The Liberty is a medium sized saloon from Japanese automaker Subaru, a car that is something of niche player in a jungle of very competitive predators, headed by some dominant players such as Toyota with the Camry, and Honda with the Accord.
However, it can also be compared to the Volkswagen Passat, Ford Mondeo, Mazda6 and Peugeot 508. Arguably, it competes more readily with the European contenders. As far as one-to-one comparisons go, the Liberty does fall into the same pit of being a supremely easy car to fit into anyone’s daily grind. It’s not too big yet very practical, comfortable, and reasonably dignified in style without requiring a buy-in to the more rarified air of the premium tier makes.
Subaru, though, really isn’t interested in playing that arena, and have taken some steps to have the Liberty stand apart from the more mass market side of the spectrum. And they’re also willing to make some concessions to achieve this, including donning the hat of being a left-field darling, something they must already be quite accustomed to. If you’ve got a Liberty, you’ve made a conscious decision to seek that car out.
It’s a car, seemingly, for the nonconformist, doesn’t come with the typical drawbacks an oddball choice may include. In key areas, as we’ll explain in more depth, the Liberty really shows up the more staid offerings in its segment, particularly those from Japan, and that typically boils down to how well it drives over the competition thanks to its unique and inherent Subaru attributes.
However, the story of the Liberty extends deeper. It’s a more rounded car than most give it credit, but still retains a certain edge. However, that is because - rather than in spite of - how much Subaru has done over the years to refine it in order to meet the changing demands of the car buyer.
In other words, the Liberty’s improvements as a contributor to Subaru’s bottom line is due to it emulating more of the Camry and Accord formula, while that pair have continued to do very well being weaker in the Liberty’s wheelhouse. As time has passed, though, perhaps the subtleties of these balances have proven to be less successful over the market volume leaders.
The Liberty range, like pretty much every Subaru on sale, requires very little active mental exertion to fathom. Only three variants are sold in Australia, with the ‘base’ 2.5i grade, the mid-tier 2.5i Premium with more standard equipment, and the range-topping 3.6R, each logically denoting their their engine displacement and hint at their unique tier.
“The sixth generation facelift reigned in the excesses and delivered a much sleeker look. While the profile is similar, the better detailed front and rear return to the Liberty a sense of quiet class…” - CarsGuide
There’s not all that much that leaps out about the Liberty’s appearance. It’s a smart looking, even dignified car both at rest or on the move. Though from certain angles it can struggle against cars like the Mondeo and Mazda6 in terms of perceived modernity.
Its line are clean and quietly muscular though somewhat conservative, and proportionally there’s not much to fault. Subaru, unless they fit a loud bodykit and gold wheels, aren’t really known for their subtly aggressive design, but the Legacy could do with some added spice, particular on the 3.6R.
All variants receives dual-exit exhausts and large 18-inch wheels as standard, which does up the bling factor a good touch, complementing the metallic window frames and pronounced front grille.
Engine and Drivetrain
“…there’s enough grunt in the 2.5-liter to bring the Legacy up to speed in an appropriately prompt manner, and the ‘flat’ engine configuration of both engines means they’re quite smooth and refined.” - Car Buzz
Two engines are on offer here, both are horizontally opposed as the we’ve come to expect from Subaru, which among other things offers better handling through a lower centre of gravity. Things kick off with the 2.5-litre unit, which boasts four-cylinders, 129kW, and 235Nm.
Given its displacement, the specific output is quite good. Except that because this engine is essentially identical to that slotted into the WRX, and considering the Liberty’s size and weight, immediately lures the criticism of adequate power. Granted, it does get going well enough and is rather smooth. However, a turbocharger - even a low-pressure unit - would have yielded a far gutsier machine, especially at lower speeds.
The larger 3.6R, though, does get around this by adding two more cylinders and approximately 1,100cc. Indeed, its 191kW and 350Nm feel much better paired with the substantial sedan. In both cases, though, the delivery of power feels somewhat restrained by the Lineartronic transmission, a CVT which can adjust its ratios infinitely and, well, continuously.
It does have a set of pre-programmed virtual ratios that mimic the behaviour of traditional stepped transmissions and do work well enough. If you’re not fussy about the sporty ‘feel’ of a car, there’s some tangible advantages to this approach, such as refinement and fuel economy.
