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Subaru unveils potent Liberty B4 ... at a potent price

B4 you go: With 190kW on tap, performance is guaranteed to be good.

The mild Liberty has been transformed into the exciting B4 sports sedan

6 Aug 2001

SUBARU has kept us waiting for the twin-turbo Liberty B4 sedan, but the specifications and pricing appear to have made it all worthwhile.

With the homologation process finally over and with 190 kilowatts and 320 Newton-metres on tap, the B4 promises impressive performance. But it's the price of admission, at $55,130, which grabs even more attention.

Either through clever subterfuge or a fortuitous alignment of currency exchange rates, Subaru Australia is introducing its new Liberty range-topper at a price that is as much as $10,000 less than what had been expected.

That price undercuts the luxury car threshold as well as a flotilla of European prestige sedans including the Alfa Romeo 156 V6, Audi A4 turbo quattro, BMW 320i, Volvo S60 2.4T and Volkswagen Passat V6 4Motion.

It also kills them on kilowatt count, which is no surprise when you consider the performance level of the engine.

It's not all good news of course. The B4 is manual only, there's no sign of an auto for 12 months, there's no cruise control and there's no side or window airbags. Nevertheless, considering the price Subaru's estimate of 600 sales per annum seems conservative.

The heart of the car is the 16-valve boxer four-cylinder engine, which employs sequential twin turbos for a full spread of power and torque, a larger turbocharger operating at lower revs and a secondary unit chiming in as engine speed rises.

And those power levels are actually 16kW down on the Japanese version, the direct result of our poorer fuel grades in Australia. Ninety-eight RON premium unleaded is recommended, but when unavailable Subaru says the B4 can survive on two consecutive tanks of 95 RON premium. Normal unleaded will cause engine damage.

The giveaway that B4 is turbocharged is the letterbox slot on the bonnet, which provides a flow of power-generating external air for the intercooler. The bonnet itself is made out of aluminium no more than 1.0mm thick and weighs in at 9.5kg, 8.0kg less than the standard steel item.

Unique mechanical features include double overhead camshafts and direct actuation valves in the cylinder head, hollow inlet and sodium-filled exhaust valves which help cooling, forged pistons, an engine oil cooler, an hydraulic clutch and a rear viscous-type limited slip differential for the all-wheel drive system.

The transmission is a five-speed close ratio unit and toughened up to cope with the extra power and torque demands, as is the hydraulic clutch.

The brake discs have been boosted in size and Subaru claims the ABS anti-lock braking system is smarter and faster than previously, thanks to a microprocessor ROM capacity increase and Central Processing Unit clock speed improvement.

The suspension has been strengthened with rigidity bars added front and rear, while Bilstein inverted struts and rear dampers are also part of the standard specification. The 17x7-inch BBS alloy wheels mated to 215/45 ZR17 tyres complete the ride and handling package.

Apart from the wheels, the B4 is surprisingly understated, the discrete rear spoiler and side skirts look like they come straight from the RX. The radiator opening is covered by a mesh grille, while fog lights sits in the front lower bumper, which includes an enlarged opening.

Inside B4, black leather is standard with blue inserts in the seats, door trims and the Momo steering wheel the driver's seat has six-way powered adjustment the dashboard has a brushed alumnium fascia the instruments are backlit and there's a seven speaker McIntosh audio system with single CD, AM/FM radio and cassette.

Other standard features include a keypad alarm and immobiliser developed from the system first seen on the Impreza WRX STi, climate control air-conditioning, dual front airbags and remote central locking.

Has the wait been worthwhile? Well, if you're expecting this to be WRX's big brother in performance as well as power output you're going to be disappointed.

Rather it's a grand tourer with strong rather than overwhelming power delivery, a refined ride and handling package, decent equipment level for the price and styling which proves Subarus don't have to be ugly or idiosyncratic.

If you're wondering why the B4 with 190kW doesn't offer the oomph of the 160kW WRX, Subaru says it comes back to kerb weight. The Liberty at 1495kg is just over 100kg heavier. Performance is still brisk, with Subaru claiming 0-100km/h in 6.5 sec, and the standing 400 metres in 14.6 sec.

However, B4 just doesn't feel that quick. It's civilised down low in that gravelly, thrumming Subaru way and accelerates with purpose to about 4000rpm when there's a literally a pause as the secondary turbo chimes in.

Subaru was concerned enough to mention this engine trait in the press briefing - it's an extreme rarity that any negative is volunteered let alone acceded to under pressure! From that point on it just keeps going to the 7500rpm redline - although you're 1100rpm past the power peak by then, and the torque peak is at 4800rpm - providing the sort of passing and hill conquering power Liberty GX, RX and Heritage owners can only dream about it.

The same is true of the gearbox, which offers the cleanest manual shift we've sampled recently in a Subaru, doing away with the notchiness found in the WRX.

The ride and handling package is refined but familiar, the standard Liberty being a fundamentally viceless car. The B4 is louder thanks to tyre roar, firmer thanks to the suspension and tyre set-up and the steering more alive for the same reasons. But it is not extreme to live with.

The cabin too puts a standard Liberty in the shade thanks to those vibrant blue inserts. The sports seat support is good and the general refinement is up to the usual Subaru quality. Which is good.

So, how does big brother of WRX measure up? He's stacked on the weight which has slowed him down a bit and he lacks a few of the creature comforts middle age is supposed to deliver.

But he's more refined, more sensible, much better looking and obviously understands the value of a buck.

The Road to Recovery podcast series

Model release date: 1 March 2003 to 1 March 2003

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