SOME mid-model makeovers are so minor or inconsequential that it is unusual to blink and not miss them. A new bumper here, a new paint colour there, perhaps new buttons on the infotainment system … yawn.
The Liberty 3.6 R update is certainly not in that league, it's far from revolutionary mind you, but the changes - to the suspension and safety package - are useful and enhance the real value proposition the car presents.
The model it replaces was a real leap forward for Subaru in terms of technology and design and managed to greatly elevate its slumping stocks in the mid-sized sedan segment. This 3.6 R is now well-placed to build on that momentum.
Spacious and almost lush, the inside of the Liberty 3.6 R is a pleasant place to be. There are padded door panels and soft touch dash panels with piano black highlights to add texture and tone. It's not futuristic or super trendy but there is a clear leaning to quality fittings and the attention to detail is pleasing.
The cabin is well organised with usable storage and places for your phone and bits and bobs. There is heaps of room in the boot too, 493 litres to be exact, impressive considering there is a full-sized spare in there as well.
The steering feels weighty and nice in the hand with the controls suitably placed for easy finger-tip manipulation. Upfront, the seats are cushioning and supportive if a little flat on the sides, and there was no complaint from those ensconced in the comfort of the rear pew.
On the road
The Liberty 3.6 R sports the same 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine that powered the outgoing model and for good reason as it is a lusty efficient unit that carries the sedan along with ease. Yet it is in the internals that we see the real changes to this latest offering, with a recalibration of the CVT and tweaks to the suspension to improve ride quality and handling. Damper settings have been revised, the stabiliser bar moved forward and the rear shock absorbers retuned, resulting in a quieter cabin and more settled ride over harsher surfaces. The Liberty recovers immediately from all but the most difficult of bumps and irregularities. It is flat into corners, has better roll control and needs only the slightest urging to pick up speed.
The CVT on offer is one of the better examples around, with very little of that whining and droning often associated with a gearbox of this type. This is an easy car to drive, an ideal tourer, as comfortable with long road trips as it is with a quick run to the shops.
What do you get?
The inclusion of the Vision Assist package as standard for the Premium and 3.6 R models is the big news here. It adds blind-spot monitoring, lane assist, self-dimming mirror, rear cross traffic assist and high beam assist to an already significant safety system.
Of course the 3.6 R also boasts modern conveniences like a 17.7cm colour touchscreen with sat nav and reverse camera, dual-zone climate control, auto wipers and headlights, powered heated front seats, leather upholstery, Bluetooth phone and media streaming, push-button start and sunroof.
We found the official figures of 9.9L/100km to be about on the nose during our week in the Liberty. This model is backed by a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty and 12 months' free roadside assist as well as a capped-price servicing package. A number of insurance companies offer a reduced premium for cars equipped with EyeSight safety features.
The four-cylinder Toyota Camry SL ($37,440) and Mazda 6 GT ($45,540) are the obvious frontrunners in this category but there is also lots of interest in the Ford Mondeo Titanium ($44,290), Skoda Octavia RS ($37,590), Volkswagen Passat 132TSI (39,990) and Honda Accord.V6L ($52,590).
The Liberty 3.6 R may not be the obvious choice for buyers looking for a real driver's car, but it does excel in terms of everyday usefulness with excellent safety and comforts, oodles of room and an efficient reliable drive.
The blue instrument lights flashing red at night to indicate you are too close to the object in front, is a nice touch.
While the infotainment system is easy to navigate and your smartphone simple to pair, the hands-free command lady found my South African accent tinged with a touch of English snootiness difficult to decipher resulting in much frustration and a number of calls to people I hadn't expected to be speaking with.
The exterior of the Liberty 3.6 R is untouched from last year's model when its boxy styling history was softened a smidgen with the use of European cues. With its robust lines and trapezoidal grille, it is inoffensive middle of the road, getting the job done with as little fuss as possible.
The changes to this Liberty may be small but they make a real-world difference to the car as a whole which is always a welcome boost in a tight segment.
It may not be as convincing as the Subaru Outback but this Liberty rides and handles better than before and the overall safety package is the perfect hook. It is worth a look.
Model: Subaru Liberty 3.6 R.
Details: Five-door all-wheel-drive medium sedan.
Engine: 3.6-litre six-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 191kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 350Nm @ 4400rpm.
Transmission: Continually variable automatic.
Consumption: 9.9 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line plus on roads: $42,490.
What matters most
What we liked: Comfortable ride, space, excellent safety.
What we'd like to see: Wider boot opening, more responsive from standstill
Warranty and Servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty and capped-price servicing program.
Driving experience 17/20
Features and equipment 18/20
Functionality and comfort 17/20
Value for money 17/20
Style and design 16/20
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