Subaru Liberty VS Kia Cerato
- 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
- Great value
- Long warranty
- Is it hot or not?
- GT needs more grunt
- Steering feel
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|
You need a new small car and have $20-30k to spend, max. What do you do? Easy. You take $24,870 and go straight to our sister site autotrader.com.au and get yourself that sweet-as 2015 white Mazda MX-5 convertible with the manual gearbox and 32,141km on the clock.
What? You need more than two seats? And a proper boot? For about the same amount of money? Oh… well this is awkward. Okay, have you met the Kia Cerato, then?
I did, I’ve met them all - every Cerato from this new generation model. I’ve driven the sporty one – the GT on some of Australia’s best roads, and I’ve driven the rest, the S and the Sport, on some of the worst roads.
My family and I lived with them, too. We drove hundreds of kays, did day care drops off, had supermarket car park meltdowns where nobody was talking to each other, singalongs (that was mainly me, by myself), fell asleep in them and did the daily commute in them.
I feel I know the Cerato so well now, I reckon I could almost build one if you gave me the pieces.
Here’s what I learnt about what could be the best value small car buy out there right now. Or there’s the Mazda MX-5.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
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.
The drive-away pricing and big features list makes the Cerato great value, and then there’s the practicality and warranty. Also, you have choice between something a little hardcore or more comfortable.
To me, the Sport Plus is the sweet spot in the range. The leather seats, dual-zone climate control with rear air vents, proximity key and heated seats clinch it.
The Kia Cerato could be the smartest choice you’ll make this year. Or there’s the Mazda MX-5.
Do you reckon the Cerato is the best value-for-money small car on the market? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
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.
What a time to be alive: small cars have never looked better. Have you seen the new Ford Focus or the Hyundai i30? Even the current Toyota Corolla looks sexy.
But does the same go for the new Cerato? The sedan is certainly attractive, but the hatch looks hot from some angles and not from others. The hatch has whiffs of BMW X4 around the tail-lights, although its side profile is not as pleasing as the sedan’s.
Both have the same angry Kia face with signature ‘tiger nose’ grille, while all grades in both body styles have the glossy black diffuser and lower bumper with integrated exhaust.
And that’s a bit of a tip for you right there. See, despite there being four grades and a $12K price difference between the entry level and top-of-the-range Cerato, the difference in styling is almost zilch.
Really, the only way you can tell the difference visually between an S grade and a GT is the wheels and exhaust (the S has hub caps and one tail pipe, not two).
All Cerato hatches have that same body kit, including the roof top rear spoiler. The Cerato sedans don’t miss out – they have a little boot lid spoiler.
If it came down to it, I’d say the sedan is a better-looking car than the hatch.
The cabins are also almost identical although the cloth seats in the S and Sport aren’t as premium looking or feeling as the leather ones in the Sport + and GT, and there are other similarly luxurious elements on these grades such as the push-button ignition and soft-touch plastics. Have a look at the interior photos, I took them myself.
What colours can you get your Cerato in? There are 10, but one ('Sunset Orange') is exclusive to the GT.
Only one is a non-cost option, too – it’s 'Clear White'. The rest are premium paint colours and will cost you extra. You can have 'Aurora Black', 'Gravity Blue', 'Horizon Blue' (which was the colour of my S hatch and looks great), there’s also 'Runway Red' (that was the colour of my Sport hatch and it was hard to keep looking clean), 'Steel Grey', 'Snow White' and 'Silky Silver'. No green and no yellow.
The Cerato is a small car, but not the smallest Kia – that’s the Picanto and it’s tiny. Nope, the dimensions show the Cerato hatch to be 4510mm end-to-end, while the sedan is longer at 4640mm. Both are the same height at 1800mm tall, but their widths are different with the hatch being 1445mm across while the sedan is 5.0mm narrower.
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.
You can get the Cerato as a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback. They’re the same size, but which do you reckon has the biggest boot? The hatch? Nope.
