As tarted-up Libertys go, it's been a bit of a lean patch of late. Sure, the 3.0R Spec B is nice... okay, it's pretty damn good, but it’s something that you'd think about recommending to your girlfriend's dad rather than seeing yourself in one. right?
This review was originally published in MOTOR’s October 2006 issue
Well, the 2007 Subaru Liberty GT Spec B will fix all that. With a tweaked-up 2.5-litre turbo boxer, a STi-spec six-speed manual option, and matched Bilstein dampers, the reborn GT provides a drive worthy of the title.
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Though it's the billet-style 18-inch rims - unique to the GT Spec B - that catch the eye first, a litany of smaller details give the MY07 Lib a much more confident stance. Gone is the slightly fussy grille treatment, replaced instead by a firm swathe of chrome between a revised set of HID lamp clusters.
Eyebrow lines along the length of the front guards and a bumpier bonnet combine with a simplified front bar to furrow the Liberty's brows, but the tougher front-end is spoilt somewhat by the oddball faux air vents on the rear bar. The new. smaller rear lamp clusters also look a little anaemic on a car with such sporty aspirations, but on the whole, this thing looks pretty damn sharp sitting in the driveway.
Settle into the excellent, supportive electric-adjustable driver's seat and you'll find a roomy work environment that's easy on the eye. It's still familiar to those cognisant with the MY05/06 layout. though the redundant centre console bin has been replaced with the Japanese-spec touchscreen control centre.
The most obvious difference, of course, is the rotary dial just aft of the gearstick that's marked SI (Subaru Intelligent)-Drive. Cue rolled eyes and exaggerated sighs from the press corps... Fear not, however. Sl-Drive is simply a three-stage ECU map-swapping switch that features ‘Intelligent’, ‘Sport’, and ‘Sport Sharp’ modes that can be switched on the fly.
The default ‘Intelligent’ map is the economy setting, with a wispy, linear power delivery that will save you a few per cent of fuel on the freeway commute, but will fail to move you. The ‘Sport’ mode is where GT drivers will operate, with a noticeable bump in the mid-range torque oomph and more responsive throttle.
So what's ‘Sport Sharp’? It's, put simply, a fun button. Activated either by the dial in the centre console or, much more easily, by the paddle on the lower right of the steering wheel, the throttle livens right up, the engine wakes up (if it's sufficiently warm - it won‘t activate until the engine coolant is up to temperature) and you’re ready to rip.
If you tire of it, simply tap the centre of the SI Drive button to drop into ‘Intelligent’ mode (it can all be seen on the dash) or flick the paddle to revert to ‘Sport’ mode. The in-dash upshift light will change its activation point according to the mode you're running in, and if you go for the auto, the gearbox controller will also adjust its shifts to suit.
At 1545kg - some 170kg heavier than the base 2.0-litre car - it's still lively and involving, with a well-spaced gearset inside the STi-derived 'box that first saw duty in the 3.0R Spec B. With double syncros on first and third, second gear gets a triple-cone treatment which helps to soften the first-to-second slam.
Power is directed fore and aft in a 50:50 split via a viscous centre diff, with a Torsen LSD out back. You'll find the clutch on the manual especially feelsome, but don't get too cocky; it ain‘t you. The fly-by-wire throttle is linked to clutch actuation, providing fuss-free takeoffs, though the hill-hold function has disappeared from this model.
There’s been a few key bodyshell tweaks; the A-pillars have been beefed up at their base, a bigger firewall corner has been welded in and the engine bay strut mowers have been revised.
The Liberty’s steering is light yet has plenty of feel; it maybe a touch too light but it‘s still good, weighting up beautifully through its arc. The long-throw gearshift struggles to engage quickly when it’s not quite warmed to the occasion, but the shower first four ratios and longer-legged last pair works surprisingly well together.
Ride quality is great with the Bilsteins, though it feels a bit underdamped on low-speed rebound. Combining a newly stiffened chassis, a top flight set of matched springs and dampers and AWD is a recipe for one of the most sorted sleepers you’ll see this year. Turn it in with alacrity, and the levels of front end stick are astonishing. There's a lot of mechanical grip, but it's backed up by a sufficiently bolstered chassis that still allows a modicum of real-world feel. The engine is rarely caught off-boost, either.
It’s not all sweetness and light, though; the brakes simply aren't up to the rest of the car, fading quickly after a mountain pass downhill attack. They came most of the way back, and the test car was a pre-production model, but the stoppers are prime targets to be upgraded by STi-spec items.
The Sube works well on the smooth stuff, but it really comes alive on rougher, slipperier tarmac. Toss it into the corner off the throttle and it backs in like a tarmac rally car, the rear LSD combining with that splendid front-end to maintain some pretty absurd levels of mid-corner stick. All the way, a delicious mechanical melody is resonating through the cabin, and the perfectly sized wheel and supportive seats really involve you in the experience.
The Liberty is an exec steeper of the highest order; subtle yet bold, subdued yet capable. Shouldn‘t be too much of a problem talking yourself into this one.
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2007 Subaru Liberty GT Spec B specs:
BODY: 4-door, 5-seat sedan
ENGINE: 2.5-litre DOHC flat-four turbo
BORE/STROKE: 99.5 x 79.0mm
POWER: 184kW @ 6000rpm
TORQUE: 339Nm @ 3600rpm
POWER-TO- WEIGHT: 119kW/tonne
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
SUSPENSION: MacPherson strut, coil spring, Bilstein dampers, anti-roll bar (f); multi-link, coil springs, Bilstein dampers, anti-roll bar (r)
BRAKES: ventilated discs
WHEELS: 18.0-inch alloys
TYRES: 215/45 R18 89W (f/r); Bridgestone Potenza 50A
Subaru SI-Drive explained
Flash programming engine and transmission computers is the meat and veg of the performance aftermarket. Manufacturers usually set a conservative state of tune in the car's ECUs, so the aftermarket usually can make impressive gains by downloading new parameters into the ECU. With SI-Drive, Subaru has beat the aftermarket at its own game. Subaru is yet to reveal power or torque improvements but says a 10 per cent fuel economy improvement is possible in 'Intelligent' mode.