Once having accepted the peaks and valleys associated with this type of transmission, there isn’t much love lost in the 2.5i or 2.5i Premium, but it’s a shame the 3.6-litre six-cylinder unit here isn’t allowed to be more expressive because of it. Truly, it’s one of the most special engines found in a modern sedan, with the only other flat-six in volume production being accessible in the Porsche 911.
That said, Subaru’s duo of naturally aspirated engines do not really light the world up on the fuel economy front with the smaller 2.5-litre claimed to average 7.3 litres/100km on the combined cycle. Expect the real world figures to be a little higher, even on those with lighter feet.
The flat-six 3.6-litre, though, expectedly consumes more fuel on the average cycle, claimed at 9.9-litres/100km. Watch out for prolonged stretches in slower traffic, though, as it trails most of its competitors on consumption by quite some margin, which can also be said (albeit to a lesser extent) about the 2.5.
Once comfortably seated in the welcoming, medium-sized front seats, the dashboard design is a bit of letdown.” - Motoring.com.au
Given its exterior proportions, only a blind eye toward interior packaging would result in anything disappointing. The Liberty is quite a large car, at least for one bearing a Japanese badge, easily on par with the Ford Mondeo, for example.
Subaru have never had any real problems with build quality and/or material integrity, no matter where they were assembled, and it’s much the same here - solidity together with a clever weaving of soft touch surfaces, gloss plastics trim, and satin metallic highlights all work well in tandem.
It won’t, however, win any prizes for wow factor. First impressions of Liberty’s sober but sophisticated cabin is that it will be hard-wearing and comfortable for the duration, though, and that is ultimately what matters over pizzaz.
There are some sporty touches, for sure, such as the chunky steering wheel, angled instrument cluster dials, contrast stitching on the seats and door panel, and alloy pedals. Just enough to lend some edge to the car’s ambience when you find yourself stationary enough to pay attention to it.
On the move, though, the Subaru’s very logical control arrangement and no-fuss ergonomics make for an easy transition from most cars. Put simply, things are where you expect them to be and work how you’d want them to work. In these situations, seat comfort becomes paramount, and here the Liberty delivers in mostly spades, pairing nicely with the well insulated cabin in general.
The leather, as an example, isn’t of the highest quality but very accommodating nonetheless for all occupants. Keen drivers may lament not having particularly good side bolstering, but then again they’re just in the wrong car to expect that.
Plenty of legroom greet rear passengers and the rear air-conditioning vent is a nice touch to get the rear half of the car cooler much more quickly. Unexpectedly, headroom is a little lacking against cars such as the Volkswagen Passat and Honda Accord. It isn’t bad, but tall occupants may find this area wanting.
In terms of sheer practicality, the Liberty is adequate if not outstanding. The 493-litre boot is nothing to sneeze at and its flat folding rear seats make this quite a sensible proposition, especially considering the full-size spare wheel hiding beneath the floor, but the fact is that many of the sedans that rival the Liberty boast similar cargo capacities. Not all of them offer quite as wide of a loading aperture, it has to be said, so that’s a point in the Subaru’s favour.
Behind The Wheel
“There’s still no clunkiness to the Liberty’s ride, though, and you can feel the road surface through the steering wheel, but it’s not uncomfortable […] Same goes for the linear, bland steering that lacks precision as well as feel.” - Wheels
Subaru does know a thing or two about how to make a car handle well. But while it reserves real effervescence to their dedicated sports models like WRX STI and BR-Z, or latterly endow them with such attributes in an STI Edition or tS variant, every model has an inherent knack at being stable and grippy.
Of course, crediting this to their Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system is warranted for the most part, and the Liberty’s behaviour is of one that won’t quit easily if chucked into a corner. There’s some body roll if you’re overly aggressive, but the grip would remain palpable. Losing traction may feel frightening in most cars, but this one continues the Subaru-specific sensation of it being under control. In a word, it’s unflappable.
Obviously, the Liberty’s suspension has been tuned to lean toward comfort, and while that’s indeed evident, there isn’t much loss in communication between driver and all four of those driven wheels. In normal operation, the car is as sedate and assuring as you’d want it to be, but add a heavier foot into the mix and the 3.6R’s motor obviously pulls stronger, however arguably hampered by that CVT. But this isn’t to say that the 2.5 flat-four seems to struggle by comparison, and the lighter motor does mean a hair advantage of being sharper at the nose.
