As a particular model of car sticks around for a few years, it usually gets larger, picks up some new safety gear, adds a bit of fancy styling, and gets more expensive. But not always — especially not if there's a lot of strong competition for buyers' dollars. Subaru's 2015 update of the long-lived Liberty line drops prices by up to $14,000 — a massive 25 per cent — while adding a luxurious interior, a nifty multi-mode LCD dashboard and colour touchscreen entertainment system. It's cheaper and better than the last one.
What Is It?
- Engine: 2.5-litre flat-4, 3.6-litre flat-6 petrol
- Gearbox: CVT
- Entertainment System: 7-inch touchscreen
- Bluetooth: Yes (phone and media streaming)
- Fuel consumption: 9.98L/100km
The latest update of the Subaru Liberty line that has existed in Australia since the late 1980s. The $41,990 2015 Subaru Liberty 3.6R is the top model of the three available, being the $29,990 basic 2.5i, the $35,490 2.5i Premium and the flagship 3.6R. All three of these cars are significantly cheaper than their 2014 iterations, dropping either $3000 or $4000 or a huge $14,000 as the base price rises to suit.
The Liberty is Subaru's mid- to large-sized sedan; it's built for buyers (probably families of three or four, to be honest) that still don't need the luggage space of the Outback or Forester. Being a Subaru and fitting in with its "All 4 The Driver" slogan, it has full-time, symmetrical all-wheel drive, and the car is built around a choice of four-cylinder 2.5-litre or six-cylinder 3.6-litre horizontally-opposed 'Boxer' engines (y'know, like a Porsche).
At 1645kg and measuring 4795x1840x1500mm, the 2015 Liberty 3.6R is not an especially light or small car, but it's definitely not Commodore or Falcon or Territory-sized. Each model in Subaru's new line-up uses a continually variable transmission (CVT) gearbox, and doesn't have gears as such but rather a high-tech cones-and-belts system that sets the engine at one optimum rev range to give you maximum efficiency, maximum performance or a compromise between the two.
With five seats inside, the Liberty 3.6R is specced out with some soft but scratch-resistant leather trimmed pews, heated for the front two passengers. The base model gets cloth instead, but the upgrade comes quickly to the 2.5i premium. The doors, too, are leather trimmed, but for the driver it's the dashboard and centre console that matter — and those have been redesigned and re-jigged for the new model. You get an entirely-touchscreen 7-inch info/entertainment system in the centre of the dashboard, with Bluetooth and AM/FM radio and fuel consumption tracking, and a dashboard centred around a multi-mode colour LCD screen.
What's It Good At?
The 2015 incarnation of Subaru's Liberty is a good driver's car in almost every respect, whether you're tripping into work or taking a longer drive. The ride quality is generally smooth but actually significantly stiffer than I was expecting, reacting well to bumps and potholes and keeping body roll to an absolute minimum even when pushed. Being an all-wheel-drive vehicle, too, there's no chance of any slippage and road-holding through even difficult and high-speed corners is excellent.
The interior of the Liberty 3.6R is a nice place to be. It's comfortable, generally straightforward, and screams affordable luxury. Cream or black leather is available, although the top half of the dashboard stays the same soft-touch, rubberised plastic black whichever trim you opt for; everything is surprisingly solid and feels much more expensive than a $42,000 car has any right to be. (apart from the door skins, which have a bit of flex that belies cost-saving construction).
The touchscreen media interface, too, is great. Satellite navigation is standard on the Premium and 3.6R, the interface is entirely simple and easy to understand for new users, and the Bluetooth pairing is troublefree and perfect apart from a three-second lag between receiving a message and displaying it. The 3.6R's 12-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system is great when playing high-quality audio tracks, too, with oodles of bass on hand and a three-way equaliser to adjust the whole show. Everything about the new Subaru Liberty becomes doubly surprising when you consider that, but for a drastic price cut, this would have been a $56,000 car. At $42,000, or less, it feels like very good value.
Subaru's new Liberty edges out the competition with its road-tracking EyeSight sensor suite. There are three components to it — radar-guided cruise control (which keeps your car a consistent, adjustable distance from the car in front of you), lane departure warning (which stops you accidentally rolling out of your lane or changing lanes without blinking), and general traffic tracking (that'll tell you if a car ahead of you stops, or if traffic ahead of you moves). For the most part, all of these systems work really well; it's actually genuinely useful sitting on a moderately busy freeway and keeping a set, safe distance from traffic ahead whatever its speed.
What's It Not Good At?
As advanced a technology as EyeSight is, it can get a little annoying and intrusive at times. When you're on the freeway, travelling at freeway speeds, the lane departure warning is sometimes frustrating — it can activate when you're on the edge of a slight curve or sweeping bend, giving you a triple-beep warning not to accidentally leave your lane — even when you're completely aware of the edge of the lane and weren't planning to. At least it'll annoy people who change lanes without blinking, too.
The car in general can be a little bit confronting, too. There are 23 buttons on the steering wheel of the Liberty 3.6R, if you count the two flappy paddles on its back. There are three separate driving sharpness profiles for the CVT, but two buttons to change between them instead of one. Two buttons for the radar-guided cruise control, instead of one. Too many buttons for an air-con system when it could have been integrated into the touchscreen media screen. It's all perfectly usable, but just a bit of a learning curve.
If I had one chief criticism of the Liberty, it'd be that the CVT gearbox is a little bit difficult to get used to, especially in the first few days of driving. It's a slightly unnatural feeling to have an initial jerk of acceleration when setting off from a standstill, but then to have it quickly settle to an almost electric-car-esque consistent rate of acceleration. It can be a little less than smooth around the city, but on the freeway it absolutely shines.
I also found that the road noise of the Liberty's 18-inch wheels and 50-profile tyres was a little more than I expected. It's definitely not objectively loud, to be fair, and it'll be roughly as quiet than any non-luxury large car or 4WD, but it's not super quiet. It's not incredibly intrusive on long trips up the coast and out into the country, but you just might notice it out of the corner of your perception once in a while.
Should You Buy It?
The 2015 Subaru Liberty 3.6R, at $41,990, is a lot more car than its price tag might suggest. You get a lot, and the overall experience is a very positive one. The interior is very well appointed, and the sensor suite of EyeSight tech adds a genuine technological reason to upgrade even if you're a last-generation owner already within the Liberty family. This car is just great value for money.
I will say that the CVT probably isn't for everyone, and might annoy some who spend their entire driving time commuting or travelling around stop-start, inner-city traffic. On the freeway it shines, and for commuting over a long distance it's equally capable. It's smooth, and that smoothness might be a little confronting at first, but you quickly get used to it and drive to the Liberty's advantages.
The tech inside the Liberty sets it apart from its locally produced competition, and puts it in the ring with the European luxury marques costing significantly more. They're actually useful, too, even the sometimes-annoying and occasionally overly cautious lane departure warnings popping up when you don't want them to. Radar-guided cruise is a godsend for the holidaymaker, for one, and the easily-distracted-from-the-road stop/starters will be happy with those useful prompts.
At the end of the day, the new Liberty is just a solid and substantial vehicle. It's not bogged down with too much tech, but it's nowhere near barebones either — EyeSight is a substantial safety package as well a good bit of convenience. It's a good driver's car, and it's nice for passengers. And it's way cheaper than you expect it to be.