See, the Cerato hatch’s boot has a luggage capacity of 428 litres and the sedan’s boot space is 502 litres.
Thing is, the hatch is the more practical of the two because of its tailgate which opens high and gives you a big aperture and you can fold those rear seats down to open up the cabin as a cargo area.
Another practicality win for the hatch is the segmented storage area under the boot floor. The sedan doesn’t get this which is a shame because it’s like a big bento box for wet clothes or muddy shoes.
Storage throughout the cabins of both the sedan and hatch is excellent with two cupholders in the fold-down rear armrest and another two up-front, while the centre console bin is deep (there’s a USB charging port in there, too) and the shelves under the dash were a great place to plonk my wallet and phone. Also hiding in there is a USB charging port, a USB media port and a 12-volt outlet. That top shelf under the dash in the GT also doubles as a wireless charging pad.
Room for people is also outstanding. I’m 191cm tall, and mainly all limbs, yet I had no elbow or legroom issues up front and I can even sit behind my driving position in both the sedan and the hatch with about 20mm of space between my knees and the seatback.
The Sport Plus and GT have directional air vents in the second row, but the lower grades don’t get these. That’s something I find pretty frustrating – my four-year-old sat for two weeks in the back of the Cerato S and Sport through the killer summer of 2019 and it was hot back there.
Price and features
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.
You’ve had a look online and you’re a bit shocked to find that your $20-$30k may not go as far as you originally thought, especially when you include the on-roads costs.
But, take a look at its ‘cousin’ the Kia Cerato, too, because I reckon it’s the best value-for-money car on the market right now, and one that no doubt keeps its rivals awake at night as it steals buyers away from them.
The Kia Cerato sedan and hatch are priced the same and the value-for-money is outstanding. The entry grade S with a manual gearbox lists for $20,990, and at the time we published this review you could have it for $19,990 drive-away.
You’d probably think the ‘S’ stands for ‘Sport’ but it doesn’t because there is an actual grade called the Sport which is the next tier up and lists for $25,790 or $24,190 drive-away. Then there’s the Sport Plus which lists for $28,840 and can be had for $27,740 drive-away. At the top of the range is the GT which lists for $32,990 or $31,990 drive-away.
Standard features on the S include an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, six-speaker stereo, air-conditioning, cloth seats, 3.5-inch LCD instrument screen, electric mirrors, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors and 16-inch steel wheels with 205/55 R16 tyres.
Standard features on the Sport are almost identical to the S. The only difference is the Sport’s premium steering wheel and shift knob, sat nav, plus 17-inch alloys wheels with 225/45 R17 tyres.
The Sport Plus has the Sport’s features and adds leather seats, dual-zone climate control with rear directional air vents, heated front seats, push-button start, proximity key and LED running lights.
The GT has those features and adds wireless phone charging, a 4.2-inch instrument cluster an eight-speaker JBL sound system and 18-inch alloys with 225/40 R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber.
Engine & trans
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.
So, you can get a Cerato S, a Cerato Sport and a Cerato Sport Plus, but only the top-of-the-range Cerato GT is the true sporty one in the family.
The rest of the Cerato line-up shares a 112kW/192Nm four-cylinder petrol engine. If you want a manual gearbox, then you can only have it with the base grade S, otherwise the six-speed automatic, that is standard in the others, does the shifting for you.
Both are good powerplants, the 1.6-litre is smaller but more powerful and responsive and uses less fuel. How much less? Which we’re just about to get to.
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.
As mentioned above, the GT with its 1.6-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder is the most fuel-efficient member of the Cerato family and after a combination of open and urban roads Kia says you should see it using 6.8L/100km in both the sedan and hatch.
When I tested the GT at its launch in January 2019 the trip computer said I was using 7.6L/100km after driving the hatch on mainly country roads and 8.4L/100km in the sedan on similar open roads.
As for the other grades Kia says the combined fuel consumption for the S, Sport and Sport Plus grades with their 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engines and six-speed auto is 7.4L/100km. My own testing in the Sport hatch saw me measure bang-on 7.4L/100km (measured at the petrol pump), while the S hatch did 8.6L/100km (also measured at the bowser).
