Ford Focus VS Subaru Liberty
- Refined styling
- Roomy interior
- Advanced safety equipment
- Blind spot warning standard only on Titanium
- Auto transmission can seem indecisive
- No manual gearbox
- Great value across the range
- Safety isn't an optional extra
- Not as good to drive as rivals
- No sat nav in base model
- Ride is questionable
Ford has just released its new-generation Ford Focus. Do you know what that means? It means we're at a monumental point in history that, while nobody will ever really remember it, could impact you greatly.
Because like the automotive equivalent of planetary alignment, we are reaching a moment when Toyota, Mazda, Hyundai and Ford will have all brought their latest-gen small cars to market at about the same time.
Okay, you may not find that exciting. But it means you've now got the most current technology, styling and safety features to choose from right across the board, with Ford the latest to throw everything it's got at its new small-car contender.
All that and more as we take you through the launch of the 2019 Ford Focus, where we tested the hatch in the Trend and ST-Line grades, and the new wagon, too.
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
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.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Different but more refined looks, a smaller but powerful-for-its-size engine, plenty of advanced safety equipment and more room than ever before, the new Ford Focus is much better than the model before it. And it has to be – the competition is fierce.
The sweet spot in the range is the ST-Line hatch with its long list of standard features, comfortable ride and impressive handling.
Is the new Focus a car to take on the might of Hyundai and Toyota? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
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.
This new-generation Focus is completely new, and that goes for its design, the structure of the vehicle and the platform that underpins it all.
That grille, though poutier than before, still makes this new car recognisable as a Focus, but the rest of the car’s styling is a fairly big step away from the look of the previous model. The nose looks more elongated and turned down, and the headlights have an irregular shape (which somehow works) and they're helped to look more defined by the LED running lights that sit above each headlight like an eyebrow.
That front-end may take some getting used to, but I think most will like the rear exterior styling straight away. The hoisted-up style to the rear of the previous car is gone and the illusion is now a car which sits lower and level. I particularly like the Focus badging across the tailgate, too, which is reminiscent of Fords of the 1960s.
The car’s profile has changed, too, with the window structure simplified. Previous versions of the car had rear quarter glass; a small porthole which looked into the boot. That's now been incorporated into the door glass, which means the rear passenger aperture is larger.
Inside, the cabin has been decluttered of its galaxy of buttons, and that busy interior has given way to a more minimalist design with many of the functions moved to the large dash-top screen. That said, the steering wheel still has way too many buttons for my liking or need.
Telling the grades apart may not be obvious at first, but the ST-Line car is recognisable thanks to the blacked-out grille, more aggressive bumper treatment with its air-blade style design around the fog lights, and its twin exhaust. The car itself sits 10mm lower on sport suspension.
You can pick a Titanium from the inside by its leather-accented seats, multi-colour ambient lighting and the B&O sound system speakers.
The ST-Line’s seats are upholstered in a mesh-fibre material with leather accents and red-stitching, and there’s a flat-bottomed steering wheel and metallic brake and accelerator pedals. The wagon version of the Focus only comes in the ST-Line grade, and it comes with roof rails and a cargo cover.
The Active grade is the most recognisable of the Focus family due its higher-riding stance and its plastic wheel-arch cladding. The Active suspension has it sitting 35mm higher than a Trend grade, and while that doesn’t seem like much, the overall affect is quite dramatic, giving the Active a true SUV-like appearance.
There are nine colours to choose from, including Ruby Red, Orange Glow, Desert Island Blue, Blue Metallic, Shadow Black, Magnetic, Moondust Silver, Metropolis White and Frozen White.
At 4378mm end to end, the Focus hatch is 18mm longer than the previous model, while at 1454mm tall it's 13mm shorter, and it's 1979mm wide including the wing mirrors.
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.
The new Focus is longer by about 18mm, but it’s the wheelbase which has increased the most dramatically (by 52mm) and that means more space inside.
I’m 191cm tall and I can just sit behind my driving position without my knees touching the seatback – I wasn’t able to do that in the previous Focus. Headroom is also great for me in the backseat.
The entire cabin feels roomy, actually. For this new model the dashboard was moved 100mm further forward, opening up more space in the cockpit. Even the gear shifter being a rotary dial has freed up room.
Storage throughout is pretty good, with a deep centre console bin covered by the armrest and a hidey-hole in front of the shifter, plus two cup holders and big bottle holders in the doors up front. The door pockets in the back are big, too, but there are no cupholders in the second row.
Boot space is for the hatch is 341 litres packed to the cargo cover with a space saver spare, while the wagon’s cargo capacity is 575 litres. With the back row down, the hatch can fit 1320 litres and the wagon can do 1620 litres.
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 has priced its new Focus competitively compared to rivals like the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30 and Mazda 3, but its most affordable grade does kick off at a slightly higher level than the entry-level cars for those other brands.
That start point for the Focus hatch range is the Trend grade, with a list price of $25,990. Above it is the ST-Line, which is a sporty spec, for $28,990. And at the top of the hatch range is the $34,490 Titanium. There’s also a wagon version of the Focus in the ST-Line grade for $30,990.
But wait, there’s more. Ford is offering an SUV-style version of the Focus for the first time. It's called the Focus Active, and it'll cost $29,990. We’ll cover the physical differences between it and the rest of range in the Design section below.
