Outback and Liberty are twins under the skin – dizygotic twins, obviously, but still twins. They’re both very similar – down there – where it counts. I just spent a week sleeping enthusiastically with each one – and I have to say, they’re pretty impressive vehicles.
Subaru lent me the cars – it’s pretty hard to review them any other way – but no money changed hands, they don’t advertise, and they are of course free to suck it up in the ‘sticks and stones’ domain, should they form the view that my opinion of the product sucks.
Subaru has some core strengths, too – let’s not forget that. Two of them spring to mind: Safety, and Symmetrical AWD. And they’re very good at both.
I’d suggest that this latest version of Eyesight – the camera-based safety system – is awesome. It now sees the unfolding traffic environment even better thanks to ditching the CCD sensor technology and moving up to CMOS.
If you’re not a camera nut like me, the advantage of CMOS is better vision in low contrast environments – so, better low-light performance. And it sees in colour, too.
(There’s also front, rear and side cameras for human consumption.)
This latest EyeSight version is the third generation of a system that was already brilliant. It’s definitely looking out for you, should you fall asleep at the wheel, which you should never do, or unwittingly reverse out of a parking space and into the path of a pedestrian or cyclist, or something.
Of all the ‘safety assist’ packages from all the manufacturers – Subaru’s is the best in terms of integration, intuitiveness, minimisation of false positive alerts, etc. It’s really good.
EyeSight 3.0 also includes adaptive cruise control and pre-collision braking through a significantly expanded range, and the CMOS cameras can see and identify brake lights ahead of you as well as just tracking the movement of traffic. It’s very clever.
The worst thing about EyeSight is the luddites who bitch and moan about this technology in the comments feed. Bottom line: There’s no reporting system for the lives it saves. Which is most unfair.
Both the Liberty and the Outback I slept with recently had the 2.5i powertrain – and I suspect the underlying cunning PR plan there was because this is the powertrain with the most tweaks.
The CVT copped a bunch of upgrades – it’s got a different chain that’s quieter and it extends the ratio range significantly. But the thing that hits you – at least it hit me – immediately is the improvement in software control.
I’d driven only a couple of hundred metres and that was blatantly obvious.
Subaru transmission programming propellerheads have done a great job – residual CVT drone has been eliminated. It’s quite smooth and satisfying to drive. It even feels snappy when you’re – let’s say – sleeping with it enthusiastically. And I never thought I would say that about a CVT.
Other tweaks include the bigger centre screen which now has Apple and Android phone integrations. Dear Toyota: See? It’s not that hard. You can do this.
These phone integrations mean you get voice command and access to all the certified for auto use apps – including things like voice-synthesis for inbound and outbound SMS messages.
The nav is Tom Tom, not some hateful, clunky, Guantanamo-inspired in-house system designed to make Tome Tom look even better than it is.
Externally, the new grille, bumpers, mirrors and wheels really have made a difference. Here I was, ready and waiting with a new Ray Charles allegation to level at the designers … but now I am gutted because it would be unfair to allege that the styling team was blind. It actually looks pretty good.
Outback and Liberty both feel very composed and upmarket – and the value proposition remains pretty strong. It’s still hard for me to justify the step up to 3.6R from 2.5i Premium – certainly you get substantially more performance, but the equipment spec is the same and it’s gunna cost you $6500.
It’s not like the 2.5i is an inadequate performer, either. For most people, the 2.5 is beyond adequate, and the six-and-a-half big ones could be better repurposed elsewhere in the family budget.
I’d be comparing the new Liberty to Mazda6 and Kia Optima, and maybe Hyundai Sonata.
Outback is locked in as a five-seater only. But it’s as big as a Santa Fe, so I’m certain Subaru could have engineered up an extra two seats. I’m sure they’ve got their reasons, but it’s certainly cost them some sales not to offer the vehicle as a seven seater.
As things stand, you get a cavernous luggage compartment with Outback. There’s additional ground clearance, too, and a bit more testosterone in the styling, compared with Liberty.
And refinement doesn’t take too much of a hit. Outback’s a capable dirt-road driver – but you have to be realistic about off-road aspirations.
This class of softer SUV is designed for light duty off-roading at best.