Subaru Liberty

Traffic Stopper

I was dreading driving this thing home, until a very small lightbulb popped into life over my head. For Alpha magazine.

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The very best thing about Alpha is that the worst road in the whole universe is right outside our office. If, up until this point, you thought Alpha was produced from a space station, or a tower filled with sports stars and hotties: sorry. As I type this slowly into a grubby Apple Mac, multi-ton trucks lumber over the “traffic calming measures” outside, crashing their gears and wringing the air brakes. Normally very annoying, yes. But once, just this once, that road is perfect.

Click the “back” button to Friday, when I climb into Subaru’s latest version of the Liberty and realise two things: Friday arvo, in peak hour, on the crappiest road ever; and peak hour is how most people get to really know their cars.

It’s all very well me going on about triumphant fifth-gear changes along magical, empty, coastal dream-roads, but in the real world, not much use. Those roads exist in car ads, where the model-bloke glances smugly at his model-girlfriend as he speeds along, perhaps wondering where all the other vehicles are.

Where they are is here. On this road, with its bloody road-humps (oh, the council’s going to get my angriest tweet) and the bicycle lane nobody uses yet still manages to flood everything when it rains. Then it starts to rain. The Liberty’s big, spare cabin is my cocoon.

Funny how a seat with a steering wheel turns into your office, home, protection and entertainment centre, the longer you sit there. The Liberty eases calmly over the humps. I look around my cockpit. I turn on the radio. A really happy bloke in a helicopter lists several traffic-accidents. We’re all stuck here forever.

The Liberty is a solidly built vehicle, no doubt about it. The décor could be a bit brighter, but the dashboard is high and heavy and seems to go on forever. The displays are clear, logical and unfussy. Even if I did manage to get up to 40km/h, my wandering hands could still find everything, no worries. The clock’s at the far end of that dashboard, but: I need a telescope to tell the time.

I also wonder if this actually is a better car for that open road. There’s plenty of power grumbling under the bonnet, and the reason it’s grumbling is because I’m tapping it along two metres at a time. Surge. Stop. Surge. Stop. Yeah, I’ll let you in, mate. None of us are going anywhere.

There’s a slight turbo-lag that makes delicate control in traffic interesting; but as soon as there’s any clear room, the Liberty muscles through with a grateful thrum. Subaru have done their best to sex the Liberty up a little, with a fancy bonnet scoop the most notable touch, but is that what’s needed here? Everything about it says big, heavy, safe, powerful. There’s a manual option to lug you up a steep hill, but, as the traffic finally eases up, far too close to home, the 2.5-litre engine properly enjoys itself. The hunky body crouches and settles, flows nicely around sharper curves and smooths the bumps out very well.

In my 90 minutes surrounded by tired, angry commuters, I discover a 2.5i Premium Liberty that’s roomy and passenger-friendly, is as safe and full of airbags as anything on the road, and whose performance measures up to an equivalent Commodore while leaving you several thousand bucks better off. I also discover the umpteen directions the seat can move; the electric sunroof; my all-round visibility (pretty good); the ashtray (empty); an MP3 connection; how fast the windows can go up and down (medium-fast); how big the side pockets are (big) and the handy cup-holders I don’t have a handy drink for. With slight reluctance, I finally park it.

On Monday, the whole thing works in reverse: back out of the house, back into the Liberty and back into peak hour on the worst road in the universe. But, purely in the name of research, that’s OK.

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