Subaru WRX VS Subaru Liberty
- Huge AWD fun
- Signature turbo engine
- Still decent safety
- CVT auto. Really?
- Feeling old inside
- Rough around town
- 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
For many folks around my age, the Subaru WRX holds a special place in the heart.
This is because those of us born from the late ‘80s to early ‘90s are the so-called “PlayStation generation.” Growing up at a time where videogames bridged the gap from 2D to 3D leads to a lot of imprinted memories, a lot of digital firsts, which wowed and inspired, and a lot of rapid-fire nostalgia as hardware advancements left once-thriving game franchises in the dust.
It was also high time for the World Rally Championship's well-regarded Group A rally category, which forced manufacturers to make cars much closer to their production counterparts. It was frequently dominated by none other than the Subaru WRX.
Combine these two worlds and you end up with a lot of kids feeling like they could do anything in Subaru’s newfound performance hero from the comfort of their bedrooms, many of whom would go on to buy a second-hand one to slap P plates on as soon as they could.
Read more about the WRX
It was a perfect storm and made the WRX the right car at the right time to put a previously small-time brand well and truly on the performance map.
The question with this test is: Should those kids, now in their late 20s or 30s, still be considering Subaru’s halo car? Or, now that it’s the oldest product in Subaru’s catalogue, should they wait for the imminent reveal of the new one? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium 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|
Although it's now the oldest car in Subaru’s catalogue, there’s nothing really quite like the WRX on the market. This is a car which is true to its roots, a rugged performance stalwart that comes with dollops of fun and compromise in equal measure.
Thanks to Subaru’s updates over the years, it’s fared better than some when it comes to technology and safety, but I’d still implore you to pick the manual to truly experience this car as nature intended.
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.
I think Subaru was gunning for subtlety with the non-STi WRX. For a performance car, the design is a little sedate, with the WRX looking perhaps a little conservative to really stand apart from its Impreza sedan sibling, despite diverging from it some years ago.
There’s no mistaking the rally profile of the full-fat STi, with its huge wing and even bigger wheels, but here in the WRX premium it’s all a little toned down. Still, fans will love the absurd bonnet scoop, angry-looking alloys and quad exhaust. It’s stanced out a little by some flared bodywork, but the tiny lip spoiler at the back robs it of a bit of street cred. Perhaps it's to encourage you into the significantly more expensive STi…
Despite its relative age, though, the WRX still fits into Subaru’s lineup nicely. It has all the hallmarks; the small grille, the angled LED headlights, and the signature tall profile. The chunkiness is all there, too, both on the outside, with its flared bodywork and exaggerated scoop, and on the inside, with thick leather clad seat trim, and a chunky, satisfying steering wheel.
The abundance of red lighting in the dash cluster is reminiscent of the heyday of Japanese performance cars of years past, and while it’s not as plush on the inside as Subaru’s newer products, it’s not disappointing either, with nice use of soft trims.
The plethora of screens feels unnecessary, and the 7.0-inch multimedia unit is feeling very small now, compared to most more recent cars. At least the software has been updated since 2018 to have the more recent system used in the Impreza, Forester, and Outback. It’s simple and easy to use.
Compared to those Subarus, though, the WRX’s interior is feeling a little tired. It’s a bit small, and things like the CD drive and nastier plastic trims smattered around remind of days past for Subaru. It's a good thing the new WRX is coming soon.
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.
Compared to the more forward-thinking designs in Subaru Global Platfrom vehicles, the WRX is feeling a little claustrophobic on the inside. Still, you could do much worse in a performance car.
Front passengers get nicely trimmed bucket-style seats with good side bolstering. Like a lot of Subarus, the seating position isn’t exactly sporty. You sit quite high, and for someone my 182cm height, it feels as though you’re peering down over the bonnet a little. Aside from that, height adjustability is pretty good from the electric seat, and there is a small bottle holder in the door, plus dual cupholders in the centre, a small centre-console box, and a small tray under the climate unit.
Overall, the dark trims in here conspire to make the WRX’s cabin feel a bit tight. This continues for rear passengers. The WRX really is a small sedan and room isn’t great for me behind my own driving position, with my knees touching the front seat. I have to duck a little to get under the sedan’s roofline to get in, and while the decent trim continues, the seat feels a little high and flat.
Rear passengers get pockets on the backs of the front seats, a drop-down armrest with two cupholders, and a decent bottle holder in the doors. There are no adjustable rear air vents or power outlets, however.
Being a sedan, the WRX has a rather deep boot, coming in at 450-litres (VDA). This rivals some mid-size SUVs, but it’s worth noting the space isn’t quite as usable, with a small loading aperture, and it’s a little tight when it comes to the available height. Still, it consumed our largest 124-litre CarsGuide suitcase with ample space to spare.
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
The WRX Premium auto tested for this review is a sort of mid-spec variant. Wearing an MSRP of $50,590, it sits above the standard WRX auto ($43,990), but below the more hard-core WRX STi ($52,940 – manual only).
