You may not believe it, given the exploding popularity of SUVs, but mid-sized sedans still tickle the fancy of buyers who see no need for a utility vehicle that will never leave the bitumen. This remains an important segment for manufacturers and buyers in this country looking for a mid-size sedan are rather spoilt for choice.
The Subaru Liberty, which last got a pep-up in 2016, has been given a few extra sparkles both inside and out with the Japanese manufacturer hoping it will be enough to entice buyers until the end of this model cycle.
There are three Libertys to choose from, a 2.5i, 2.5i Premium and the range-topping 3.6R, with the latter joining our family for the week.
It doesn’t go unnoticed that this Liberty 3.6R looks a lot the one it replaces. Yet, there have been a fair few changes to give it fresh appeal including new bumpers and foglights and refreshed LED headlights.
It is stylish and little demure relying on wide brush strokes and classic lines to attract interest.
The interior, too, has had a handful of considered tweaks lead by a number of glossy black highlights on switchgear, panels and dials to create a marked contrast. There is a bright 8.0-inch colour touchscreen, revised temperature controls and a snazzy three-spoked steering wheel.
The overall quality and cohesion remains though, along with the comfort we have come to expect from Subaru seating. Practicality has not been lost either with useful cupholders, deep door bins and centre console storage for your bits and bobs.
Those in the back seat will enjoy the comfortable surrounds – wide seats, air vents, storage and USB inputs – and although head and toe wiggle room isn’t best in class it is rather generous.
Exterior hinges on the boot help when carrying cumbersome packages. The space itself – at 493 litres – is larger than many medium SUVs and you can drop the 60:40 seats if you have longer items. A full-sized spare – a rarity these days – lives under the cargo floor.
A new 8.0-inch tablet-like colour touchscreen sits at the top end of the centre stack surrounded by a familiar array of buttons. The system is easy to navigate with a strong graphics package and useful reminders of changing speed limits.
Bluetooth connectivity is simple while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto means you are never far from the familiarity of your phone. The TomTom navigation system is fairly efficient. Operation on the move is through voice instruction which we found irksome at times.
The Liberty 3.6R also sports a Harmon Kardon 12-speaker sound system, which can report is an able accompanist should you break out in song at the lights.
ENGINES / TRANSMISSIONS
There are two engines in the Liberty range, a 2.5-litre four-cylinder unit in the 2.5i and 2.5i Premium and the 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine that powered our test car. It delivers 191kW of power and 350Nm of torque, not race track material of course, but a smooth and refined fellow. It is paired with Continuously Variable Transmission which is amenable to most suggestions.
Safety is one of Subaru’s strong points and the EyeSight systems in its cars do a great job of seeing and mitigating those dangers that you do not.
In this Liberty 3.6R, there are seven airbags, reverse camera, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with brake light recognition, lane-keeping assist, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.
There are two IsoFix points on the outer seats as well as three top tethers.
The 3.6R also has lead vehicle start alert so it warns inattentive drivers if the car ahead of them in the queue is moving.
There are no parking sensors but to be honest you don’t really miss them.
The Liberty 3.6R is one of those no-fuss sedans, that goes about getting to where you need to go with efficient finesse. The comfortable cabin sets the foundation for a good driving experience and capable engine and great inclusions the finishing touches.
You can choose from three drive modes – Intelligent for economy, Sport and Sport Sharp – which alter the driving experience accordingly. Let’s be straight up here though. Sport mode does not equate to a sporty car and the handling and speed one would associate with it.
But the Liberty is self-assured and able, offering expected responses and an all-wheel-drive system that will give you confidence in even greasy and wet conditions. The boxer engine, whose sits flat lower down in the car, helps with handling and overall ride quality making this an easy car to drive.
The 3.6R can sometimes feel a tad sluggish especially from standstill but finds its rhythm quickly on the open road. Interestingly, despite the work that has been done on the suspension to stop wallowing after bumps, the Liberty 3.6R still feels a little unsettled on secondary roads or passages when smaller irregularities are common.
The steering though is fairly direct and reliable, braking is excellent and road and tyre noise has been kept to a minimum.
Economy is not the Liberty’s friend and our week of 10.9L/100km (official figure is 9.9L/100km) is an indication of its thirst.
Subaru offers an unremarkable three years unlimited kilometres warranty. Servicing, too, is a bit on the sharp side in comparison with some competitors, with the first three years of regular maintenance expected to cost just over $2700. Service intervals are six months or 12,500km.
With a new Toyota Camry here and a Mazda 6 in the offing, it is prudent that Subaru has chosen to add tweaks and tucks to its mid-sized sedan. It has allowed the Liberty to stay competitive and will spark renewed interest amongst those buyers looking for a value-for-money sedan.
AT A GLANCE
Price: from $43,140 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 3.6-litre six-cylinder petrol
Output: 191kW at 6000rpm and 350Nm at 4400rpm
Transmission: CVT, AWD
Fuel: 9.9L/100km (ADR Combined)
Warranty: Three years unlimited kilometres
Safety Rating: Five Star ANCAP
What we liked:
Value for money
What we didn’t:
Occasional flustered ride