What is it?

Did Debby Boone have intelligent headlights on her car that prompted her to record ‘You Light Up My Life’ back in 1977?

Not unless she was one of the lucky 50 to ever own a 1948 Tucker, which came with three headlights, including a cyclops beam in the centre of the grille that swivelled in concert with the steering.

It took a while for ‘see around corners’ headlights to catch on, but they did so on a select few brands from the early 2000s, and were called adaptive, or bending lights.

They also feature on the latest Subaru Liberty, that apart from a haughty new nose doesn’t look much different from last year’s model — but many out-of-sight changes have been affected to lift the appeal of Subaru’s flagship.

Most noticeable are the luxury five-seater’s headlights, a pair of striking halogens with LED daylight running surrounds and LED fog lights.

More than swivelling with the steering at night to illuminate the path through corners, the so-named Steering-Responsive Headlights include an adaptive high beam feature that automatically dims them so as not to blind drivers of oncoming vehicles.

They also have a great spread and reach, and must figure among the best illuminators I’ve seen in ages.

What’s it cost?

The Liberty line-up comprises three models, two with a four-cylinder 2.5-litre engine, whereas the one on review came with a 3.6-litre six-cylinder boxer engine and a fair swag of extra equipment.

It’s called the 3.6R, but what the ‘R’ stands for is uncertain. A few other brands use that letter to denote a performance model, but that’s not the case in the Liberty. Refinement might be more applicable.

The styling reflects the medium-sized car’s premium status, conservative and classy, with a subtly revised front and rear,  and repositioned outside mirrors that minimise wind roar and now include indicators.

The interior has had quite a going over, with the dash now featuring smart piano black inserts and the gauges, Subaru says, are ‘electroluminescent’ — easy on the eye and comprehensive.

There’s an 8.0-inch touchscreen with a hotshot digital Harman Kardon audio system that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, integrated satellite navigation, leather trimmed seats (with heaters for the front ones),  powered front seat adjustment, a leather-rimmed steering wheel with height and telescopic adjustment, an electric glass sunroof, powered and heated folding side mirrors, keyless entry with push-button start and electric boot opening.

Want more?

Well, how about  dual-zone climate control, seven airbags and tinted rear glass and Subaru’s ‘EyeSight’ safety system, which uses windscreen-mounted cameras to warn of pedestrians or cars, and, if necessary, applies the brakes. Operational speed has been lifted from 30 to 50km/h.

There’s also lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control with brake light recognition and forward vehicle move-off alert and a very handy forward-and side-view camera to help stop you from crunching into those stupid tall kerbs at shopping centres. No parking sensors, though.

The $43,140 car runs on 18-inch alloys and, in its huge boot is the rarity of a full-sized alloy spare.

Safety equipment includes autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, side-view monitor, lane sway assist, seven airbags and, like all modern-day Subarus — it has constant all-wheel drive.

What’s it go like?

The flat-six is a powerful motor with 191kW and 350Nm at its disposal and drives through a good Lineartronic CVT auto.

It also has a three-mode drive select system so drivers who want a sportier feel can opt for Sport or Sport Sharp.

The interior is very roomy and gives all occupants a lot of leg, hip  and headroom and its boot is bigger than that of many a SUV at close on 500 litres.

The rear seat features a pull-down armrest with cupholders, there are two more in front, plus bottle and document holders in all the doors.

Back seat passengers also get a couple of USB ports for their electronic devices.

The 3.6R is a good thing to drive, with strong acceleration — 0-100km/h in 7.2 seconds — and lots of torque.

The suspension has been re-tuned, likewise the steering and comfort and roadholding qualities are high. All-wheel-drive makes a difference – look in the mirror after exiting a corner and you’ll wonder why the cars once so close behind are suddenly 100m further astern.

Fuel consumption of the 1650kg sedan is officially 9.9L/100 average, but my usual city, suburban and country mix showed 11.1. The car will run on the base 91 RON fuel, but anyone with sympathy for fine engineering will feed his or her car on 95 or 98.

Oddly, Subaru, despite its reputation, has kept its warranty at three years/unlimited kilometres. And its $2711 capped price three-year service program is pretty pricey.

What we like?

  • Comprehensively equipped
  • Quality build
  • Excellent night vision
  • Smart, spacious cabin
  • Strong, smooth performance
  • Build quality

 

What we don’t like?

  • Limited warranty
  • Servicing costs

The bottom line?

Classy, understated elegance. One of the top picks in the medium car sector, and in a class of its own on a dark, twisty road.

 

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Subaru Liberty 3.6R, priced from $43,140
  • 7.5/10
    Looks - 7.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Performance - 8.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Safety - 8.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Thirst - 7.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Practicality - 8.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Comfort - 8.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Tech - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Value - 8.0/10
8.2/10

Buys

Bill Buys, probably Australia’s longest-serving motoring writer, has been at his craft for more than five decades. Athough motoring has always been in his DNA, he was also night crime reporter, foreign page editor and later chief reporter of the famed Rand Daily Mail. He’s twice been shot at, attacked by a rhinoceros and had several chilling experiences in aircraft. His experience includes stints in traffic law enforcement, motor racing and rallying and writing for a variety of local and international publications. He has covered countless events, ranging from world motor shows and Formula 1 Grands Prix to Targa tarmac and round-the-houses meetings. A motoring tragic, he has owned more than 90 cars. Somewhat of a nostalgic, he has a special interest in classic cars. He is the father of Targa star Robert Buys, who often adds his expertise to Bill’s reviews.