Subaru Liberty 3.6R 2016 review

If Clark Kent was a car he'd be this

Subaru Australia Liberty 3.6R 2016
  • Subaru Australia Liberty 3.6R 2016
  • Subaru Australia Liberty 3.6R 2016
  • Subaru Australia Liberty 3.6R 2016
  • Expert Rating

    3.75 / 5

Pros

  • Drives brilliantly
  • Inconspicuous
  • Fast
  • Sticks to the road

Cons

  • Unattractive
  • A bit thirsty
  • Hard suspension for some people

Bottom Line

A Clark Kent of a car – inconspicuous, dull-looking but super-performance underneath.

Would you buy this?

First impressions
I love Subarus but I look at them knowing that the beauty lies underneath. This looks like a completely inconspicuous executive saloon. But underneath is a rally car.

What the kids said
Ms. 3 said, “I like gold car!”
“Why do you like it?”
“It’s gold!”
While one can admire the youthful optimism, she was far more gushing about every other car we tested. Especially the Ford Mustang and Lexus LX 570.

What the ladies said
“Ugly. It would suit a boring uncle.”
“It’s very blokey.”
“Very ugly car.”
“It’s not what I would call attractive.”
“Is it good looking? Not at all.”

No matter the setting, this isn't an aesthetically-beautiful car.
No matter the setting, this isn't an aesthetically-beautiful car.

Wanker factor
We never once got called a wanker in this car. I don't think anyone even noticed us.

Engine
3.6l 6-cylinder, 256-horsepower (191kW)

What’s it like to drive
Just ambling round town in automatic is pleasant enough. There are three easily-accessible engine modes which are cleverly denoted by acceleration profile graphs: an economical low gradient, a fast rising maximum performance go-fast mode and and intermediate one.

Stamping on the loud pedal will always surge you forward after a minimal delay (which is affected by the performance curves) but it’s in manual where this thing shines. The flappy paddles feel sturdy and while they don’t offer the instant gear-change response of a top racer, they’re fast enough and pretty smooth.

In manual, this thing is incredibly quick off the mark and even quicker when overtaking. But while we’ve seen this before in the likes of the Ford Mustang, the grip on offer here is sublime. We threw this around some empty, bumpy country roads with tight corners and hairpins and never once heard the tyres squeak. I’m sure other drivers will find traction/speed limits on this car on the open road (rather than a race track) but I hope not.

It’s worth mentioning the ride, though. It’s not the softest suspension we’ve seen. You do feel the bumps and any moderate pothole, speed bump or lump in the road hit at speed – you’ll know about it. The low clearance and suspension means that despite the Subaru rally heritage, it’s not great for unsealed roads, even though it will clear them fast. But what an absolute joy to drive on the sealed roads.

Of course when you don’t want to be throwing it all over the place, the car drives very well in near-autopilot mode. By setting the speed and matching the distance to the car in front, long journeys become supremely effortless as the car automatically slows and accelerates according to what traffic is doing. This worked better than in other cars which often leave big gaps when traffic speeds up. Our only issue was pulling away from a near-standstill took too long and we’d have to intervene and depress the accelerator once more and set everything up again – but that only takes a few button presses.

Other technology
The touch-screen console which primarily deals with sat-nav and media is responsive and easy to use. Shortcut buttons are also available on the steering wheel so you can control the system or your phone from there. There’s no DAB (digital) radio, but a Pandora music app is included. The sat-nav almost worked quite well, up until it took us on a five-minute detour to find a roundabout in order to make a simple U-turn after failing to adequately inform us about a quick sequence of turns. It knew about traffic without connecting to our phone too.

It will ping when leaving the lane but we found this feature quite haphazard. If it thinks you’re at risk of crashing it will light up and warn you. The reversing camera worked well but the rear and side sensors seemed to go off randomly on occasions when parking or leaving a parking space. There aren't any front sensors.

What's disappointing is the parking brake which has been emasculated down to a crappy plastic switch. While it can stop you at speed, it doesn't work great if, for example, you're parallel parking on a hill and don't expect to roll backwards with the car in Drive and the brake on - but you do.

Subaru's handbrake is now a crappy plastic switch. Was it really too hard to make a brushed aluminium one?
Subaru's handbrake is now a crappy plastic switch. Was it really too hard to make a brushed aluminium one?

What it’s like to be in
The leather cabin is very comfortable and there’s lots of headroom even for tall people. The steering wheel has a lot of movement adjustability and so everyone should be able to see the main dashboard. It’s quiet inside except for when you have the decent Harmon Kardon speakers pounding away. Visibility all round is good and all of the important buttons are easily accessible.

Economy
We used the low and high-performance profiles extensively but you’ll basically be getting around 12l/100KM out of this thing. Stated figures are 9.9l/100KM. The 2.5l engine has stop/start technology and is stated as being at 7.3l. Our 3.6R model isn’t the most economical car for sure, but for a quick quasi-racer, that’s not bad.

Read more: ​Subaru XV 2017 review

Price
3.6R (our review model) $47,600, 2.5i Premium ($41,000), 2.5i ($34,600)

Would you buy it instead of a 10-year-old, $10,000 Subaru Forester?
No. The suspension is too hard and the clearance is too low. The old Forester is comfier. But If I didn't care about fuel costs and ate up a lot of road and lived somewhere that nice cars attracted abuse, I'd seriously consider it.

Verdict
A Clark Kent of a car – inconspicuous, dull-looking but super-performance underneath.

[Related: Subaru XV 2017 review]

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