For all we hear about the booming growth of SUVs aimed at people who pack downhill mountain bikes for a trip to their kayak decathlon every Sunday, car companies are still working to develop excellent passenger cars for those who live in the real world. Mid-size buyers are utterly spoiled for choice in 2018, with a new Toyota Camry, Holden’s reborn Commodore, Kia’s Stinger and a soon-to-be-upgraded Mazda6 joining a host of solid performers in the class.

Subaru couldn’t afford to leave the Liberty alone.

So the brand’s safety-conscious sedan benefited from a range of updates this year, including minor styling tweaks, an improved interior and sharpened safety elements.


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We’ve run through Subaru’s updates to the Liberty before, but the bullet points involve new C-shaped LED running lights up front, fresh rear bumpers, new 18-inch wheels and a revised chrome grille that separate this year’s model from its predecessor. Four-cylinder models benefit from a reasonable number of mechanical tweaks, but the range-topping six-cylinder 3.6R model tested here makes do with carry-over hardware.

That said, it does benefit from a revised interior including a fresh 8-inch touschreen display that now includes Apple CarPlay and Android auto connectivity, along with a revised version of Subaru’s EyeSight driver assistance suite that now helps keep you in your lane.

Back seat occupants benefit from a new USB charging point at the rear of the centre console and folks up front are treated to a retrimmed dashboard with extra stitching to lend a luxury look.

Priced from $43,140 plus on-road costs, the range-topping Liberty is pitched as a $6500 premium to standard models.

You get plenty of car for the cash, with features such as 18-inch wheels, sat nav, a reversing camera, sunroof and active cruise control joining a Harmon Kardon stereo and multiple drive modes for the hero model.

While it compares well with some models on paper, Subaru’s high-priced servicing costs require owners to set aside at least $2700 to cover maintenance for the first three years of ownership .

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Stepping inside the revised Liberty, it’s clear Subaru’s excellent build quality remains intact – this is a solid, well-built machine with tight panel gaps and no irritating rattles once underway.

Subaru’s horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine – the sort of layout you might find slung under the back of Porsche’s 911 – is silky smooth on the road, delivering quiet and refined performance exceeding what the standard four-cylinder model is capable of.
But don’t be misled by the "R” in the Liberty 3.6R’s badge, as this is nothing like a Honda Civic Type R or Volkswagen Golf R in nature.

There’s nothing racy about the Liberty’s 191kW/350Nm engine, which is intended to deliver smooth torque rather than driving thrills.

You could say the same of its CVT automatic transmission, a largely inoffensive unit with smooth and somewhat doughy responses likely to keep mum-n-dad customers happy while frustrating enthusiastic drivers. The same is true the same of its chassis. Meaty but stodgy and lifeless steering does little to engage keen drivers – it really doesn’t push your buttons in the same way as a Mazda6, Stinger or Skoda Superb - revised shock absorbers can feel a bit fussy over pitter-patter roads, and the car is generally out of its comfort zone when asked to be hustled along quiet backroads.
But the Liberty is much more impressive when tested in its preferred environment.

Greasy conditions have little impact on the superb traction of an all-wheel-drive system with superior purchase to front-wheel-drive rivals. But its best feature these days may be Subaru’s EyeSight system which combines autonomous emergency braking and active cruise control with a host of useful features in one of the most intuitive driver assistance programs on sale at this price.

Subaru’s active cruise system is outstanding in stop-start traffic. Unlike other systems, it is capable of recognising brake lights on other vehicles and reacting to those signals instead of waiting for gaps between cars to physically close.

It’s a genuinely clever system – the sort of thing real-world owners will appreciate every day.

2018 Subaru Liberty 3.6R pricing and specifications

On sale: Now

Price: from $43,140 plus on-road costs

Engine: 3.6-litre six-cylinder petrol

Power: 191kW at 6000rpm

Torque: 350Nm at 4400rpm

Transmission: CVT automatic, all-wheel-drive

Fuel use: 9.9L/100km
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