Subaru Liberty MY011 Road Test, Report or Review

Easels Galore Home My FG Turbo Ute. My Volkswagen Transporter.

The Subaru liberty has long been a mid sized car in Australia. The MY011 body is roomy and comfortable and there is the security of all wheel drive. Subaru's have many loyal customers and the owner of this one is no exception.

 

My housemate sees nothing but Subaru when she wants a new car. In fact a lot of her family are the same because they have all owned Subaru's in the past and love their phenomenal reliability. This is my housemates third Subaru. Between services the bonnets have not been lifted and tyres rarely checked. I do not know of another brand of car that would be close to the same level of reliability. Tyres seem to last forever, brakes do not need replacing and I do not have to worry that she will not return home even on long solo country trips to her parents place, a 9 hour round trip. Add in the security of all wheel drive and you have pretty special cars.

The problem with me writing road reports is my limited experience with new cars. Other than the cars I have owned and occasionally rent, my only experience is with car magazines and the newspapers. The more road reports I read the more vacuous I realize they are. I have test driven cars but know that unless you live with them intimately for weeks at a time and cover thousands of kilometres you can never get to know a car. You see that in road tests. They will criticize things like switch placement and illumination of steering wheel buttons, but once you live with a car everything becomes intuitive. I only wish they would provide figures you can actually compare, like the decibels of noise inside a car, the actual fuel economy achieved, the amount of torque steer on the steering wheel for front wheel drive cars, or the actual stopping distance of the brakes. The ability to climb a grassy slope in the wet. Unfortunately I cannot do this either. I can measure the actual fuel economy, but experience has taught me that the difference between a new car with tight motor and a well run in car can be as much as 2 litres per 100km.

My Housemate has covered a total of 300,000 trouble free kilometres in firstly her 96 Liberty , then her MY06 Forester. When I say trouble free Kilometres the only things she has replaced has been batteries and tyres. Nothing has broken and nothing has had to be fixed. The Forester went off to the panel beaters for its third rear bumper replacement as unfortunately people kept on running into it at low speeds. When it returned I took my Housemate down to the local Subaru dealer as I felt it was a good time to swap it for a new one. When I was looking at Foresters and discussing them with the salesman she fell in love with a black Liberty on the showroom floor. A Liberty was never mentioned as a replacement for the Forester so I was a little dumfounded. With the normal negotiations and me offering the dealer the opportunity to meet the best price I could obtain (actually from South Australia) a deal was eventually done.

It is a black MY11 Liberty, the basic model with CVT transmission and satnav/reversing camera.

It is a very well equipped car, quite luxurious in presentation and standard of equipment. alloy wheels, fog lights, cruise, electrics, plenty of airbags, ABS, stability control, brake assist etc etc etc. The drivers seat has a large range of manual control and the upholstery was a bit like a Seville row suit material in appearance. It was also fitted with a Constantly Variable Automatic Transmission (CVT).

In driving the Liberty, at first, I felt it was one of those cars that feel they are slower than they actually are. That was until I tested it against a portable Satnav. It was the speedo actually reading 9% fast. Now this is within the ADR's but it is nonsense in 2011. Here in Victoria we have draconian enforcement of arbitrary, low, speed limits. Speed cameras abound to catch the unwary. However in the real world most motorists drive to suit the traffic flow with one eye on the speedo. The huge 9% error means to travel at the generally low limit you have to mentally add the 10 percent, or you could be one of those motorists annoying everyone else cruising at 10% below the speed limit, self righteously believing they are doing the right thing and cursing the other car drivers they think are speeding past. To compound this the speedo is relatively small and goes to more than double the speed limit so that the needle never even gets to half way on the open road. The speedo graduations are also small so it is difficult to be dead accurate with your speed. The huge inbuilt sat nav does not help either as it does not show the speed. There is no digital readout either. Contrast this with my Ford FG ute. The speedo is accurate to 1% there is also a huge digital readout between the Speedo and Tacho as well plus when you set the Cruise control it tells you the speed that is set. I asked the Subaru salesman about it and the said all Subaru's were the same. I asked a Subaru specialist and he said the only fix is to fit larger diameter tyres. I then contacted Subaru Australia and they said that the Australian Design Rules allow minus zero, plus10% plus 4 Km per Hour and Subarus have plus 5% plus 2 Km per hour. this is to allow for tyre wear errors etc. If Subaru cannot do better than this they are kidding themselves and to me it is simply not good enough.

