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Subaru Liberty and Outback 2006 review

The city-smart Liberty and its country cousin, the Outback, have been given a mid-life styling freshen and a much more significant injection of smarts with the SI-Drive (Subaru Intelligent Drive) technology on all 3.0-litre and turbo models.

"SI-Drive gives the driver three cars; a performance version or an economical version depending on the road, the conditions or the driver's emotions," Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior says.

"We are particularly excited about being able to offer this technology as it has previously been the domain of much more expensive vehicles."

SI-Drive is the culmination of almost two decades of determination and belief in an idea Liberty project general manager Toshio Masuda had as a young engineering student.

"When I was a student I imagined the day when you would not have to change the engine in your car to get very different characteristics," Masuda says at the Australian launch of SI-Drive. "I kept a belief in my idea and when I became a senior engineer with Subaru I knew it was time to introduce this idea to the world."

But although the theory of SI-Drive was sound, he says resistance from some sections of the company was difficult to overcome. "Many in the company thought this (SI-Drive) was not possible because of the technical challenges ... challenges we have been able to overcome," he says.

Operating through a simple dial situated on the central console behind the gear shift, the driver can select an economy mode (Intelligent), general driving mode (Sport) or aggressive attack mode (Sport Sharp).

From the 3.0-litre engine, Intelligent mode provides performance like a 2.0-litre non-turbo, Sports mode raises the stakes to a 2.5- to 3.0-litre non-turbo equivalent, while Sports Sharp ensures maximum engine response.

The reduction in engine output in Intelligent mode - with its consequent fuel saving - is 27 per cent in the 3.0-litre engine, down from 297Nm and 180kW to 200Nm and 147kW.

For the 2.5-litre turbo engine, it reduces maximum torque by 19 per cent and power by 20 per cent down to 275Nm and 148kW.

"It is essential, however, that the driver also matches driving style to the engine output," Subaru's Derek Ashby says. "Aggressive driving techniques will only make the fuel consumption worse."

To help drivers stay in the most efficient engine range, SI-Drive cars have what Subaru calls an Eco Gauge in the dash display.

Manual models also come with a shift light indicating optimum time to change gears.

"Real-world testing by Subaru Australia in Australian conditions has shown significant fuel-consumption improvements in I mode compared to S mode," Ashbury says.

"For example, a Liberty GT manual transmission vehicle in I mode showed a 14 per cent improvement in the city cycle with the highway cycle achieving a gain of 6 per cent over the S mode."

The facelift also marks the return of the turbo-charged GT model, this time with the superb 2.5-litre unit from the Impreza STi.

With 184kW and 339Nm on tap, the GT comes as a base with a five-speed manual or a pair of Spec-B models with a five-speed auto or the STi's sublime six-speed manual. Spec-B cars also benefit from a Bilstein sports suspension package from the 3.0R Spec-B - and add 18-inch alloys and low-profile rubber.

Specification levels across all models have been improved, with one of the key gripes against both Liberty and Outback (the lack of telescopic steering adjustment) answered.

There is also brake assist and six-stacker in-dash CD. Higher up the model tree, the turbo and 3.0-litre cars also add a multi-function screen for trip, fuel and SI-drive information, high-intensity discharge lights, dual-zone climate control, expanded multi-function steering wheels and power seats with memory.

Subaru has held prices for the 2.0-litre cars ($31,990 manual and $33,990 auto) and trimmed $1000 from the 2.5-litre range ($34,990 manual). The 3.0R remains at $50,990, the 3.0R-B is up $500 to $52,990, while the range-topping GT Spec-B starts at $55,990 (manual).

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Range and Specs

2.0R 2.0L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $3,980 – 9,444 2006 Subaru Liberty 2006 2.0R Pricing and Specs
2.0R (Sat) 2.0L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $5,060 – 7,480 2006 Subaru Liberty 2006 2.0R (Sat) Pricing and Specs
2.0R Luxury 2.0L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $5,500 – 7,700 2006 Subaru Liberty 2006 2.0R Luxury Pricing and Specs
2.5i 2.5L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $5,500 – 7,700 2006 Subaru Liberty 2006 2.5i Pricing and Specs
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