Congratulations, Subaru, you’ve made the list.
This review was originally published in MOTOR’s November 2004 issue
The 3.0-litre Liberty Spec-B is one of the finest cars we’ve driven this year. And if that sounds like a big boast, it’s all the more remarkable for the fact that the Suby fits comfortably into the sub-$100k bracket, in which it’s certainly among the best we’ve pedalled so far this year – and only Nissan’s 350Z and a small handful of big-grunt locals have any legitimate claim to that tag.
So, just how does the humble Liberty shine amongst the big-dollar exotics and big-horsepower Aussies we test at MOTOR?
The addition of the 180kW, 3.0-litre flat-six (first seen in the Outback), along with the six-speed manual WRX STi gearbox and stiffer, Bilstein-equipped suspension transform the Liberty from able family truckster to wicked wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing sports sedan.
Power peaks at 6600rpm with 297Nm at a high-ish 4200 revs, but the 3.0R-B’s gearing is so short (3.9:1 final drive) that its engine is never out of its sweet spot. The delivery is linear and smooth and you can grab a higher gear and use the torque or rev it through the range and play with the power. Typical of an STi gearbox, its shift is precise, with a short, mechanical throw, and is matched to a light clutch.
classic MOTOR: Legacy STI S402 review
This stiffer suspension endows the 3.0R-B with a flat cornering stance and plenty of chassis and tyre grip. Sticky 215/45 Bridgestones embrace 18-inch alloys and its inherent Liberty balance allows you to choose your driving style. Play it safe and eventually its nose will push, or get aggressive and tip the car into a corner on trailing throttle to tuck the front back into line.
Faults? The steering could offer more feel through the MOMO wheel, and a chunk more weighting wouldn’t hurt, either. Tall drivers might need to scrunch lower in the seat, and lanky rear-seat passengers may also want for some extra head and legroom. And, if you combine its short gearing with a heavy right clog, its 3.0-litre flat-six doesn’t mind a drink: over 800km, the Liberty returned 13 litres per 100km.
At $51,990, the 3.0R-B is not cheap in metal-for-money terms, and is just a gorilla less than the new Liberty GT manual. But standard equipment stretches to a sunroof and leather trim, with eight-way power adjustment for its front seats, a 13-speaker McIntosh stereo, dual front and side airbags, front and rear curtain bags, and a five-star ANCAP occupant-safety rating.
The 3.0R-B is a hard car to pigeonhole. With 180kW in a mid-size body, it takes the best bits of the Mazda6 Luxury Sport and Honda Accord Euro, adding another 60kW to the former and 40kW to the latter. It’s also got drive to both ends. Of course, it adds another $10k or more to the bottom line, but even taking the extra wedge into account, the Liberty has established itself as the best sporty mid-sized motor doing the rounds.
Gone but not forgotten on classic MOTOR
2004 Subaru Liberty 3.0R-B specs
ENGINE: 3.0-litre DOHC, 24-valve flat-six
PRICE (2004): $51,990