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Ford Focus


Subaru Liberty

Summary

Ford Focus

Ford's small hatch, the Focus, is criminally under-bought in Australia. The latest model is  one of the best hatchbacks on the road and when you chuck in the decent price, impressive equipment and absurdly powerful engine for its size, it's a winner.

But you lot? You don't buy it in nearly the kinds of numbers it deserves. Partly because there isn't a bait-and-upsell boggo model to lure you in, partly because it's got a badge that is not exciting Australians any more and partly because it's not a compact SUV.

Or is(n't) it? Because alongside the ST-Line warm hatch is the identically priced and therefore technically a co-entry level model; the Focus Active. Slightly higher, with plastic cladding, drive modes and a conspicuous L on the transmission shifter, it's a little bit SUV, right?

Safety rating
Engine Type1.5L turbo
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6.4L/100km
Seating5 seats

Subaru Liberty

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.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.5L
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.3L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

Ford Focus7.4/10

Ten years ago, the idea that the higher-riding version of a hatchback would be a good city car would have been laughable. The Focus Active is pitched as a kind of SUV with its different low-grip driving modes, which you'll never touch if you stick to the city.

The Ford Focus is genuinely a brilliant car, no matter where you take it. The Active takes a terrific chassis, tweaks it for comfort but, ironically, doesn't lose much of the speed.


Subaru Liberty7.3/10

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.

Design

Ford Focus

For a fairly conservative hatchback, the Focus came under fire for what some termed its derivative styling. I quite like it, and not just because the styling work was led by an Australian. The front end is very much family Ford, as long as it's the European arm of the family, fitting in with its smaller sibling, the Fiesta. The Active scores the usual black cladding, higher ride height and smaller diameter wheels, in exchange for more compliant, higher-profile tyres. All of that takes nothing away from a design that I think looks pretty good.

The cabin is well put together, with just that oddly angled touchscreen causing me a bit of a twitch. The design is a fairly steady Ford interior with a lot of switchgear shared with the Fiesta, but it's all quite nice. The materials feel mostly pleasant  and the hardwearing fabric on the seats feels right for this kind of car.


Subaru Liberty7/10

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.

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.

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.

Practicality

Ford Focus

The Focus is quite roomy compared to other cars in its class. The rear seat has good leg and headroom, with the feeling of space accentuated by large windows. Annoyingly, though, all that work put into making the rear a nice place to be is ruined by a lack of amenities like cupholders, USB ports or an armrest. 

Front-seat passengers fare better with two cupholders, a roomy space at the base of the console for a phone and a wireless-charging pad. The front seats are very comfortable, too.

The boot starts at a fairly average 375 litres - clearly sacrificed for rear-seat space - and maxes out at 1320 litres with the seats down. While you have to lift things over the loading lip and down into the boot, it's one of the more sensibly shaped load areas, with straight up and down sides. Ironically, the smaller Puma has a noticeably larger boot.


Subaru Liberty8/10

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.

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.

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.

Price and features

Ford Focus

The Focus Active wears a $30,990 sticker but the several people I know who  bought one haven't paid that much, so Ford dealers are obviously keen to do deals. Even at that price, it's got a fair bit of stuff. The Active has 17-inch wheels, a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, auto LED headlights, LED fog lights, sat nav, auto wipers, wireless hotspot, powered and heated folding door mirrors, wireless phone charging, a big safety package and a space-saver spare.

Ford's SYNC3 comes up on the 8.0-inch screen perched on the dashboard, which weirdly feels like it's facing away from you slightly. It has wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sat nav, DAB+ and also looks after various functions in the car.

The panoramic sunroof is a stiff $2000 and includes an annoying perforated cover rather than a solid one.


Subaru Liberty7/10

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.

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 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.

Engine & trans

Ford Focus

Ford does an excellent range of small turbo engines. The "normal" Focus range (such as it is, now the wagon has disappeared from the market) comes with a 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine. Bucking the SUV-this-size trend (yes, I know it's not really an SUV), this punchy little unit delivers an impressive 134kW and 240Nm. They're both very decent numbers for such a small engine.

The big numbers continue with the transmission boasting eight gears, a number you don't often find in a hatchback. It's a traditional torque-converter auto, too, so those of you who have bad memories of Ford's old PowerShift twin clutches should worry no more.

Power goes to the front wheels only and you'll get from 0 to 100km/h in 8.7 seconds.


Subaru Liberty7/10

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.

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.

Fuel consumption

Ford Focus

Ford's official testing for the big window sticker delivered a 6.4L/100km result on the combined cycle. In my time with the Focus, I got 7.2L/100km indicated on the dashboard, which is a pretty solid result given the Focus spent a good deal of the time on suburban or urban roads.

With its 52-litre tank, you'll cover around 800km if you manage the official figure, or just over 700km on my figures.


Subaru Liberty7/10

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.

Driving

Ford Focus

Despite the very mild off-road pretensions, if it's a comfortable city ride you're after, the Active is the Focus to have. While the ST-Line isn't uncomfortable - not by a long way - the Active's more compliant tyres and higher ride height (30mm at the front and 34mm at the rear) iron out the bigger bumps without sacrificing much of the sportier car's impressive dynamic prowess, even with the low-rolling-resistance tyres.

The cracking 1.5-litre turbo is responsive and well-matched to the eight-speed auto. The big torque number pushes you along the road and makes overtaking much less dramatic than a 1.5-litre three-cylinder has any right to. 

Ford's trademark Euro-tuned quick steering is also along for the ride, making darting in and out of gaps a quick roll of the wrist, which has the added benefit of meaning you rarely have to take your hands off the wheel for twirling. That darting is aided and abetted by the engine and gearbox, with the turbo seemingly keeping the boost flowing with little lag. It's almost like they planned it that way.

You have good vision in all directions, which almost renders the fact that the blind-spot monitoring is optional acceptable. Almost. It's very easy to get around in, easy to park and, just as importantly, easy to get in and out of. Compared to, say, a Toyota Corolla, the rear doors are very accommodating. 


Subaru Liberty7/10

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.

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.

Safety

Ford Focus

The Active has six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB (low speed with pedestrian avoidance and highway speeds), forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, speed-sign recognition and active lane-keep assist.

Annoyingly - and I can't for the life of me work out why this is a thing - despite some advanced safety features in the base package, you have to pay $1250 extra for blind-spot monitoring, reverse cross traffic alert and reverse AEB, which are part of the Driver Assistance Pack. No, Ford is not the only company to do this.

The back seat has two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.

The Focus scored five ANCAP stars in August 2019.


Subaru Liberty9/10

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.

Ownership

Ford Focus

Ford offers a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and a roadside-assistance package that consists of a membership to your local motoring organisation. 

The first five services cost $299 each and also include a free loan car and a 12-month extension to your roadside assist membership for up to seven years.


Subaru Liberty6/10

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.