2016 Subaru Liberty 2.5i Premium review
Paul Murrell’s 2016 Subaru Liberty 2.5i Premium review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: In Isaac Bober’s review of the Liberty 3.6R, he called it “the thinking person’s performance car”. The 2.5i Premium may well be “the thinking person’s all-rounder”.
2016 Subaru Liberty 2.5i Premium
Pricing $35,990+ORC Warranty three years, unlimited kilometres Safety five-star ANCAP Engine 2.5-litre four-cylinder boxer engine (petrol) Power/Torque 129kW/235Nm Transmission CVT, all-wheel drive Body 4795mm (L); 1840mm (W); 1500mm (H) Weight 1568kg Towing capacity 1500kg (braked) Fuel Tank 60 litres Thirst 7.3L/100km Practical Motoring consumption 8.5L/100km (396km)
IT CAN BE QUITE an eye-opener to step out of one variant of a particular model and into another with different specifications. What impresses in one may disappoint in the other. You may have read Editor Isaac Bober’s recent review of the Subaru Liberty 3.6R, as did I. At the time, I was driving and testing another Subaru Liberty, the 2.5i Premium. Much of what he said in his review applies equally to the 2.5i.
As you may have read, the Subaru Liberty is a medium-sized car with both the Liberty 2.5i Premium and 3.6R adding to their already standard EyeSight driver assist system, blind spot monitoring, lane change assist, auto dimming rear view mirror, high beam assist, and rear cross traffic alert. Isaac also pointed out that the 3.6R he was driving had had the benefit of tweaked suspension, providing a more progressive, less firm ride, an upgrade that has also been applied to the 2.5i.
What is it?
If the Liberty 3.6R is a bargain buy at $41,990 (plus ORC), I’d suggest the 2.5i from $29,990 (plus ORC) and 2.5i Premium from $35,990 (plus ORC) represent even more remarkable buying value. The thought that kept occurring to me in my time with the Liberty was how civilised it was, how well thought-out, and what a thoroughly sensible, mature all-rounder it is. It garnered compliments from onlookers on a regular basis, with few being able to immediately identify it as a Subaru. The most common guess was that it was a BMW.
Unlike the 3.6R, the 2.5i is powered by a four-cylinder boxer (horizontally opposed) petrol engine. Outputs, as you would expect, are down on those of the six-cylinder 3.6R engine: 129kW at 5800rpm (3.6R: 191kW at 6000rpm) and 235Nm at 4000rpm (350Nm at 4400rpm). These are substantial differences and you might think the 2.5i is perhaps a little underdone. But you’d be wrong. In the real world (not that inhabited by motoring journos who think every car should accelerate and handle like a Porsche), these figures prove very acceptable.
Of course, if you’re the kind of driver who is swayed by how fast you can get to 100km/h, the 3.6R is the clear winner by 2.4 seconds (9.6 seconds for the 2.5i Vs 7.2 for the 3.6R). On the other hand, those who need to watch the budget (and who doesn’t?), there’s a corresponding penalty at the fuel pump, with the 2.5i using a claimed 7.3L/100km compared to the 3.6R’s 9.9L/100km. Over a year of typical motoring, that difference can add up to a considerable sum (our Technical Editor Robert Pepper tells me that given the average annual mileage for Australian motorists of 14,000 km and the current $1.20 a litre fuel price, it’s $36 per month, or $437 a year). And there’s another difference: the 2.5i has met EURO6 emission standards while the 3.6R can only manage EURO5.
And there’s more good news. Apart from the engine, the 2.5i Premium gets virtually everything you’ll find in the 3.6R. As well as collision avoidance software with a pair of cameras to mitigate nose-to-tail collisions, the 2.5i gets a stylish and beautifully equipped and finished interior, electrically folding side mirrors, dual zone air conditioning, a 6.2-inch touchscreen, reversing camera, six-speaker sound system and adaptive cruise control. The Premium adds blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert to the EyeSight system, heated and powered front seats, leatherette upholstery, sat nav and keyless entry and start.
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, giving more alerts than some drivers may feel warranted. In our week with the car, there were some occasions when it applied the brakes quite aggressively when we were overtaking or moving around other traffic… annoying for us, and confusing for following drivers. I do however love the dashboard graphic that shows when the brake lights are illuminated (when, for instance, the adaptive cruise control is bringing speed down quickly).
What’s it like?
When I read Isaac’s comments about the quality of the ride in the 3.6R I was a little bemused. My initial impression of the 2.5i, despite it also having been given suspension tuning for Australian conditions, was that it was a little bouncy and slightly too firm. On the road, there was a little more road noise than I was expecting (much of it from the Dunlop tyres) and it becomes more insistent at higher speeds (above 80km/h).
The Liberty certainly sits flat through bends and its handling invites comparison with some of the Europeans. However, my impression was, for a mid-size sedan, some buyers may find it not sufficiently cosseting. My impressions were confirmed when I swapped into a 3.6R at the end of the week; it was noticeably more compliant, road noise was lower and the overall driving experience was more luxurious. At any speed and in any conditions, the 2.5i always felt less refined than its big brother, which may, in part, be down to the lighter weight (the 2.5i is 103kg lighter than the 3.6R and the 2.5i Premium 77kg lighter).
Like the 3.6R, the dashboard is dominated by the large touchscreen that houses the communication and infotainment system. The system is easy to use and quick to react to touches. Like my colleague, I was pleased to see the air conditioning controls mounted logically below the touch screen, avoiding the need to navigate through a complicated menu just to make a simple change like increasing or decreasing fan speed.
Less well-thought-out is the collection of controls mounted low on the right hand side, behind the steering wheel and out of sight. These include rear vehicle detection (rear cross traffic, blind spot detection, lane change assist) on/off, auto stop/start on/off, vehicle dynamics control on/off, many of which you will find the need to change when on the move (especially the lane departure warning when travelling on country roads… leave it on and it will quickly drive you to despair as it beeps at you every time you veer towards one side of the lane or another). Unless you take your eyes off the road, you’ll find yourself scrabbling around blindly as you try to find the appropriate button.
Boot space is 493 litres which is pretty good, but the shape of the boot means you get a wide, shallow space and a slightly compromised boot opening. Under the boot floor is a full-size alloy spare wheel. You can fold down the rear seats via an unlock button on the shoulder of the seat, but you can’t do it from the boot. One small niggle I had was that the lidded bin in the central console was too small to take my Samsung S6 mobile phone, no matter which way I tried to insert it.
Despite the obvious differences in power and torque compared to the 3.6R, around town and on freeways, the 2.5i easily stays with surrounding traffic. While it would be left behind at the traffic lights by the 3.6R, in normal driving it never feels under-powered. Constantly variable transmissions have come in for their fair share of criticism (not least from me), but the Subaru’s unit is just about as good as they get. It responds quickly when you ask it to, and is even better in Sport mode. It’s been given “virtual” gear ratios, so rather than slurring up and down the rev range, like some CVTs, it is far better at matching engine revs to throttle pressure.
In addition to the EyeSight driver assist system, the Liberty gets a five-star ANCAP rating with a score of 35.99 out of 37, has seven airbags, traction and stability controls as well active torque vectoring which when a loss of traction on inside wheels is detected will both apply the brakes to them and shuffle torque away from them and to the outside wheels. Obviously, the Liberty also features permanent all-wheel drive with an intelligent torque split front to rear.