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Used Subaru Liberty and Outback review: 1989-2012

These Subarus are reasonably easy to work on and most routine jobs can be carried out by an experienced home mechanic.

Subaru's largest passenger car, the Liberty, has a well-deserved reputation for toughness and reliability with Australian buyers. The Subaru Outback is an interesting variant on the Liberty station wagon. On the market since 1996 it is intended as a halfway step between a conventional station wagon and a dedicated 4WD.

In its earlier models Subaru Outback had a tougher appearance than the standard wagon because of the additional protective plastic facings on the doors. These were discontinued with the new generation of 2003 to give the vehicle a more upmarket air, though there are many Subaru advocates who preferred the tougher look of the original.

Since 1995 only all-wheel drive Liberty models have been sold in Australia, prior to then there were also front-wheel drive versions, even by 1995 these were comparatively rare because buyers had already sussed out the advantages of driving all four wheels.

Unusually for Japanese cars, Libertys and Outbacks, indeed all Subarus, are popular with country drivers as well as those from metro areas. Libertys and Outbacks are much loved by snow skiers because their permanent all-wheel drive system makes them safer and more capable in slippery conditions than a 2WD vehicle.

Subaru Liberty first arrived in this country in 1989 and struck a chord with local buyers almost immediately. These older models are generally getting long in the tooth so may be near the end of their lives. You’re probably better off avoiding them.

Liberty is sold as a four-door sedan and a five-door station wagon, with a much larger percentage of wagons being sold than in other models in the mid-size class. The combination of the traction of all-wheel drive and the practicality of a wagon rear end is a strong one.

The engines have a flat ‘boxer’ layout to lower the centre of gravity for improved road holding. Engine capacities in the four-cylinder models are 2.0, 2.2 and 2.5 litres. The 2.0 actually has more performance than the 2.2 being a later design.

Flat-six engines began with a 3.0-litre unit in the Outback and later the Liberty range, its capacity increased to 3.6 litres in September 2009. Subaru calls the flat-six engines the H6 - ‘H’ for horizontally opposed, but most owners tend to retain the use of flat-six or boxer for it.

There are a couple of high-performance Subaru Liberty variants. The Liberty RS has a 2.0-litre turbocharged unit and was introduced here in 1992. It was on sale for less than two years, when it was upstaged by the smaller and lighter Subaru Impreza WRX, a car that went on to be a huge success.

The Liberty B4 sports machine has a twin-turbo 2.0-litre. It first came here in August 2001 but was somewhat of a disappointment in Australia because the engine had to be significantly detuned from the one offered on the Japanese market to run on our lower-octane petrol.

These Subarus are reasonably easy to work on and most routine jobs can be carried out by an experienced home mechanic. However, safety items and most areas of the high-performance variants are best left to the professionals.

Spare parts prices are about average for a car in this class. The Subaru dealer network, though relatively small, works efficiently. Because of Subarus’ popularity in country areas there are dealers in comparatively remote areas.

Insurance charges on all but the turbocharged high-performance Liberty RS and Liberty B4 are moderate. The turbo models can be really expensive to cover, especially if you are a young and/or inexperienced driver. Living in a high-risk area further increases charges. Be sure to get a quote before falling in love with a turbo Liberty as premiums can be scary.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Look over the interior trim and carpets for signs of damage, though they usually hold up well to all but the most outrageous of treatment. Mud or a real buildup of dust may indicate a lot of time spent of the beaten track.

Check out the luggage area for signs of harsh treatment caused by carrying big and/or sharp loads. Have a look underneath a car, particularly the Outback, for signs of damage through it coming into contact with the ground. Some owners really do treat them as though they are ‘real’ 4WDs.

The undersides of the bumpers, especially on their corners, are usually the first to suffer. Be sure the engine starts quickly and immediately idles smoothly no matter how cold the conditions. The sixes are naturally smoother than the fours, but the latter should be pretty good as well. 

Manual gearboxes should be quiet in operation and gearchanges should be smooth and light. Automatics which tend to hunt up and down the gears, or which are slow to go into gear, could be due for an overhaul. Rust is not common in Subarus, but if one has been badly repaired after a crash it may get into the metal. Call in a professional inspector if there’s the slightest doubt.

Pricing

Year Price From Price To
2012 $6,800 $18,040
2011 $6,400 $16,500
2010 $6,000 $15,950
2009 $5,500 $16,170
2008 $5,300 $16,940
2007 $4,600 $15,950
2006 $4,000 $14,630
2005 $4,300 $12,760
2004 $4,100 $12,320
2003 $3,700 $11,660
2002 $3,700 $9,680
2001 $3,700 $9,680
2000 $3,500 $9,130
1999 $3,400 $8,250
1998 $3,100 $8,140
1997 $3,100 $7,700
1996 $3,100 $11,330
1995 $2,900 $10,780
1994 $2,800 $8,250
1993 $2,800 $8,140
1992 $2,800 $8,140
1991 $2,600 $7,590
1990 $2,600 $7,040
1989 $2,600 $5,940

View all Subaru Liberty pricing and specifications

Pricing guides

$4,270
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$2,600
Highest Price
$5,940

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
GX 2.2L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $2,800 – 4,840 1989 Subaru Liberty 1989 GX Pricing and Specs
LX 2.2L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $2,600 – 4,400 1989 Subaru Liberty 1989 LX Pricing and Specs
GX 2.2L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $3,500 – 5,610 1989 Subaru Liberty 1989 GX Pricing and Specs
GX (awd) 2.2L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $3,100 – 5,390 1989 Subaru Liberty 1989 GX (awd) Pricing and Specs