Car Reviews

2016 Subaru Liberty 3.6R review

Isaac Bober’s 2016 Subaru Liberty 3.6R review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.

In a nutshell: The refreshed Liberty 3.6R gets some refinement and styling tweaks for 2016… More than ever, it’s now the thinking person’s performance car.

2016 Subaru Liberty 3.6R

Pricing $41,990+ORC Warranty three years, unlimited kilometres Safety five-star ANCAP Engine 3.6-litre six-cylinder boxer engine (petrol) Power/Torque 191kW/350Nm Transmission CVT Body 4795mm (L); 1840mm (W); 1500mm (H) Weight 1605kg Fuel Tank 60 litres Thirst 9.9L/100km

Editor's Rating

2016 Subaru Liberty 3.6R score
Practical Motoring Says: The refreshed Subaru Liberty 3.6R feels more complete now, thanks to the refinement and safety improvements. The engine and transmission are still a highlight of the package as is the interior space, and both its ride and handling show that if you’ve outgrown your WRX then trading up to the Liberty 3.6R won’t leave you feeling like you’re missing out…

THE NEW, SIXTH-GENERATION Subaru Liberty launched here back in December 2014 and heralded a huge design, both exterior and interior, performance and safety leap for the Japanese car maker. Indeed, the current-generation Liberty has shaken off the angular looking and old feeling fifth-generation model and given the car back its mojo. And, as a result sales in 2015 were up by more than 293%.

And now, for 2016, the last few pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place for the medium-sized car with both the 2.5i Premium and 3.6R Liberty 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. The suspension has also been tweaked to provide a progressive (read: less firm) action.

What is it?

The Liberty 3.6R sits at the top of the Liberty tree and lists from $41,990 (+ORC) and that represents a staggering 25% price cut compared with this model’s predecessor. Combine that with the added standard safety features and this Liberty 3.6R immediately bears all the hallmarks of being a bargain buy, and the sort of machine one who’s outgrown the WRX would trade up to.

Under the bonnet of there Liberty 3.6R is a 3.6-litre six-cylinder boxer engine producing 191kW at 6000rpm and 350Nm of torque at 4400rpm. This is mated to a CVT with a six-speed manual mode. Fuel consumption is a combined 9.9L/100km and it’ll happily run on 90-98RON fuel.

The powered-up Liberty 3.6R offers permanent all-wheel drive and both a sophisticated exterior and interior design that’s as practical as it is good looking. There’s room in the front for six-foot-plus adults, and also in the back. Changes to this sixth-generation model mean, short of a Skoda Superb, the back seat of the Liberty is one of the roomiest in the segment.

What’s it like?

If you haven’t seen the inside of a Subaru Liberty for the last year you’ll be shocked by the step up in interior quality and design this current generation Liberty delivers. There’s soft-touch and high-quality plastics used throughout the cabin with only the lightest sprinkling of hard, scratchy stuff in out of the way places.

The dashboard is dominated by the large touchscreen that houses the communication and infotainment system. The system is easy to use is fast to react to touches but isn’t easily confused when being used on the fly. And by that I mean, it responds to a touch and not an accidental brush, which is good. Thankfully, the heating and air-con controls are mounted below the touch screen, meaning you don’t have to delve through a complicated menu system just to turn the fan up or down (I’m looking at you Citroen).

Subaru Liberty 3.6R review

The front seats are nice and comfortable and supportive too, and reach and rake on the steering means that taller drivers than me (I’m 5ft 11in) should be able to get comfortable behind the wheel. The back seats are pretty good too, and I found I had plenty of head and legroom when the front seats were set to my position. I managed to fit my two child seats to the back without drama, one’s a booster and the other a harness style child seat. The rear door opening was wide enough to get the seat through the door easily and, once in, the kids said they had enough leg room.

Over in the boot you get 493 litres which is pretty good, but the shape of the boot means you get a wide, shallow space and the boot opening is pinched slightly. 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.

