It looks the same, but it’s very much a case of what’s under the skin that defines the facelifted Subaru Liberty sedan.
WHY WE’RE DRIVING IT
The Subaru Liberty has been given a ‘safety update’ for 2016, and while that includes extra capability from its ‘EyeSight’ camera tech, there are also some light spec enhancements and suspension tweaks.
Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Mazda 6, Skoda Octavia, Volkswagen Passat, Ford Mondeo
THE WHEELS VERDICT
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.
PLUS: Additional safety equipment and marginally improved dynamics for MY2016.
MINUS: Still lacks the driving involvement and dynamic ability of its rivals.
THE WHEELS REVIEW
THE LIBERTY is a Subaru staple that, in recent times, hasn’t quite been able to cut the mustard against strong competition. That includes the Mazda 6 and Skoda Octavia, as well as long-time nemesis the Honda Accord. So for the 2016 model year, it’s been given a slight upgrade in terms of safety spec and some suspension tweaks, too.
Exterior differences to the mid-size sedan are nil, unless you’re driving a dark blue pearl-coloured Liberty, a new colour for MY16. Otherwise it carries the same robust looking, blocky lines led by its pulled-back headlights and that big, trapezoidal grille. There are no prizes for guessing that the US is the brand’s biggest market, and that its cars are styled accordingly.
You’ll need to be in the driver’s seat to make the most of the minor changes. First up, Subaru’s EyeSight has been expanded for this year and includes a broader suite of skills. That’s thanks to the inclusion of the Vision Assist Package as standard for the Premium and 3.6R models.
This expands the camera-based safety system to five key areas, including blind spot alert, lane change assist, a high-beam assist and – a significant feature for 2016 – rear cross traffic alert. There’s also an emergency stop Signal system that flashes the hazards when you’ve pounded the Liberty’s brake pedal hard enough.
That’s on top of the adaptive cruise control that can bring the sedan to a complete halt from speeds as high as a licence-losing 145km/h.
The suspension changes run to new spring rates, rear bushes and dampers that are intended to supress road noise further. A recalibration of the CVT, meanwhile, has altered the character of the throttle pedal.
On the road, these add up to a slightly improved Liberty, but one that doesn’t ride as convincingly as the Outback, which is essentially a high-riding, all-wheel drive Liberty wagon. Same goes for the 2016-spec Forester SUV, which was launched alongside the Liberty, which shows the sedan up as the most in need of some dynamic magic. Perhaps that’s a reflection of the fact that SUVs are selling like beers at New Year and have garnered more of Subaru’s attention.
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. Its change of direction is sloppy, and it does move around a lot more than the Outback, where its unsettled behaviour shows less polished than its wagon sibling. Same goes for the linear, bland steering that lacks precision as well as feel.
The CVT recalibration has given the Liberty an accelerator pedal that’s a tad flaccid around town, but the auto now behaves like a six-speed auto when flattened. Yet instead of a versatile, flexible response for the 2.5-litre boxer four-cylinder engine, it’s given the car a more binary character. It’s simply all or nothing, it seems, when you want to make brisk pace.
Pricing for the three-model range kicks off at $29,990 for the 2.5i CVT, which is no change on pre-facelift pricing. However, the rest of the range stacks on $500. That makes the 2.5i Premium CVT that we’re driving here $35,990 and the flagship Liberty 3.6R $42,490. Given the extra safety, it all adds up to a Liberty that is better value, marginally better to drive but still far from a class-leader.
Model: 2016 Subaru Liberty 2.5i Premium
Engine: 2498cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v
Max power: 129kW@5800 rpm
Max torque: 235Nm@4000rpm
0-100km/h: 9.6sec (claimed)
Fuel economy: 7.3L/100km
On sale: Now