Speedo relatively small, 240 maximum a joke for Australia. Much better to increase the spacing and at least have the pointer vertical at 100. Useless gauge on left, some sort of pandering to green culture I suppose.

 

Sat Nav.

Towards the end of the MY011 liberty model run Subaru fitted sat nav's and reversing cameras in an en devour to boost sales. This Liberty is one of those cars. The screen is 8 inches and in a reasonable location, but the Satnav's used are really old technology. They do have good clear very low resolution maps but no actual speed and no speed limits. There is also no way to run an Ipod other than plugging it into RCA plugs. I was incredulous when I first saw that. RCA plugs!!!! They must be 5 year or more, old technology. USB ports have been used for years and are way superior. The ipod cannot be operated by the touch screen, and no information is displayed on the screen.

The satnav also operates off a DVD, so you have to insert the DVD into the satnav and it stays there in its own special port. The first time we used the sat nav we touched the screen and actually inserted a "Way Point" into the system. This is somewhere your route has to go through. Later in the trip we put our destination into the sat nav and it showed a route the opposite direction to where we were going because it had to use the way point. Between the housemate and I we have owned 3 portable satnav's so we are not novices but this one had us thrown until we read the instruction manual. In other words the sat nav is not at all intuitive. It does have some nice features though., As you approach a turn a second window comes up and a bar graph plus the distance to the intersection are shown. So far we can only find one voice, a rather pleasant female. The manual for the system is as thick as the manual for the car. The map is also out of date. We traveled to Bendigo and sections of freeway that I know has been open for quite a long time are not on the map. If you set a destination and reach that destination the map does not revert to a default setting. It continually redirects you to that destination, even though the car has been turned off for 24 hours. On the move you cannot change anything so you have to stop and cancel the destination. The satnav is so counterintuitive, low res and annoying that my partner uses her Tom Tom portable sat nav, as it tells her the true speed she is traveling at , plus it has speed alerts and speed camera alerts. The location of the Satnav is also a problem. It is relatively close and low. When you get over early 40,s your eyes do not focus so well. For reading, many need glasses, but not for driving. so when driving the low res satnav is even blurrier. I need glasses to drive but not to read and with my glasses on the satnav is very blurry. It is also a long way out of road vision so you take your eyes totally off the road to read it. If Subaru plan to fit these things they should take a good hard look at how Tom Tom, Garmin etc do it as this system is out of date, under featured, low res, obsolete junk.

I like the nice symmetrical centre stack and the size of the screen

Din Plugs!!! This is the cabling you need for an Ipod, and a charger which has a USB outlet. Fortunately a charging point is in the console. Easy to see why they upgraded to a USB in MY012

 

Reversing Camera.

The reversing camera is excellent, clear rear view day or night. If there is bright sun on the screen or the camera is wet, it is difficult to read. Reversing sensors are not fitted. One great thing about the reversing camera is it has lines on the screen which correspond to the profile of the car. If you reverse into a park you can instantly see where you fit. The car needs parking sensors front and rear though. The dealer tried to sell us rear sensors, but they cost as much as all round sensors fitted by Autobarn. As a result we have no sensors. If it was my car they would have been immediately been fitted all round. In rain, or when there is direct sunlight on the rear of the car the reversing cameras is useless. So far I have backed into a pole that did not come up above the boot line. It was low in the supermarket surrounding trolleys and the sun was on the rear of the car. My Housemate hit a brick wall on a rainy night. An unknown third party also hit the same place when parking. These are all on the rear quarter and the bumper still has only minor scars. With reversing sensors two of those incidents would not have happened. The Housemate did a U turn in Her sisters drive and clipped a rock, (she could not see) with the ridiculous front corner skirt on the passengers side. With front sensors she would not have hit it. With a practical bumper design she would not have hit it either.

Bluetooth.

This car has the best phone blue tooth system for the I have used. You can program the system with multiple phone numbers and dialing is simply a matter of tapping the touch screen. It does not automatically answer though. You have to answer through a button on the wheel. It has voice recognition and music streaming as well but neither are used.

Radio.

Seems good, sound is good on FM and AM is a lot better than on my Ford. So far the ipod that has been continuously used through the RCA plugs.

Footrest.

