I’m not happy. Not happy at all. Why so? Well, today Subaru Australia announced that the Liberty mid-sizer will no longer be sold locally. I knew this was coming – the world’s love for SUVs, the popularity of Subaru’s own Outback (which is based on the Liberty) and declining sales of mid-size cars meant that the Liberty really was on borrowed time. But that doesn’t mean it hurts any less as I believe that the Subaru Liberty really was the best car to ever come out of Japan.
For those reading from overseas, the Subaru Liberty is what we call the Legacy locally. Due to a war widowers society called Legacy, the car was called Liberty when it went on sale in Australia in 1989. In my short 26 years alive, we’ve had five Liberties in my family and they were all brilliant cars and clearly Australians agree as over 150,000 have been sold locally.
Subaru Australia Managing Director, Christian Dinsdale, said: “Liberty has been a pivotal part of Subaru’s success.
“It was our first model with global appeal and moved the brand away from its utilitarian roots to becoming a respected automotive company.
“Not only has Liberty established a reputation as a great car, it also pioneered our early rally motorsport success story.
First generation: 1989-1995
The first generation Liberty launched in Australia in 1989 in both sedan and wagon bodystyles. Available in both front-wheel drive, the Liberty was unique in the mid-size segment in offering all-wheel drive as an option which is partly where Subaru’s love for all-wheel drive came from. The first generation Liberty was the first rally car from the company and it really cemented its reputation for hunting dirt roads at great speed. Other unique features included flat-four engines (both naturally aspirated and turbocharged in the RS Turbo), anti-lock brakes and in some markets, air suspension.
My grandmother bought her Liberty brand new in 1992 and a total of 76,000km (!) later, she still has it to this day.
Second generation: 1995-1998
The second generation Liberty was introduced in Australia in 1995 to much fanfare – it was awarded Wheels car of the year (and not for the first time either). As before, both front- and all-wheel drive were available matched to 2.2-litre and 2.5L petrol engines – though no turbo models were offered in Australia. The second generation introduced the Outback for the first time globally, with a 19cm-raised ride height and Paul Hogan starred in the advertisements for it.
My other grandmother had a second gen Liberty RX sedan for a few years before buying a 2000 Impreza RX. Like my other grandmother’s car, I spend a lot of time in this Liberty.
Third generation: 1998-2003
The third generation went on sale in Australia in late 1998 to immediate success – it was given the title of Wheels car of the year again (and that was only in wagon form too – the sedan arrived later). Like the Liberties before it, it was an all-rounder with good space, handsome styling, good dynamics and was pretty popular in its time. All-wheel drive was standard on all models for the first time and manual models even had dual-range. The Liberty B4 was offered with a 190kW twin-turbo flat-four petrol engine – though only in sedan form in Australia, unfortunately.
My parents bought their first Liberty in 2000 – a RX manual wagon. My first day of school was in the car, we bought our first dog home in that car and I even first learnt to drive in that car. Like many other families across Australia, our Liberty was the backbone of our family and it was fantastic.
Fourth generation: 2003-2008
The fourth generation model was an absolute high point for the Subaru brand globally. Attractively designed, the Liberty was clearly aimed at European buyers with excellent proportions, quality and dynamics and clearly it worked as it was dubbed ‘Japan’s 3 Series’ by many of the automotive magazines of the day. The 2.0- and 2.5-litre naturally aspirated engines were upgraded, while the 2.0-litre turbo eventually became a 2.5-litre unit. For the first time as well, the Liberty was offered with a 180kW 3.0-litre straight-six engine too – and tastily with a six-speed manual, too!
It wasn’t the roomiest car, nor was it the cheapest, but it was very safe having been awarded the highest ever ANCAP safety rating at the time, it drove bloody well and it was an overall excellent package. My family upgraded to a 2006 Liberty wagon 3.0R spec-B and I still miss that car dearly.
Fifth generation: 2008-2014
After the previous model failed in Europe – where it was aimed – Subaru decided to focus on North America with the fifth generation Legacy. The car grew in all directions, the frameless doors disappeared, the six-cylinder engine was enlarged to 3.6-litres and – being completely honest – the car became a bloated shadow of its former self. While it was available with more features than ever before and offered better value for money, quality took a dive with less premium interior materials. The new model also lost the dynamic sparkle of its predecessor. Naturally, it helped Subaru’s sales boom in the US, though it wasn’t as popular here.
On a more personal note, this generation Liberty – like many other families – didn’t appeal much to my family unfortunately, and we moved to another brand offering an affordably mid-size wagon: Skoda.
Sixth generation: 2014-2020
The sixth generation killed the Liberty wagon globally (though it continued as such as the Outback), and while interior quality improved and it looked a lot better than before, the SUV fad had set in and Outback sales boomed globally. The 2.5-litre turbo was killed globally in favour of the 3.6-litre six, and manual models were also shelved in favour of a standard CVT automatic.
Standard safety equipment on all sixth generation models was strong with Subaru’s ‘EyeSight’ active safety kit – automatic emergency braking (AEB), radar cruise control, lane keep assistance and so on were standard equipment. While this generation was better than the last, rivals such as the Toyota Camry outsold it significantly.
Seventh generation: no dice
The seventh generation Legacy has been on sale in North America for over a year now, along with the sixth generation Outback (which is due in Australia in 2021). The six-cylinder variants were shelved for a new 184kW 2.4-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine that’s shared with the huge Ascent SUV (not sold here). Both the Legacy and Outback moved to the Subaru global architecture, which made the cars more structurally rigid and more dynamic than before.
While the Outback is due in Australia in the first half of 2021, the Liberty will unfortunately not be making it as well. This is due to a number of factors – sedan sales are in the toilet, as are mid-size cars. SUVs are killing it globally, as is the Outback, and justifying the Legacy sedan for right-hand drive production is hard when its home market Japan isn’t going to sell it either. A complete shame in my opinion when the only options in the Subaru lineup are the lacklustre Levorg, huge Outback or competent though hardly exciting Forester.
2020 has been a bastard to us all, but the death of the Subaru Liberty is something that I wasn’t ready to deal with.