It’s always seemed a little odd to A Wheel Thing that a large car is such because it has a six or eight cylinder engine yet a similar sized car is called medium if it has a four cylinder…go figure. A Wheel Thing looks at this dichotomy with a familiar face, Holden’s VE Commodore, in this case the Z series, against the Subaru Liberty. Physically, they’re within cooee of each other in length, width, height and space plus have cavernous bootspace also.
The Commodore is the tried and trusted front engined (3.6L V6) rear wheel drive package whilst Subaru stays with its time honoured all wheel drive system powered by its “boxer” flat four cylinder at 2.5L capacity. Both are five seaters, fairly comfortably at that, and have a long nose/short boot profile. On the inside it’s a different story; bearing in mind the VE platform’s tired interior and with the VF due soon, straight up the Liberty wins.
First up, size. The Liberty is 4745mm in length, 1780mm in width and just 1505mm in height. The Commodore is slightly larger at 4900mm long and 1900mm wide yet sits slightly lower at 1476mm. It’s also, questionably, around 400 kilograms heavier than the Subaru…..the interiors are almost lineball in size but boot space in the Commodore (496L) is 20L bigger although looks smaller. There’s just six litres difference in fuel tank capacity (65 vs Holden’s 71) however it’s more than reasonable to expect the 127 kW (@5600rpm) should be more frugal than the 210kW (@6700rpm) SIDI V6. There’s more torque in the Commodore (350Nm @ 2800rpm vs 235Nm @ 4100rpm) however giving the Commodore the edge in the 0-100 km/h sprint. The GT edition of the Liberty comes close on power and matches for torque.
Both cars push the power through automatic transmissions, with the Liberty’s a smooth and slick CVT against the Holden’s traditional six speed. Both offer (six speed) manual control, both feature the standard array of safety tech in the form of ABS, multiple airbags and so on. Both have a couple of 12V sockets. Both are still looking pretty much the same at this stage. Then comes the rolling stock…the Z series has stylish charcoal 19 inch rims whilst the Liberty is on 17s. The steering feels more planted in the Holden, thanks largely to the 245/40 rubber as opposed to the Liberty’s twitchy and driver energy sapping 215/50 tyres; it never seems as locked to a straight path as the Commodore, requiring constant attention to the tiller and occasionally felt understeery….somewhat unsettling from an AWD car, plus, during one of Sydney’s torrential downpours, the Liberty occasionally felt as if it had aquaplaned, again potentially due to the thinner profile rubber. On the road both ride flat, absorbing bumps with a minimum of fuss. Turn in on the Liberty was a touch sharper than the Holden, with feedback off centre also a little more lively. Both have a rorty exhaust when pushed, with the throb of the flat four noticeable above 3000rpm.
Both score leather seating; the Z series with bolsters to the cloth trim, the Liberty full dead cow covering. There’s satnav in each with the Holden getting speed camera location and speed zone info. Ergonomically each has their pluses and minuses, with switchgear mainly easy to read and use. Each have a touchscreen entertainment/satnav unit with the Holden getting integrated speed limit/camera warnings which flashes on the LCD screen directly in front of the driver. Subaru’s dash has a delightful animated graphic screen with a rich blue lighting. The steering wheel controls on the Subaru tiller are a little sharper edged than Holden’s yet, naturally, are user friendly. The rear seats both have a skiport hatch/drinks holder whilst the Subaru has privacy glass on the rear windows. The Liberty closes its doors with a somewhat hollow thunk, compared to the Commodore’s solid sound, which would offer one reason why it’s around 400kg lighter…less sound insulation and different materials in the doors, but that’s obviously only a small part.
The Subie’s exterior is a combination of take it or leave it; the headlight cluster is not one that could be said is attractive, with a sharp and angular shape combining with the HID lenses to offer a look of incoherence, whilst the rear is not unlike Honda’s six cylinder Accord in profile and proportion, especially with the rear window kink. The Commodore’s has changed little since it was released and the VF will offer quite a marked difference, front and rear. Silver was the colour supplied for the Japanese car whilst the Commodore was clad in a gorgeous plum purple.
It leaves my question unanswered; what defines a medium car as opposed to a large, if the engine is taken out of the equation? Both are physically similar in dimensions, both offer similar levels of sophistication (and will in the VF update) and drive, for the most part, similarly. A fine example is Toyota’s Aurion vs Camry, with the Aurion in the large car class simply because it has a V6, although the dimensions are virtually identical being based on the same framework. As it stands, based on the week with each, if the Liberty, with the better interior, had the Commodore driving dynamic, it’d be a good marriage of upsizing the medium.
Check with your dealer for pricing, especially with the Z Series and VE on runout at the time of writing.