I am 187cm tall and my feet are correspondingly large. I like adequate foot well space for my left leg, particularly on long journeys. It is nice to be able to stretch the left leg. However the liberty has an inbuilt footrest that cannot be removed. It takes up the entire space between the brake pedal and the centre console. It rises about 70mm above the floor, precious space that would be perfect for my left leg. What is worse it is at a strange vertical angle. The angle is a lot different to the angle I hold my right foot on the accelerator. For some relief I can plant my left foot in front of the seat resting it against the console and left of the steering wheel. After awhile the hard sharpish edge of the high console digs into the leg so you put it back to the unnatural angle of the footrest. It is a killer on long trips. I have considered buying an Outback , but this is the deal breaker. I cannot own something with such a dumb thing as a footrest like that. I contacted Subaru and they said the footrest cannot be removed. However when I lifted the carpet the footrest is nothing more than a styrene foam block which looks like it is bolted in place. Removing it would leave a carpet bulge, but it is the lesser of the two evils to me.

You cannot get your foot beside the brake pedal and fortunately that monster footrest is only a block of styrene under the carpet, easily removed for the vertically unchallenged who want some extra foot room.

 

Air conditioning/Climate control/Tinted Windows.

Like all Subarus I have experienced, the heater is powerful, works quickly, the air conditioning is the same. There is individual climate control to both front seats and privacy glass to the rear windscreen and two rear windows. Full marks for all those items.

Electric Windows.

The drivers window is auto down and it is obvious that whoever designed that particular feature is not a dog owner. When you leave the dogs in the car, which we regularly do on shopping expeditions (cool days only), you need several tries to get the drivers window to stop to leave the right gap that someone cannot get their hand in. The other windows that are not auto down and a lot easier to position.

Plastics

I showed this car to my Brother in Law who is on his 4th Subaru, an Impressa about 3 or 4years old I think, and he felt that the plastics were a bit hard. The door also has numerous marks where shoes hit it as people exit. It seems to be a common trait with modern cars as the doors have all sorts of pockets that make them bulge. I feel the plastics are hard and not very luxurious at all. Not as nice as the MY06 Forester we had. Definitely a backward step, Subaru.

Driving

The CVT takes a little getting used to. as you accelerate the revs rise depending on how far you depress the accelerator and stay there until the desired speed is reached. Progress was when the motor was new. With nearly 16000ks on the speedo now, the engine seems a lot freer and more willing to rev. On the open road the tachometer rises and falls depending on the grade you encounter, particularly when cruising with cruise control operating. The is none of the distinctive beat of Subaru engines of old. More of a metallic sound that seems to be the gearbox. I like the seamless nature of the CVT. It is also supposed to be more economical than the manual cars, and I cannot dispute that. It is pretty good to drive, I like the steering around town, but on the open road it is vague around centre so that in a straight line you always seem to be making minor corrections, you get used to it if you do not think about it however Subaru could do better. If you go onto internet forums you will see that many owners dislike this aspect of the cars. Unfortunately the ride is quite hard, which surprises me. It is harder than my Falcon XR50 ute with sports suspension. The wheels tend to thump over bumps and I put that down to the 50 series tyres on the 17 inch rims. I like it in the wet as you can put your foot down and know that you will not experience dramas due to the AWD. If it was not for tyre noise, ride , the steering the speedo and the footrest it would be a great car. I hired a 2011 Corolla in Sydney and drove 300 plus K's on a long weekend, a mixture of freeway and suburban. The Corolla had a footrest but plenty of room beside the brake pedal for the left foot as well and a very low console (it was a sedan). The seats were more comfortable as was the suspension and there was plenty of room behind the steering wheel. It did not wander on the freeways. There was more road noise in the Corolla and the engine/ gearbox combo in the Liberty is better but the Corolla sounded a lot nicer. All this tends to worry me, to think I like a Corolla more.

After a 800k round trip up the Hume I liked the Liberty even more, fantastic fuel economy, the radio reception on AM is truly amazing, I did not notice the vague on centre of the steering at all. I took off my shoes and actually had enough room with bare feet, even with the foot rest. I seriously will be looking at an Outback when I replace the Turbo ute in 2013. I can fix the speedo error with larger diameter tyres and the road noise with decent insulation. I would immediately fit sensors front and rear.

Tyre Noise.

I honestly believe that Subaru saved money on sound proofing. It has just too much tyre noise, particularly on coarse chip. When you lift the boot floor you see a lot of bare metal. If it was my car I would be spending some money on a premium sound proofing material like Dynamat.

Electric Hand Brake.

There is an electric hand brake, in that you press a button to activate it and also to deactivate it. I like this feature and it does away with the intrusive handbrake lever.It works very well.

Tyres.