Coming standard on the Trend is an eight-inch display screen with sat nav, Ford’s Sync3 voice activated media system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, a six-speaker stereo, a Wi-Fi hot spot, single-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, a rotary-style gear shifter, LED running lights, paddle shifters, halogen headlights and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The mid-spec ST-Line takes the Trend’s features and adds dual-zone climate control, wireless phone charging, floor mats, puddle lamps, privacy glass and 17-inch alloys wheels. There’s also the sports suspension, which we’ll cover in the Driving and Engine sections.
The top-of-the-range Titanium brings a B&O 10-speaker sound system, heated front seats, leather accented upholstery, roof rails and LED headlights.
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
The new Focus has been given a new engine! It’s a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo-petrol, but don’t let that put you off - it makes as much grunt as the four cylinder in the old Focus. Actually, at 134kW, it makes 2kW more power and the same amount of torque (240Nm). Cylinder-deactivation allows the engine to run on two when not under much load, which is even more frugal.
The old six-speed auto has been replaced with an eight-speed automatic – it’s not a dual-clutch, it’s a traditional torque-converter auto. The Focus doesn’t offer a manual gearbox, and is front-wheel drive.
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.
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.
According to Ford, the three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine in the Focus will use 6.4L/100km of fuel after a combination of urban and open-road driving. My mileage in the Trend grade, according to the car’s trip computer, was 9.4L/100km after 487.9km of country roads.
Not all of those kilometres were mine, mind, but that was the average after four different drivers had been behind the wheel.
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.
The Active and Titanium grades weren’t available to drive at the Australian launch of the Focus, but I did get to drive the ST-Line in hatch and wagon form, as well as the Trend hatch.
The ST-Line hatch is the sporty one in the Focus range, even though it has the same 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine as the Trend (and the Titanium). What makes it sporty is its sports suspension. Does it work? Absolutely, although I didn’t realise just how well until I drove the Trend hatch after steering its ST-Line brother for a few hours first.
Three-cylinder engines tend to have a satisfying little burble to their exhaust notes, but the ST-Line hatch I started in had a particularly deep growl to it at idle. While the ST-Line does have a dual exhaust, the engine output is the same as any other Focus, and so the gravelly voice is more theatrics than suggesting the car is any more potent than a Trend.
What the ST-Line does do without any drama is handle well, because even though it has a torsion bar set-up in the rear (like the Trend), it also has a lowered ride height and a sports suspension tune. It’s not Focus ST-level of agility by any means, but the ST-Line hatch felt nicely pinned down in the bends, with excellent steering feel and accuracy ensuring it is a genuinely fun car to drive.
What I didn’t know until I drove the Trend hatch is that the firmer sports suspension actually gives a more comfortable ride in the ST-Line than the base-grade car. The Trend, like the Titanium, has softer suspension, which you’d think would offer the best ride, but I found that over the bumps and bruises of country roads, the Trend’s ride was comfortable but bit bouncy, while the ST-Line was more composed and meant the occupants weren’t jiggled around as much.
The award for the most comfortable ride and best handling of the three cars I drove goes to the ST-Line wagon with its sports-tuned multi-link rear suspension. Yup, the cargo hauler of the range was also the best to drive from a comfort and fun perspective, with its compliant suspension keeping life civilised inside the cabin over bumps, while also feeling planted in the switchback and hairpins that cut through country Victoria.
Shifting gears is an eight-speed automatic (you can’t get a manual), but it’s super keen to shift to a higher gear as early as possible, and when sitting at about 100km/h on a motorway, it was indecisive about which gear it wanted to be in; go 104km/h and it shifted up, drop to 97km/h and it shifted down. Up, down, up, down, up... well, you get the idea.
When it came time to drive roads which went all bendy, the transmission still tried to take the fun out by shifting up and bogging the car down in lower revs. The solution was to leave the car in Sport mode, which instructs the gearbox to cling to lower gears for longer. I kept the Trend and ST-Lines in Sport mode most of the time I drove them – it didn’t affect the ride (the cars suspension isn’t adaptive), but the throttle response and shifting was perfect for all driving, whether I was flinging through the winding country roads or trundling through town centres.
All three – the Trend hatch, ST-Line Hatch and ST-Line wagon - performed well, with the ST-Line duo feeling like they were approaching or even matching Volkswagen Golf levels of agility and composure.
At no point did I feel that the three-cylinder was under powered - it’s a surprisingly responsive and grunty engine.
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.
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.
The Focus scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2018. Standard across the range are seven airbags, AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, and lane keeping assistance and traffic sign recognition - the latter of which can read speed limits for you.
The Titanium comes standard with a lane-centre system, which I tested and found it works seriously well – drift out of your lane and the system rapidly yanks you back in again. Only the Titanium comes with blind spot warning, which is odd considering the impressive advanced safety tech that’s already standard across the range
Auto parking is optional only on the Titanium, and can be used for parallel or perpendicular parking. Also standard on all is a 180-degree split-view camera, but front parking sensors are only available to option on the Titanium – again, that’s a bit odd.
A space-saver spare is found under the boot floor for all grades. For child seats, you’ll find two ISOFIX points and three top tether mounts in the second row.
The new-generation Focus was developed in Europe and built in Germany.
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.
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.