When you look for rivals, it’s a harsh reminder of the distinct lack of small performance sedans in today’s market. You might consider Subaru’s hero against the front-drive Golf GTi (Auto -$47,190), Skoda Octavia RS (Sedan auto - $51,490), and Hyundai i30 N Performance (manual only - $42,910). There’s a more direct rival coming soon in the form of the i30 N Performance sedan, which will also be available with an eight-speed dual-clutch auto, so look out for that in the near future, too.
While it's now the oldest Subaru on sale by quite a margin, the WRX has been augmented in recent times to offer more up-to-date features.
Standard are mean-looking 18-inch alloys clad in skinny Dunlop Sport rubber, full LED lighting, Subaru’s typical assault of screens, including a smallish looking 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen (mercifully with updated software since I last drove this car), a 3.5-inch multifunction display in the instrument cluster, and a 5.9-inch dash-top-mounted display screen, digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a CD player (how quaint), leather-accented interior trim, eight-way adjustable power seat for the driver, heated seats for front passengers, dual-zone climate control, and privacy tint for the rear windows.
The continuously variable automatic makes up the majority of WRX sales, so I’m told, which is particularly disappointing to hear. Especially given it’s a $3200 jump over the manual, and tarnishes the drive experience. More on this in the Driving section.
The WRX also comes with a safety suite that is impressive for a car of its vintage, which we’ll look at in the Safety section. Getting on it may be, but the WRX is surprising in how well it holds its own on the value front.
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 WRX’s engine is a tuned-up version of Subaru’s signature horizontally opposed “boxer” four-cylinder. In this case it’s a 2.0-litre turbo unit (FA20) producing 197kW/350Nm, ample for a little sedan like this.
Disappointingly for me, our particular WRX premium was an automatic, and it’s not a great one. While most performance cars will drop in a lightning fast dual-clutch, or at least have the decency to offer a classic torque converter with clearly defined ratios, Subaru falls back on its rubbery continuously variable automatic, as derided in the rest of its mainstream range by enthusiasts.
We’ll explore this more in the Driving section of this review. It’s not as bad as you think it’s going to be, but it still doesn’t belong in a car like this.
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.
Fuel consumption is likely to be at the bottom of your list of concerns when it comes to a small performance sedan, but on the official/combined testing cycle, this car will consume a claimed 8.6L/100km of mid-shelf 95RON unleaded.
Over our week of mostly urban testing, our car produced an unsurprising 11.2L/100km, which is actually under the official urban number of 11.8L/100km. Not bad for a performance car, really.
The WRX has a relatively large fuel tank for its size at 60-litres.
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.
It truly pains me that this car is an automatic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m okay with an automatic performance car. Dual-clutch iterations of cars like the Golf R are great, but the WRX automatic is a CVT.
This transmission isn’t great in the brand’s regular range, let alone in a performance application, where snappy response and a predictable, linear riding out of the rev-range are really necessary to extract maximum enjoyment.
I was surprised to find the CVT isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Perhaps through sheer torque, the WRX does hammer into its 2400rpm peak torque band rather quickly, for an immediately impressive 0-100km/h sprint of around six seconds, but it’s beyond this point where you’ll start to get dull, rubbery, and occasionally hesitant response from the accelerator. Not particularly appealing attributes when you’re carving up a few corners.
Handling-wise, the WRX is excellent with its robust all-wheel-drive system and firm-to-a-fault suspension. This makes it a true joy to fling around bends, with equally firm and rewarding steering giving you a truly organic and controlled handle on what’s going on at the wheels.
Subaru’s boxer engine gives the WRX a signature gruff sound under acceleration, with some turbo noise to boot, but with this particular transmission you won’t be getting the satisfying turbo blips you can extract with a swift kick of a clutch pedal in the manual.
Driving it around town every day is a little rough, with a brittle and busy ride, while the heavy steering will get on your nerves when you’re just trying to park the thing.
The firm ride, large wheels, and slim tyres makes the cabin noisy at all speeds, and occasionally sends shockwaves through the front of the car if you’re unfortunate enough to hit a pothole. It’s hardly the most pleasant companion to have on a freeway.
Honestly, if you’re after an automatic performance car, there are better options out there both in terms of response and everyday comfort, although none are quite like a WRX. I’d implore you to pick the manual if you can, it’s a better, more engaging experience in every way.
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.
In good news for the WRX, Subaru’s signature EyeSight suite is mostly present here, albeit a slightly older version than the one that appears in its newer products. Regardless, key active items include auto emergency braking (works to 85km/h with brake-light recognition), lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and auto high beams.
It misses out on reverse auto braking from more modern Subarus but features active torque vectoring to add to the standard suite of electronic aids like traction, brake, and stability controls.
The WRX has a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, although it dates way back to 2014, well before active safety items were even considered.
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.
Annoyingly, the WRX requires six-monthly or 12,500km service intervals, a hold-over from Subarus past. It’s not cheap, either, with each six-monthly visit costing between $319.54 and $819.43 (ouch) for the first 10 visits covering five years of ownership. It averages out to $916.81 per year for the first five years. These are numbers which rival some premium European options.
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.