The car has 17 inch wheels with 50 series tyres. They ride hard and thump over bumps. My father in Law has an 03 Liberty and it came standard with 55 series tyres ands he changed to 60 series which now gives him a speedo error of only 3 kph and possibly a better ride although we did not discuss ride, he was trying to correct the speedo error. His Liberty has done 60,000 mostly on dirt roads and is still rattle free. If I owned a Liberty or Outback the first thing I would do is go to a tyre service and fit 60 series tyres. Curiously the R Model Outback (6 Cylinder) has 225 X 17 60 series tyres on 17 x 7 inch rims and the 4 cylinder models have 215 x 17 inch x 50 series on 17x 7.5 inch rims. Keep in mind the speedo error on the 50 series tyres is 9%

Keys.

The car keys are the normal type with buttons to unlock, lock and open the boot. Both Keys developed gremlins in that you had to hold the key beside the drivers door before anything would work. Even then the boot remained locked. this was an intermittent fault fixed at the first service. Both keys will not operate the drivers door lock. that is, you cannot insert the key and unlock the door! This was not fixed at the first service but when I again called it to the dealers attention it was resolved. This is the first problem we have experienced with Subaru.

Plenty of room for tall drivers, with mechanical ( lever) height adjustment. Pity the left foot room is not as good

This is a roomy car. Plenty of space for 2 rear passengers including good leg room

 

Fuel Economy

The CVT is supposed to achieve something like 8.4 litres per 100k in normal running. From new on the open road we got low 7's and a tank fill half freeway and half suburbs got 9 measured against fill and distance, the car had only covered about 1500 k.s at the time. My Housemate is a bit slack in setting the distance meter and I do not drive it enough to do a test against fills. For a 55 litre fill she regularly covers in excess of 600k, which is good. The past two Subarus she has owned never achieved best fuel economy until they had covered 40,000k so there is still improvement to look forward to. I am sure the fuel economy has improved from new but I need a decent opportunity to check it. At around 8000k the spouse filled at Yackandandah, drove home then drove the car around the suburbs for a week. I filled it and over 650k's it used 51 litres of petrol or 7.8 litres per 100k, which is exactly what the trip meter said. If they can get that right, why not the speedo? Finally got a good chance to check the fuel economy. At 15000k's filled drove 80k in the suburbs, a little freeway driving in that. Stopped car overnight. Drove to Yackandandah via Hume Highway at 111KPH actual (measured on Tom Tom satnav). Stopped over night, drove home. With 816k on the trip meter filled with 56.4 litres. Total 6.8 litres per 100. All driving was normal and we cruised at the speed limit. Tank holds 65 litres. At 80 litres to empty the trip computer went blank! I must admit I was impressed with the economy and dismayed at the trip metre's performance.

Headlamps.

The low beam is Ok, nothing special, but the high beam is pathetic, plenty of spread but no penetration and not much more light than driving with low beams only. I would not fancy driving in the country with the potential of Kangaroos at night. Simply not good enough Subaru!!!

Handbrake.

The liberty does not have a handbrake lever, but a button on the dashboard that operates an electric Handbrake. It works really well and I like it.

Trip Meter.

The trip meter is located just under the windscreen in the centre of the dash along with a digital clock, outside temperature and seatbelt warning logos for all seats. It is a great location as those of us whose eyes no longer focus well can read it clearly. It is pretty simple with average litres per 100k instant litres per 100k distance to empty and a blank setting if you do not want to see it. The distance to empty read 80k when I filled the tank with 51 litres so it had a margin for error as the remaining 14 litres could cover a lot further than 80k.

Engine,

Subaru boxer engines are very good devices in that aside from being highly durable they have a relatively flat torque curve and maximum torque is available at relatively low revs. They also improve with age. The MY96 Liberty we had, kept on getting better until it covered 40,000k and the MY06 Forester that followed it was the same. As I write this the Liberty has covered 15000 k and the engine is a lot sweeter than new in that it is more willing. The liberty is not such a heavy car but you are not going to win traffic light drags as unless you use the steering wheel paddles, as you cannot get the engine to rev over 4500rpm. Being a lazy sort of driver I want the gearbox to do the thinking for me and to row it along with paddles is something I cannot be bothered with.

First Service.

The service interval is 12500 km, or 6 months . When we purchased it we were told the services were $260 and the big service at 60,000 and 120,000 would be $600. The actual cost of the first service was $290 and 12500k had been covered in 6 months. If it was my car I would only be obeying the distance or 12 months , whatever came first., but Subaru seem to expect you to service it every 6 months regardless of distance.

