Becoming a dad does not have to mean upsizing to an SUV for your new family.
SUV’s have become so popular, especially among young families looking for additional cargo space and flexibility, that it is easy to forget there are other options available.
The good old four-door sedan, a body style that once dominated our roads, is now about as popular as Donald Trump at an English political rally. But the sedan still has plenty to offer (maybe this is where the Trump reference loses relevance), even to those with growing families.
Over the past two weeks we have put the medium-sized Subaru Liberty sedan to the test as a family vehicle. The car supplied was the top-of-the-range Liberty 3.6R, the flagship of Subaru’s sedan range. The all-wheel-drive Liberty is a roomy five-seater with a large boot and a host of driver assist technology.
Strap ’em in
This is one of the few cars we have tested where I could fit two rear-facing baby seats and still drive the car. In most vehicles we have tested the driver seat needed to be moved so far forward to fit the baby seat I was unable to drive (I am 180cm tall).
In the Liberty the seat only needed to be moved a few centimetres forward of my normal driving position.
There is also enough space between the two baby seats for most adults to sit, though it is a bit of a squeeze and you will need to be a contortionist to get past the baby seats and access your seat.
It is an easier exercise if using forward facing seats, or at least one, but it still takes a bit of manoeuvring.
Fitting the baby seats can be a little more cumbersome in a sedan than a wagon purely because of the placement of the anchorage point for the top tether on the rear parcel shelf.
The sloping rear window and headrests don’t leave a lot of room. We use one car seat with a single top strap and one with two, with the latter a little more awkward to secure in this instance.
This is one of the strong points for the Liberty. It is smart looking, well-built, functional and very quiet.
There is plenty of storage, with good sized door and console bins, cupholders in the centre console in the front, and drop-down centre armrest in the rear. There are also two USB ports for the front and rear seat passengers.
The leather interior adds to the premium feel and makes cleaning an easy task.
For driving, the front seats are adjusted electrically making it a simple operation to find a comfortable driving position and the dash is well laid-out and easy to read with all the regularly used controls on the steering wheel making them easy to access while driving.
Large doors provide easy access to the rear seat but the low ground clearance and sloping roof do mean you have to lean down a bit to avoid hitting your head, and the baby’s, when getting them in and out of the car.
The Liberty has a fairly generous boot that can carry 493-litres of cargo. This area can also be expanded considerably by folding down the 60-40 split rear seat.
While this does enable you to either load additional gear in the back of the car or carry longer items, there are obvious height restrictions.
For day to day use I was able to easily fit a large-style pram in the boot, across the back of the rear seat, which left a heap of space for shopping or any other gear that I needed to carry.
You could even load the pram, a portable cot and a couple of bags into the boot, without intruding on cabin space, for a weekend away.
While the boot access isn’t very high it is wide and with the hydraulic struts and hinges neatly tucked outside the boot opening it was nice and clear.
The Liberty offers an expansive list of driver aid technology unmatched by its competitors. It is also provides the additional on-road assurance provided by its all-wheel drive system, something I fully appreciated with the recent wet weather we have been experiencing in Perth this winter.
The 3.6R comes with all the familiar features like lane keeping, blind spot assist, emergency autonomous braking, adaptive cruise control and cross-traffic alert.
The 2018 Liberty has also added things like adaptive driving beam that continually adjusts the lights to give you maximum illumination for the conditions. We had the opportunity to fully test this on a four-hour drive to south-west WA, with the only blemish being it would dim the lights in reaction to reflections off road markers and traffic signs.
It also tells you when the car in front has moved off, quite a handy feature if you are distracted by small backseat passengers while sitting in traffic or at the lights.
Inside the cabin a large 8-inch touch screen drives the infotainment system, which is generally intuitive and easy to operate, that includes a Harman Kardon audio system and TomTom sat nav.
The only issue we had was getting the voice activated navigation system to understand us. My wife and I tried several times to ask for directions only to be told it did not understand us and could we try again.
Eventually both human and computer gave in and we pulled over to the side of the road and typed in the address.
ANCAP Safety Rating: 5 Stars
The Liberty was last crash tested by ANCAP in 2014, scoring 5 Stars with a score of 35.99 out of 37. It was given a score of 16 out of 16 in the side impact crash and 2 out of 2 in the pole test. In the frontal offset it scored 14.99 out of 16.
It comes standard with dual front, side chest and side head airbags (curtains) and a driver knee airbag. It also has antilock brakes (ABS), electronic brake distribution (EBD), electronic stability control (ESC) and seatbelt reminders.
The 3.6R variant we tested also has Subaru’s eyesight system, that includes crash avoidance technologies like autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, blind spot assist, cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control and adaptive driving beam.
The 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine provides the Liberty with plenty of oomph, especially off the mark, and reacts with some urgency to any input on the accelerator while on the move.
Performance can also be sharpened by changing the drive mode to ‘Sport Sharp’. The engine works well with the continuously variable transmission providing a smooth, quiet ride. But there is a trade-off for the performance in fuel consumption.
The 3.6R has an average consumption of 9.9L/100km and while we got 8.9L/100km during the test a large portion of the driving we did was on a weekend away. Its consumption rate in the urban environment is closer to 14.0L/100km.
While I would not classify the handling and steering as sporty it is not far off with very little body roll when cornering and reasonably responsive steering.
The wife’s take
Aesthetically, this is a very pretty car. The low roofline gives it a sleek appearance, and inside I really like the attention to detail in the dash layout and door trims.
The infotainment screen is big and the navigation system easy to use. My one complaint was that I did not find the seats overly comfortable on long drives. The seat felt a little short. The leather upholstery also made the seats feel quite hard but my resident car expert tells me they will wear in a little like a good pair of shoes. The boot space was a very pleasant surprise. It was also a car I loved driving.
“I enjoyed the acceleration of the mark, especially when the drive mode was on the sportier setting.”
If you are looking for a family car and don’t want to go down the SUV road, the Liberty sedan is certainly worth a look. The flagship 3.6R model is well-built with an upmarket, functional cabin with plenty of room and storage. It is also a vehicle that will put a smile on the faces of those who enjoy driving.
Most importantly, from a family view point, it comes with a host of driver aids designed to help prevent accidents.
Rear seat room for baby seats is excellent, though you will just have to watch your head a little when getting the children in and out of the car. Boot space is good but not quite as easy to access as a wagon.
Running costs are on the higher end with services scheduled for every six months. Warranty is an industry average three years (with unlimited kilometres).
Honda Accord V6L
Price: $52,590 RRP
Engine/Transmission: 3.5-litre V6 (206kW/339Nm) matched to a six-speed automatic transmission
The ninth generation Accord offers similar interior and boot space as the Liberty and also comes with a host of driver assist technology. It also stacks up pretty well in the performance stakes. The biggest difference between the two is the price tag.
Toyota Camry SL V6
Price: $43,990 RRP
Engine/Transmission: 3.5-litre V6 (224kW/362Nm) matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission
The first fully imported Camry (since production in Australia ceased) is the most powerful and has the biggest boot space in this trio. The top-of-the range model also comes with an impressive list of driver assist technology making it a must for any shopping list in this class.
• $43,140 RRP
• Warranty: Three-year unlimited kilometres
• Fuel Consumption: Official (9.9L/100km) On Review (8.9L/100km – included 600km country trip)
• Engine: 3.6-litre horizontally opposed six-cylinder
• Power: 191kW/350Nm
• Transmission: Continuously Variable with seven steps
• Visit HBF for a tailored insurance quote
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