A manual gearbox is available on the S and Kia says you should see it using 7.4L/100km in the hatch and 7.6L/100km in the sedan. Along with that good mileage it's nice to know both engines are also happy to run on regular unleaded petrol.
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.
This is simple. There are only two types of Cerato when it comes to driving. There’s the fast and hard one, or the comfy and easy one.
If you’re looking for a Cerato which is pretty quick and has great handling, then it’s the GT for you. The catch is, the GT’s ride is firm and jarring over potholes and speed bumps.
If you’re looking for something which has a comfortable ride and is fuss-free to drive then the S, the Sport and Sport Plus are for you.
See, Kia set out to make the GT a bit more hardcore – it has a more powerful engine, firmer suspension (the torsion bar set-up in the other grades was swapped for a multi-link system in the rear of the GT), it also sits lower and rides on 18-inch wheels with low-profile Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres. The result is a hatch which is knocking on the door of Golf GTI territory.
I drove the GT in hatch form at its launch on twisty country roads and it felt planted, with excellent body control and impressive grip. The only thing lacking was more grunt.
This chassis is now so good it feels like it’s in search of a more powerful engine to match it. The steering also felt a bit ‘lumpy’ in places. Still it’s accurate and not a deal breaker.
That lumpy steering feel is also present in the S, Sport and Sport Plus, too but it becomes irrelevant because these grades don’t have the performance bent of the GT. Instead they have a ride which is composed and comfortable, with an engine that provides plenty of oomph for highway cruising, overtaking and city sprints – especially when you select 'Sport' mode which sharpens throttle response.
And while they don’t have the handling and agility of the GT, I was impressed by how controlled and planted the Sport felt when I tested it over the route I normally take sport cars on.
More importantly, the S, Sport, and Sport Plus are easy and enjoyable to drive. I clocked up hundreds of kilometres in the S and Sport and found the seats to be wide at the base and supportive around my back, and they could be adjusted to find a great driving position.
Kia tunes most of its cars for Australia roads and the job its local engineering team has performed on these lower grade Ceratos is outstanding – the ride is compliant and comfortable and the car has good body control over bumps and corners.
If I could change anything it would be to improve visibility in the rear corners – those tiny porthole-like windows aren’t big enough.
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.
The Kia Cerato GT and Sport Plus hatch and sedan scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating in 2019, but the Sport and S were given four stars because while they do have AEB it doesn’t detect pedestrians and cyclists like the version on the top two grades.
You can effectively turn a Sport or an S into a five-star car by optioning the $1500 safety pack which adds that version of the AEB plus blind-spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.
The Sport Plus and GT come with all of that advanced safety equipment already. The GT also comes with LED headlights which are much brighter and more intense than the halogen units in the other grades.
As you'd expect all Ceratos come with a suite of airbags, ESP and a reversing camera. There are also three top tether anchor points across the second row – they’re easy to use, I’ve installed my four-year-old’s seat in both the hatches I had. There are also two ISOFIX anchor points.
Under the boot floor is a space saver spare.
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.
The Cerato is covered by Kia’s seven-year/unlimited km warranty. Most carmakers are only just making the move to five-year warranties, but Kia has had this offering in place for years. The Cerato also comes with seven years of roadside assistance.
There’s also seven years of capped price servicing. Kia recommends you service the Cerato S, Sport, Sport Plus annually or every 15,000km. You can expect to pay $275 at the first service, $469 at the second, $339, $623, $309, then $596 and finally $328 for the seventh.
It’s good to know that after seven years of regular servicing you can expect to pay no more than $2939.
As for the GT Kia recommends servicing it every 10,000km or annually. Servicing is capped at $282 for the first service, $476 for the next, then $346, $630, $317, $604, then $640 for the seventh.
The aftercare Kia offers is outstanding and so the Cerato gets full marks for its cost of ownership.