Subaru Liberty 2.5i

Huge price drop counters loss of identity

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

FIFTEEN years ago, few would have believed that a Subaru Liberty could undercut a Toyota Camry by $500. Believe it.

From $29,990 (including From $29,990 (including all-wheel drive, adaptive cruise, lane-departure alert, pre-collision braking, idle-stop, active grille shutters, dual-zone climate control, a rear camera and 18s), the new Japanese mid-sizer also undercuts its predecessor by $3K.

Headline value. But then the Liberty isnít what it used to be.

When the preceding model surfaced in 2009, Subaruís desire to chase US Camry customers meant it lost some signature engineering and design cues.

Liberty went from Accord Euro to Accord Seppo. Sales in Oz consequently tanked. At least the company has acknowledged that it cannot charge premium pricing for the new B6 sedan.

Things have progressed, too, with a prettier yet beefier body (torsional rigidity rises some 167 percent), stronger suspension, better crash protection, a roomier and quieter cabin with improved access, greater vision, higher-quality materials and an impressive infotainment upgrade.

The Japanese engineers have also fettled the (now Euro 6) 2.5i drivetrain, but has too much Subaru-ness been exorcised? You can barely hear that boxer beat (or improved CVT) working, not until you floor the accelerator trying to squeeze out sufficient performance to haul around a 60kg-heavier sedan. For real muscle, try the potent 3.6R flat-six stormer from $41,990 Ė a stunning $14K cheaper than before.

On the flipside, with the torque split front-to-rear set at 60:40, the 2.5i is now a more balanced handler, carving up corners with a neutral, planted attitude that encourages fast and confident driving in all conditions.

However, the new Liberty is saddled with dull steering that is a far cry from the sharpness of Subies past, while the suspension never feels entirely settled, jiggling along on anything other than perfect bitumen. The big 225/50R18 rubber compromises comfort and refinement.

Thatís a shame since the 2.5iís spaciousness and comfort are enticing, with cabin quality and switchgear logic that should instantly convert any Toyota owner. However, while the newto- Subaru instrument smarts and clever touchscreen are highlights, traditional fans of the brand might find the slick cabin too generic.

And thatís our gripe.

Substantially better than before, the stunningly cheap 2.5i smashes the likes of Camry for value. But who ever bought a Subaru on price alone? Two generations ago, the BMW 318i-baiting Liberty was the fear of Europe. Frustratingly for us, it remains the joy of America. ering

PLUS & MINUS

Dull steering; busy ride; generic dash; 2.5iís listless performance Pricing; high spec; cabin space; driving ease and AWD security

American bias

SUBARU cannot justify spending millions tuning the Libertyís US-spec steering and suspension for the meagre Australian sales it anticipates (175 per month), but the EyeSight driver assistance systems were honed and tested here a year prior to launch. In lieu of the now-dead GT, weíll hold out for the Impreza-based Levorg Sports Tourer.