The 3.6-litre six-cylinder boxer is a delight from the moment you turn it on. Although peak torque doesn’t arrive until 4400rpm there’s never a sense of having to wait for grunt; the Liberty 3.6R simply accumulates speed like a reasonable-sized six-cylinder should. But don’t think I’m suggesting this thing is a cruiser only, because it isn’t. This really is the thinking man’s WRX with enough poke to satisfy even the most critical of enthusiastic drivers.

Subaru Liberty 3.6R review

And while you’ll find a lot of whinging and whining about CVTs online and in magazines, Subaru has pretty much nailed the concept and the unit in this Liberty is as good as just about any conventional transmission you’ll find (cue: argument from the defenders of the manual faith). See, it includes a clever control module that prevents the engine speed from over-running compared to the throttle input, and that’s long been a criticism of CVTs; they feel like a stretching rubber band is how some people describe them.

But there’s more to it than that. The CVT in this Liberty is based on the one that debuted in the WRX and so gets a six-speed-esque software tune that allows the thing to feel more like a conventional and slick-shifting six speed automatic than a stretchy-feeling CVT. There are steering-mounted paddles for those who like to get involved, but I thought the driving experience was just fine without using them.

And speaking of the steering, the wheel itself feels good in the hands with the steering-mounted infotainment and cruise controls easy to use on the fly. There’s decent weight in the wheel which feels consistent in its action despite offering speed-related assistance (meaning, the faster you go the heavier the wheel becomes), and the response is quick.

The brakes feel solid and the pedal offers a nice progressive action, allowing you to slow to a halt without having your passengers head-bang the dashboard. And the same goes for the throttle feel and response. In a lot of cars there’s a real dullness which means you end up over-pressing the pedal, but that’s not the case in the Liberty.

Subaru Liberty 3.6R review

Subaru said that besides the safety upgrades (its Vision Assist package) to the 2016 Liberty range, it had also “fine tuned” the shock absorbers. Exactly what’s been done Subaru hasn’t said, but from the seat of the pants it certainly feels like hard-edged hits don’t jolt through the cabin the way they used to, endowing the tweaked Liberty with a real premium car feel.

Speaking of safety, the Vision Assist package has been added to the Liberty for 2016 and is largely borrowed from the WRX and WRX STi which debuted many of the elements in 2015. It builds on the EyeSight driver assist system which with this current-generation Liberty has become smarter; able to recognise brake lights and with a 40% larger field of vision. And, so small are the cameras now, sitting up next to the rear vision mirror, that you barely notice them… a criticism of the early iterations of EyeSight was the size of the cameras.

In addition to EyeSight, 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 a intelligent torque split front to rear.

Subaru Liberty 3.6R review

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6 Comments

  1. SUQSID
    May 13, 2016 at 2:11 pm — Reply

    “Speaking of safety….Liberty has become smarter; able to recognize break lights…” Break lights?

    • WiillW
      May 16, 2016 at 11:54 am — Reply

      *Brake
      Yes, having colour cameras with a wider view, they can recognise the brake lights activating on the car ahead quicker than a human can. The idea is that it is already on high alert before you even see the brake lights come on.

      • DEVILTAZ35 .
        June 10, 2016 at 2:21 pm — Reply

        This is such a fantastic feature, during a test drive the salesman was taken by surprise when he turned to talk to me at the lights as he was slowing down . The car in front suddenly propped and the car took evasive action avoiding a rear ender. Brilliant. I bought the car not long after.

  2. FrugalOne
    May 13, 2016 at 4:50 pm — Reply

    Price is where it should have been all along, guzzles PULP fuel at a alarming rate, very expensive and often to service

    All the above need to be addressed before i would bite…

    • DEVILTAZ35 .
      June 10, 2016 at 2:20 pm — Reply

      I couldn’t care less about the fuel price because for everything this car offers it is far better value than euro cars anyway.

      • Happyd00d
        June 29, 2016 at 2:07 pm — Reply

        Buying used, a big YES, buying new, not really.

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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober