The 2015 Subaru Liberty is an excellent car, but not nearly enough people are going to buy it.
This latest Subaru Liberty is a real step forward - especially on the aesthetic front. Tragically, though, the 2015 Subaru Liberty is looking for love in a world infatuated with SUVs. And the reality there is that SUVs seem sexy but they are often a dumb choice objectively.
Bottom line: A family car doesn’t have to be an SUV. In fact most SUV buyers would be better served by a car like the 2015 Subaru Liberty.
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The big news is that prices on the 2015 Liberty have been slashed. Liberty pricing is $3000 to $4000 less in the cheap 2.5i models (the four-cylinder) and a massive $14,000 has been exsanguinated the six-cylinder 3.6-litre Subaru Liberty.
This begs an obvious question: Where, exactly, did Subaru Australia find $14,000 worth of fat in that car? This radical pricing surgery makes this vehicle the cheapest six-cylinder Liberty ever. And pricing on the four-cylinder is back at 2002 levels. This, obviously, is very bad news if you bought a Subaru Liberty last year, because your resale value just tanked, but I guess it’s good news if you’re in the market right now.
So what’s behind these massive reductions in the price of Subaru Liberty? Subaru Australia says the currency has moved, it’s manufacturing more efficiently, and the free-trade agreement between Australia and Japan has kicked in.
Subaru Australia even euphemises ‘increased competition’ in the market. But the reality - a more balanced view on this - is that, like all ‘premium Japanese’ brands, Subaru Australia lives day-to-day with its head in a competitive vise. One of the jaws is called South Korea, and the other is called Europe. And customers are turning the screw.
The Europeans - Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Volkeswagen, Skoda, Renault, and Peugeot, etc. - are flooding the market with cheap new entrants. (Cheap being the operative word there - the only redeeming feature of a $40k Benz is the badge and the associated perceived cachet.) At the same time, the South Koreans - notably Hyundai and Kia, in that order - are furiously pumping up the quality across their model ranges while at the same time keeping their price-points low.
This is lousy news for the Japanese, but great news for you, the car consumer. This price reduction on the 2015 Subaru Liberty is the proof that the stiffest competition produces the best deal for consumers, and also the best vehicles.
SAFETY RATING & SYSTEMS
If you’re looking for premium family transport, this is a great car. The 2015 Liberty is the safest Subaru ever. Very impressive on the protection front.
EyeSight on the 2015 Subaru Liberty - the optical crash prevention and early warning system - rates a special mention. It is based upon a pair of stereoscopic cameras inside the windscreen, up the top, plus image processing grunt and smart software. Subaru's EyeSight system means every 2015 Subaru Liberty comes with a kind of perennially vigilant electronic co-driver who is more than half smart at perceiving hazards and intervening to prevent or mitigate crashes.
Above: Eyesight's stereoscopic, depth-perceiving cameras (left) and dashboard warning (centre). ANCAP's independent safety scores (right)
The feedback phenomenon is in play here. (Feedback is the - hopefully - small negative connotation of making a systematic change. As in: What won't you like about Eyesight?) Basically, like all these co-driving safety systems EyeSight is a little bit intrusive for mundane transgressions.
For example: You knowingly drift right in the lane to clip the apex in a bend, and you know it's safe because nothing is coming towards you. EyesSight warns you anyway. It beeps quite a lot - especially in 'active cruise' mode. At times, it could be unkindly suggested that on an otherwise pleasant highway drive it sounds as if someone has just plugged in a cardiac monitor from the nearest intensive care unit.
In these situations it’s like: 'Yeah, thanks. I knew that.' But if Subaru's EyeSight system saves your neck, or the neck of someone you love, just once, over the term of ownership, then all criticisms pale well into the puerile and/or trivial zones, don't they? Cleaning up a pedestrian would not be fun - not for you. Certainly not for the pedestrian. If EyeSight sees a pedestrian you don't and them jams on the brakes and executes a textbook emergency braking manoeuvre, it's worth its weight in platinum.
Standard features across the 2015 Subaru Liberty range make this vehicle more attractive than a bunch of notional competitors. It’s fascinating to see Japan dusting it up on price, in the ring with contemporaneously with Europe and South Korea. Before the GFC, they wouldn't have bothered.
When you check these 2015 Subaru Liberty competitors out in detail, a lot of them are struggling with their identity in terms of the product - and there are a great many inconsistencies in their various ranges and lineups.
Subaru’s does not suffer in this way. In fact, Subaru sticks to its guns and it knows exactly what it is.
They do boxer engines. In fact, they’ve done 15 million boxer engines, over the past 49 years. Reality check: you can’t do 15 million of anything over half a century without getting really good at it. Subaru has also managed to make 14 million Symmetrical All-wheel Drive systems since 1972. Ditto on the 'Are they good at it?' front in respect of Symmetrical AWD.
You simply have to factor Subaru's Symmetrical All-wheel Drive system in to your purchasing and value deliberations. That driveline does something very special: all four wheels do the driving, all the time. It’s a huge advantage every time traction is marginal. Every time it rains. Every time you drive on a gravel road. And - heaven forbid - every time you’re on a gravel road in the rain.
Precious few, if any, notional competitors are going to offer you that. It’s a huge fundamental plus. And you have to factor that into the underlying price: You get twice as much driveline. None of that mechanical stuff is free. The system even has torque vectoring now, which delivers outstanding neutrality in corners - by delivering drive to the wheels with the most grip. Just brilliant. Take a test drive. See for yourself. Hope it rains.
Even SUVs generally fail to measure up on the AWD front. For starters, and increasing number are 2WD only (front-drive). And even the notionally AWD SUVs are generally the 'on demand' type. This means generally 2WD, and they wait for wheelspin before engaging drive to the rear wheels - a comparatively unsophisticated alternative.
2015 LIBERTY STYLING
Just look at it. For several years now, Subaru has bucked the basic trend of the natural world: They started with engineering elegance and trotted out an aesthetic travesty. The underlying swan and with the outward grace of an ugly duckling. Libertys were very, very ugly. You could set your clock by it. Thankfully the 2015 model Subaru Liberty actually looks as good as it is. Finally.
(Even if they did have to clone Hyundai’s grille to do it - see below, and tell me they're not related.)
The interior is upmarket, inoffensive, minimalist even, but actually quite feature-rich. And it’s very tactile - high-quality materials all over the joint, with brilliant connectivity and a great infotainment touchscreen interface. It’s extremely comfortable and intuitive. All the controls make sense, and they feel good. And there’s plenty of legroom in the back. Eleven out of a possible 10 for that - credit where it’s due.
The 2015 Subaru Liberty's engines are adequate. This is family transport - not designed to set the world afire. There’s an engine under there; it makes the car go - that’s how most people are going to see it.
The six goes much better than the four. It costs more. It's thirstier, though not by a country mile. (Knock us all down with feathers on these counts.) They run on 91-octane petrol - the cheap stuff. Performance of the six is line-ball with the Commodore V6 - at least until you rev the Commodore like crazy. (And you really do have to rev its tits off to get that Commodore making its peak output. Totally unrealistic for a family car.)
IS COMMODORE STILL KING?
Speaking of which, I invite you … actually I challenge you prosecute the case that a Commodore is a superior family car. It can’t be done. There would be a mistrial. The evidence is in, the jury’s back in five - it’s a slam-dunk. Once you option up your Commodore SV6 Lightning (Who thinks of these names?) with a sunroof, leather, and GPS, you’ve got a car that’s more expensive than the fully-optioned Subaru Liberty 3.6.
There's really no comparison. The Commodore’s driveline was rushed here, direct from Jurassic Park. It’s got half as many wheels driving, no EyeSight safety system (or equivalent) and no adaptive cruise control. And if you want premium paint, Holden’s going to bend you over and stick it to you to the tune of an additional $500; Subaru’s not - premium paint is a zero-cost deal in the Subaru Australia pricing scheme. Oh, and the Commodore’s not as safe. Case dismissed.
People will say: Oh but the Commodore is a bigger car. Really? It's just 171mm longer - that's under seven inches in the old money. Get over it. The Commodore is emblematic of extorting the taxpayer in exchange for jobs, over successive decades, an ethical injustice by any sane assessment. And the Falcon is just as bad, if not worse. They’re both 12-year-old brand-new cars.
EMBRACING THE CVT TRANSMISSION
Subaru’s managed some very clever tuning on the transmission. And by ‘clever’ I mean completely ironic, but nonetheless effective. The transmission is a CVT - continuously variable transmission.
Forget about ‘how’; let’s concentrate on ‘what’. CVTs have infinitely variable gearing, between the lowest possible gearing (like first gear) and the highest possible gearing (like sixth). In theory this allows the transmission to adopt the ideal ratio for every conceivable set of driving conditions, in real time. So that’s good. Especially good for fuel economy. One slight problem: It generally feels awful because the engine does drone on quite a bit.
In response to this conflict between the objective advantages and the subjective critique, Subaru has taught the CVT to fake it: To act like a conventional auto, to operate through discrete steps. The company has done this because that feels better.
That 2015 Subaru Liberty's CVT is especially good at faking upshifts when you lift off the throttle after moderate acceleration. That’s impressive. But the lapsed engineer in me sees that also as intensely ironic. Like: Why design a CVT to act like a conventional auto, when you could just slot in a conventional auto … without the fancy tweaks? I guess they had their reasons - fuel economy among them.
The 2015 Subaru Liberty is plush inside, great to drive, impressively safe (in terms of both prevention and cure), super competitive on price, and brilliantly equipped.
What’s not to like? The new Liberty is not even cursed with a space-saver spare tyre. (You get a full-sized 18-inch alloy spare on the 2015 Liberty.)
Service interval is definitely something Subaru Australia needs to look at, because they are hardly competitive there: 12 months is the gold standard in time interval these days, and Subaru Australia is still stuck at half that. It will cost you a little bit more than $1000 to keep the 3.6-litre Liberty on the road for a year, service-wise, and almost $900 for the 2.5i Subaru Liberty. I’d have to say Mazda is well ahead on pricing there.
The biggest problem facing Liberty's success is this national affair everyone is having with SUVs. It’s completely irrational. Only 150 people are going to buy a Liberty every month in Australia, which is a real shame. If one of them is you, don’t be afraid to buck the SUV trend: you’re doing the right thing.
If you want to save some cash buying your new Liberty, contact me here >>