Safety and Technology
“The EyeSight collision avoidance system is one of the best on the market, and has been rated as top safety pick by the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. However, it can be prone to over-reacting,…” - Practical Motoring
All feature, depending on variant, a centrally mounted touchscreen infotainment unit that’s neatly wrapped within the gloss-black stack fascia, measuring either 6.2- or 7-inches. Three HVAC control knobs live to the south of that, and above the aforementioned screen sit a pair of air conditioning vents.
On the surface, it doesn’t seem as advanced as the some of more fancily packaged systems out there, but using it reveals that it does keep pace with relative ease. Operating it isn’t as intuitive as the MZD Connect system nor does it have an interface as easy to fathom as the Discover Media/Pro system used on VWs and Skodas (branded Columbus).
Siri Eyes-Free is on offer, though it doesn’t feature Apple CarPlay or smartphone mirroring via MirrorLink, but should serve needs if Bluetooth pairing for media playback and simple phone functions are all you need. Subaru really does need a more impressive and tighter integrated infotainment stack in its arsenal.
That said, the company has included their EyeSight Driver Assist suite on both variants, and is one of the most advanced ADAS systems out there. Each Liberty will come stocked with Autonomous Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, no doubt aiding it in achieving that 5-star ANCAP rating. It’s a Subaru after all, which has been a champion advocate and innovator of and for vehicle safety rivalling (at times leading) Volvo at the head of the industry.
There’s no getting around the Liberty’s all-round appeal, but to arrive at a junction where it is the obvious choice means dismissing some shortcomings that are also true of many other current Subarus.
On some fronts, the Liberty it does indeed fall behind key rivals, with convenience tech and engine versatility being a couple of the more obvious. It won’t wow occupants with a snazzy infotainment system nor can its atmospheric Boxer engines, which are good, match the fuel economy or torque of the turbocharged petrol engines within a segment upon which many contenders also offer a turbodiesel option.
All told, the Subaru Liberty is a solidly built, practical, comfortable, and handsomely styled medium sedan. It may not stand out enough visually against the many of its other competitors, but it does serve up some unique advantages such as standard all-wheel drive, objectively resulting in more composed handling and near-unflappable levels of grip, and a generous suite of safety features.
WhichCar - 4/5 - “The Subaru Liberty is a conservative but classy looking medium sedan that’s renowned for its very smooth boxer engines, all-wheel drive, and enduring reliability.”
CarsGuide - 3.5/5 - “The Liberty's overall well-roundedness has filled out a bit with the sixth-generation and this safety update bumps things along a tiny bit. The styling inside and out is vastly improved, the engine and transmission quieter and more drive-able.”
Motoring.com.au - 77/100 - “The Subaru Liberty had a massive year in 2015, coming off a small base with the previously unloved model. This is a superior car to the one it replaces and ticks a lot of boxes. It’s roomy, comfy, well-priced and has some pretty spiffy safety technology.”
Wheels - “The Liberty is better, but its changes are only baby steps towards the class leaders from Mazda and Ford. It’s not a drivers’ sedan, but it does offer practicality and spaciousness in a package with good resale and reliability.”
CarBuzz - 81/100 - “Though not exactly the most exciting sedan on the market, the Subaru Legacy is nevertheless a surprisingly pleasant and practical vehicle.”
Practical Motoring - 4/5 - “There's a lot to like about the Liberty 2.5i Premium. It looks good, is well equipped for the money, is one of the 'safest' cars on the market realising an ANCAP score of 35.99 out of 37, is brimming with active safety technology and roomy enough for a family of four or five.”
Behind The Wheel - “Not really having much experience with Subaru in the past, being able to cruise around in the Liberty 2.5i Premium has been the perfect introduction. I’d highly recommend this car to anyone, so if you’re looking for something in that mid-size range get down to a Subaru dealer and at least take it for a test drive.”
The Motor Report - 3.5/5 - The changes are incremental, but this car is a better Liberty thanks to those changes. There is a saloon-like maturity about the Liberty that makes it seem 'just a little smarter' as an investment. It still drives with that settled on-road feel particular to Subaru, still feels as tight as a vault, and still imparts that sense of long-lasting robustness that is a key part of the appeal of the Liberty badge.”