30,000Kilometres covered.

The Liberty has of course been trouble free. However the more I drive it the more I feel Subaru sold themselves short by cutting corners. The road noise is still annoying, the cheap plastics still grate, the wildly inaccurate speedo is annoying and I have a problem with the drivers seat. The seats are quite hard, and has a pronounced raised section on either side. I find those sections rub my rump so I end up with a version of Holden Tail. Holden Tail you say, well many years ago in the days of the FJ and FX holden they had hard seats and drivers would develop Holden Tail, in other words a sore bum. My first car was an FJ Holden I drove it for 110000 miles and I remember Holden Tail to this day. Well I get it from the Liberty!!!! And the Sat Nav is absolutely useless!!! All that said the liberty is economical, and reliable and I am glad my housemate has it for that. The all wheel drive is brilliant, but the rest is ordinary. The stupid low profile ( 50 series) tyres thump and bump and the front alloy wheels have Kerb Rash as the tyres do not provide enough protection. The passenger side is scratched from the Agapanthus along our drive. Yes the paint is so soft the dried Agapanthus heads have scratched it. My Falcon Ute was unmarked. I cut the cursed heads off as soon as I realized what the cause was. It has gone through the colour coat in places!!!! The passenger side has a shallow dent which looks to be a shopping trolley. The rear quarter where someone hit it in a car park and the front lower skirt is scratched form a rock. The car is too low, it Grunches on driveways and in one case with 4 people on board entering a car park at Black rock there was a real bang underneath when crossing into a car park. Subaru could easily do so much better. Mind you now it has become a car that is just driven with not a lot of expectations, and as long as it gets from A To B reliably all will be well. It has been serviced 3 times so far and the services are a bit less than $300. They have a courtesy bus and wash the car. Full marks to Cambur Motors. It uses no oil. the tyres show very little wear the interior is still immaculate except for some minor marks from the dogs.

37000 K Service

The cost of Subaru servicing sure outstrip inflation, keep in mind it is serviced every 6 months. It was serviced at 37000k in August 2013 and the cost was $383.35 a big leap from the $260 we were originally told. Servicing costs of close to $800 a year, with a big one coming up, are a lot higher than the cost of servicing my Turbo Falcon Ute, once a year. When it boils down the money you save in petrol by running a more economical car is spent on servicing! IE the Ute uses about 2 litres per 100 more under identical driving. I am only doing about 10000k per year in the ute. At $1.50 per litre 2 litres per 100 is $30 per 1000k or $300 per 10,000k. Not much in it!!!

Vision

Drivers vision is good. You can set the seat low which improves it and the wing mirrors are large with good coverage. Rear quarter vision is not so good and in the rain it desperately needs a rear window wiper as rear vision can be completely obscured by water.

Summary.

Just a little flawed, the Liberty is a very good car, but there is evidence of cost cutting in the plastics and sound proofing. I actually feel that Subaru have slightly lost the plot with this model and they could do better.

I actually liked the Liberty so much I considered buying an Outback, but only a MY012, as they have finally fitted a USB and the Satnav is an aftermarket unit that is fitted by Subaru Australia, and seems more user friendly. The Outback is higher off the ground will not have issues with the low nose and kerb's as the Liberty can have. However it has the same fixed footrest, poor headlights (I assume) metallic noise when driving, speedo error and these are all things that would require a compromise. The outback also has 50 series tyres, If I was to get one I would immediately fit 60 series tyres, to try to correct the speedo error and hard ride. Note the R model (6 cylinder) has 60 series tyres! Higher profile tyres would correct most of the speedo error and give a better ride, and hopefully be less noisy, if I chose wisely.

Likes

Drivers vision, CVT gearbox, electric handbrake, trip meter, fuel economy, all wheel drive and the anticipated reliability.

Dislikes

Footrest, inaccurate speedo, hard ride due to lowish profile tyres, road noise. The low front end and of course the obsolete, user unfriendly Sat Nav.

My Housemate loves this car and the more I drive it the more I like it.

The electric brake works very well and to me is a great idea as it saves space. Button next to it is a hill holder which is a bit superfluous on an automatic.

Boot opening looks shallow but has never been a problem. The Blue car fridge is actually quite large. The hinges do not enter the boot space. There is only a ski port in the back seat.

Easels Galore Home My FG Turbo Ute. My Volkswagen Transporter.