My Subaru connection goes back to my childhood with many happy hours spent in both the back and the front seats. Oh get your minds out of the gutter!
The very second I was old enough I slipped behind the wheel, but she was a 4 speed manual with tiny 43kw output. Even then it felt like the skins on custards world-wide were perfectly safe. Still, it did the job and after many lessons, including 3 in an driving school Alfa, I was the owner of a shiny new license which has taken a dreadful battering since then. Driving many powerful and eye-catching cars was bound to attract the unwanted attention of the Rozzers. I’d have been much better off staying with the chunky little 1974 1400 DL. I was told DL stood for Driving Luxury, yes well the less said about that the better. Luxury was confined to a bass-less AM radio and a heater.
That was then and this is now, and the Liberty has come far. It now has electric power steering, low speed crash mitigation, power brakes, powers windows, power seats, keyless entry and start, a raft of airbags, automatic climate control, automatic headlights, automatic wipers, radar guided cruise control and lane departure warning to name but a very few. Strangely, no auto dimming mirror but that isn’t a deal breaker. I must admit to not being a huge fan of the exterior of some of the Liberties of the past. They seemed a bit slab-sided, and despite driving very well, were just not interesting. The new model is still quite big but looks and feels as if it has slipped into another level of quality and sophistication altogether. This is a good thing because the slip was upward. It now has a sense of premium sophistication which you can’t put your finger on, but there it is.
We drove the perky Outback a few weeks ago and like it very much. If felt like it could go anywhere a Land Rover could. The Liberty has the same asymmetric AWD system as the Outback, the same gear box and the same cabin appointments. The liberty is a saloon version of the Outback’s station wagon body so feels exactly the same to drive, Hoorah! Liberty has grown over the years and is now not far off being Commodore size. You can certainly fit 4 chaps in without anyone having hissy fits over their cramped quarters. You get a choice of 2 colours of interior, black, and not so black. I’m not at all sure about Ivory as a choice for a car interior because the merest suspicion of dirt completely ruins the look. It would drive a fastidious owner to distraction whereas Black holds its misdemenours closer to its chest.
There are a few surfaces and knobs that don’t feel quite as good as elsewhere in the interior. Hard plastics are considered a bit last week but on the whole the cabin has the quiet, comfy, cosy feel of a gentleman’s club/Panic Room on wheels. You feel like you can lock yourself away from the traffic madness in complete safety, turn on some soft calming music and sit in your own lounge room right in the middle of the road. The entertainment system is easy to use with the touch screen controls and as long as your mobile is in range, can even stream Pandora for those long road trips. At times the ride is so good that you feel more like you’re watching a surround-experience on a wide screen TV, especially if the cruise control is doing the traffic management for you. Soon, a driver will be completely irrelevant to the road experience. Imagine sitting in the back chatting to a friend, sipping on a cocktail, or eating a tasty hot snack while letting the electronic chauffeur do his thing. It isn’t too far off but in the meanwhile this will do nicely.
The Eyesight system helps to stop you from hitting things at low speed and making a complete boob of yourself. None of the safety systems are meant to replace driver awareness though. You’re meant to be keeping your eyes on the road, but you do get lazy once you turn the active cruise control on. A little radar/camera system keeps you a safe distance from the car in front regardless of how fast it goes. Set the system at 110kph and the car does the rest. In really heavy traffic it will even slow to a complete stop. Once the traffic moves off again you need only tap the accelerator or flick the resume button and you’re off again. This means the minor distraction of a pretty face on the pavement won’t mean a trip to your scratch-and-dent man. If the cruise control is not active the system will still tell you if you’re getting too friendly with the bloke in front by flashing the entire instrument cluster a rather nice red hue. You won’t quickly mistake the warning for anything other than “BEWARE, YOU’RE BEING A KNOB”. In fact some insurers will give you a hefty discount for these added safety features which help you curtail you knob-ness, and you know what that means? Yes of course, more cocktails!
The flat six cylinder engine, like the flat four of the Outback, sits low in the engine bay which means a low centre of gravity that helps handling. It surprised me in that the Boxer engine’s horizontally opposed pistons make a sound ever so slightly like a Porsche. There is a distinctive note that is pleasing to the ear and I like it. But, a Porsche, even the awful Panamera, won’t seat 5 adults.
ABOVE: Left, Boxer engine cylinder lay on their sides. Right, AWD system
You’ll see I’ve been comparing Liberty to a Commodore, and I do that because the Commodore is quintessentially Australian. It was once, along with Falcon, the mainstay of motoring in this country but now many other brands do it as well, if not better. The 3.6L petrol engine puts out 191kw and an even more respectable 350Nm. It isn’t just the power but how the Subaru gets that power to the road. It is smooth and silky and very confident. Fortunately the AWD system with its active torque split and torque vectoring, means there is no nasty torque steer when you sink the Manolo into the Axminster. If you do stick the boot in you’ll get to 100kph in about 7.2 seconds which is not too shabby considering it does a combined 9.9 L/100k. Best of all, it runs on 91ron unleaded not the stratospherically expensive and wasteful 98ron. The expensive petrol is nothing more than a way for oil companies to extort more money out of bleeding motorists, and if you don’t have to use it why would you?
I wouldn’t call Liberty sporty exactly, especially with a CVT auto transmission, but it does a very nice job of sweeping bends. You can really push hard with the electronic nannies and the AWD doing most of the hard work for you. The Active Torque Vectoring does much to ensure the grip is tenacious even on a moist surface. It is one of the reasons Subaru has done so well in rallying. In its defense I will say the CVT isn’t the dreary blancmange I’ve found in other cars. It feels more like a conventional auto. Your engine isn’t pleading for mercy at every set of lights even if you do decide an enthusiastic take-off is in order. On the highway however, all is sublime. The ride feels posh and indeed much better than a car of this price has any right to be. This model was reduced by about 10 grand last year so is decent value at $46,527 (drive away) which is about $1,500 more expensive than Holden’s base model Calais. The difference is that the 45 grand Calais doesn’t have as much gear onboard, and the Subaru will take you up many a muddy track without getting bogged at the first fence.
Would I buy one? Yes, if I was ever to be coaxed out of a sports car why not? However if the sports car has no roof, then no chance, sorry Liberty!
Price: $46,527 (drive away NSW)
Engine: 3.6 boxer petrol, 9.9l/100k, 191kw/350Nm
Drive wheels: all wheels – Asymmetric All Wheel Drive with torque vectoring