that, servicing is due every six months or 12,500km, which is quite frequent by modern-day standards - especially for cars that don't have turbochargers. And the service costs aren't that good, either, with the brand's capped-price coverage - three years/75,000km - costing you $2281.66 if you buy the 2.5i and $2711.42 for the 3.6R.

That's more than a lot of luxury European cars. But it may be best to get those stamps in your owners manual from a Subaru specialist if you're worried about resale value.

The Subaru warranty program doesn't set any benchmarks, either, spanning three years/unlimited kilometres.

Check out our Subaru Liberty problems page for issues relating to faults and reliability concerns.

Verdict

The Subaru Liberty 2018 model is improved in plenty of ways, but the drive experience mightn't excite everyone out there. If you care more about what you're getting for your money than you do about how a car drives, it's hard to argue against a car like this. It comes well equipped across all three grades, but the smart money would probably be on the 2.5i Premium as the pick of the range.

Let us know what you think. Is the Liberty a car you'd consider? Tell us in the comments section below.

Pricing Guides

$34,990
Based on 65 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$26,777
Highest Price
$47,962

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
2.5i 2.5L, PULP, CVT AUTO $23,100 – 28,490 2018 SUBARU LIBERTY 2018 2.5i Pricing and Specs
2.5i (FLEET EDITION) 2.5L, PULP, CVT AUTO $23,430 – 28,930 2018 SUBARU LIBERTY 2018 2.5i (FLEET EDITION) Pricing and Specs
2.5i Premium 2.5L, PULP, CVT AUTO $28,990 – 37,990 2018 SUBARU LIBERTY 2018 2.5i Premium Pricing and Specs
3.6R 3.6L, PULP, CVT AUTO $33,770 – 40,260 2018 SUBARU LIBERTY 2018 3.6R Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.3
Design7
Practicality8
Price and features7
Engine & trans7
Fuel consumption7
Driving7
Safety9
Ownership6
Matt Campbell
Senior Editor

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Pricing Guide

$23,100

Lowest price, based on third party pricing data

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