DY­NAMIC MOJO IS MISS­ING

The Lib­erty is safe, com­fort­able, good value, up­graded ... and unloved

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - BILL McKIN­NON

I f you re­gard the SUV as a de­vice use­ful only for trans­port­ing pets, plants and flat­pack fur­ni­ture and you have no need or de­sire for any of those, then you’re in luck. There are some ex­cel­lent sedans on the mar­ket but, so pow­er­ful is our ob­ses­sion with the SUV, the car mak­ers can’t give them away.

The only sedans post­ing de­cent num­bers now are the Toy­ota Camry and Mercedes-Benz C-Class and even they’re do­ing it tough, with sales of both down about 25 per cent this year. The Com­modore is down more than 50 per cent.

It’s crazy, be­cause these are fine cars at sharp prices, each rep­re­sent­ing bet­ter value than a com­pa­ra­ble SUV, and a much more en­joy­able, ef­fi­cient, ca­pa­ble drive as well. The same goes for the sedan we’re test­ing to­day, Subaru’s Lib­erty 2.5i Pre­mium.

VALUE

At $36,640 (plus on-roads), Pre­mium spec­i­fi­ca­tion adds $6400 to the base Lib­erty 2.5i but you pick up a swag of worth­while safety, luxe and in­fo­tain­ment tech in the deal, in­clud­ing leather, power ad­justable and heated front seats, eight-inch touch­screen, nav­i­ga­tion, sun­roof, key­less en­try and SI drive, with In­tel­li­gent (code for econ­omy) and Sport driv­ing modes.

So you’ve got a fully loaded five-seater on the road for about $40,000.

Fac­tor in su­perb Made-in-Ja­pan fit and fin­ish qual­ity plus Data Dot se­cu­rity iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, full-size spare on an al­loy wheel and, un­til June 30, a five-year/un­lim­ited kilo­me­tre war­ranty (the usual Subaru cov­er­age is three years) and Lib­erty Pre­mium is a highly at­trac­tive, no-op­tions-re­quired propo­si­tion.

So are a cou­ple of Lib­erty’s ri­vals, no­tably the Toy­ota Camry Hy­brid SL and Holden Calais, both priced at $40,990.

To re­cap, the fam­ily sedan may be unloved but it’s not for lack of try­ing.

COM­FORT

That’s pre­cisely the brief here and in most re­spects it’s well met.

You perch on a plush pew that’s ad­justable for height and an­gle. The back­rest fea­tures ad­justable lum­bar sup­port but has min­i­mal bol­ster­ing, so up­per body sup­port isn’t great when cor­ner­ing. This is a dis­tinctly un-sporty car, so it’s not re­ally an is­sue.

Tall driv­ers en­joy gen­er­ous space and driv­ing po­si­tion ad­just­ment. It doesn’t im­pinge on rear pas­sen­gers, who can stretch out and re­lax on a high, firm and sup­port­ive bench. Two USBs and vents are pro­vided.

Low win­dow sills and light-toned rooflining add to the cabin’s spa­cious, bright feel, so kids will be happy, too.

Subaru’s stylish, for­mal dash, il­lu­mi­nated ana­log in­stru­ments and touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment are easy to read and nav­i­gate. Voice con­trol works most of the time and ex­tends to read­ing emails and mes­sages.

Ride com­fort is fine in most con­di­tions, save for the oc­ca­sional whack when the front end cops a big hit.

SAFETY

In the Pre­mium, safety spec­i­fi­ca­tion in­cludes the twin cam­era-based Eye­Sight tech (adap­tive cruise, au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing) stan­dard on the base model, sup­ple­mented with radar-based Vi­sion As­sist (blind spot mon­i­tor­ing, rear cross traf­fic alert).

It’s up­graded for 2018 with higher-res­o­lu­tion front cam­eras, faster im­age pro­cess­ing, LED head­lights that turn in re­sponse to steer­ing in­puts and have au­to­matic beam and bright­ness ad­just­ment, front and side view cam­eras and lane keep­ing.

DRIV­ING

For 2018, Subaru has over­hauled the 2.5-litre/ CVT/all-wheel drive com­bi­na­tion, with many new in­ter­nal com­po­nents, trans­mis­sion ra­tio and soft­ware changes aimed at im­prov­ing re­spon­sive­ness, re­fine­ment and fuel ef­fi­ciency.

It’s done all this with­out manag­ing to im­prove per­for­mance, which re­mains se­date. Around town, the CVT re­sponds smoothly and promptly when you prod the pedal and ef­fec­tively masks the 2.5’s lack of ac­ces­si­ble torque.

When strong, sus­tained ac­cel­er­a­tion is re­quired at high­way speeds, the trans­mis­sion wastes revs, like a slip­ping clutch, and the car bogs down un­less you select Sport or Man­ual shift modes, in which it op­er­ates like a con­ven­tional seven-speed au­to­matic.

The Lib­erty is over­due for turbo power. The 1.6-litre en­gine in the Levorg would do nicely.

As with the Out­back tested a few weeks ago, the Lib­erty was also once a class fron­trun­ner in han­dling, par­tic­u­larly with its per­ma­nent all­wheel drive, but newer ri­vals have now caught up.

Roll in cor­ners is min­i­mal but on rough coun­try roads at speed the front end feels mushy and poorly con­trolled, reg­u­larly run­ning out of travel on bro­ken sur­faces, div­ing un­der brakes and bounc­ing on un­du­la­tions. Overas­sisted steer­ing is vague on cen­tre, life­less and im­pre­cise in cor­ners.

In the Nineties and Noughties, the Lib­erty was one of the best han­dling cars on the road. To­day, its de­cid­edly un-taut dy­nam­ics are noth­ing special com­pared with front-drive ri­vals such as Calais and Camry.

HEART SAYS

Subaru own­ers are bit like Aldi shop­pers. They buy into a cult. It makes them happy. Who are we to ar­gue?

HEAD SAYS

The Lib­erty has long had a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the safest, best en­gi­neered cars in the busi­ness. I like the se­cu­rity of AWD and the price is right.

AL­TER­NA­TIVES HOLDEN CALAIS FROM $40,990

The ZB Com­modore is dy­ing in the show­rooms and re­sale val­ues are hor­ren­dously low, so there are bet­ter places to park your money. The car it­self is a good thing, with 2.0-litre turbo petrol or diesel/nine-speed auto/front-wheel drive.

TOY­OTA CAMRY HY­BRID SL FROM $40,990

Pick of the class, with strong, re­fined per­for­mance, un­beat­able fuel econ­omy, com­pa­ra­ble (but not quite as com­pre­hen­sive) safety spec­i­fi­ca­tion, lux­u­ri­ous ride and much im­proved han­dling. Low run­ning costs, too.

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