Subaru Liberty RS/B4 Turbo - Buyer's Guide

By: Unique Cars magazine

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subaru rs b4 1 subaru rs b4 1

Luxurious and with long legs the Subaru B4 was a WRX for grown ups


Subaru RS/B4 Turbo

The Legacy sedan (renamed Liberty for Australia) took Subaru and its buyers to a market niche previously forbidden to the brand and its range of basic two and four-wheel drive models.

The Liberty was a sophisticated medium-sized design with All-Wheel Drive that didn’t need to be manually selected when the running got rough.

Performance wasn’t initially a Liberty attribute, but that changed late in 1990 when preview versions of the snarling RS Turbo sedan arrived.

The RS should have been a strong seller in a country like Australia with our open spaces and predominance of second-rate roads. It wasn’t and that lack of success reflected Australia’s general lack of interest in all-wheel drive performance cars.

| Read next: Subaru SVX review

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Sedans priced at $36,990 hit the showrooms in 1991, followed a year later by an RS wagon. Both used a 2.0-litre, quad-cam engine that revved to 6500rpm and developed 147kW. Standard boost was a conservative 0.7 Bar and people who bought RS Turbos for competition found that 200kW could be easily extracted.

Five-speed manual transmission was mandatory, air-conditioning, electric windows and mirrors, a four speaker stereo and cruise control, fog-lights and a boot spoiler all standard with ABS brakes optional.

Despite the risk posed by considerable mechanical complexity and a drive-train that was being pushed pretty close to its limits, Subaru bravely included the RS in its Three Year/100,000km Warranty programme.

| Buyers guide: Subaru WRX

The RS was withdrawn in 194 and while turbo versions Legacy continued to sell overseas Australia relied on the smaller WRX. Then in 2001 we saw the 190kW Liberty B4 with twin turbochargers and some quirks which Liberty enthusiasts stepping up from an RS were disappointed to discover.

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Lag at the switch point between turbo #1 and its high-end compatriot manifested like a brief encounter with a rev limiter. That irritation apart the B4 was a fun thing to drive and came with leather trim, climate-control a/c, a full body kit an 17-inch alloys.. Early B4s were ones were manual only, then from 2002 a four-speed automatic became available.

One grumble was the lack of factory-fitted cruise control, Some cars had after-market systems fitted by dealers and other have adapted used units from the Outback. Informed owners say the wiring is in the loom and competent people can do the job easily.

Given that the vast majority of B4s have been on the road for almost 20 years and RS Turbos closer to 30, survivors in outstanding condition are understandably scarce. What isn’t explicable is why they still cost ridiculously little money.

The typical RS Turbo sedan will have travelled around 300,000 kilometres, still be on its original engine and sell for less than $6000. Budgeting a further $3000 to replace the motor with a later-model, used unit is sensible.

Less than $10,000 will also buy a B4 that needs very little doing and will, providing you don’t expect it to travel huge annual distances, deliver several years of low-cost enjoyment.


Body & chassis

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The Liberty body was well-built and rust proofed but still check carefully around front and rear windscreens, the bonnet lip, door skins and spare-wheel well for rust of hasty repairs. Off-road use makes underbody damage likely so check below the front valance and sills. The headlights may have tarnished reflectors that make them useless, so be prepared to purchase some replacements. If you choose an RS wagon, make sure the cargo door struts can support its weight. Wind noise in all versions means new door seals are needed.

Engine & transmission

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It would be unusual to find one of these that hasn’t already undergone some mechanical freshening – maybe a complete engine rebuild. Underbonnet heat shortens the life of anything sitting close to a turbocharger so budget to have hard-to-reach hoses replaced if they haven’t been already. Smoke indicates engine work is needed; blue for piston or bore wear, white denoting a failed turbo, steam a head gasket. Noisy valve lifters were common but halving Subaru’s recommended 10,000 kilometre service interval helps. Misfiring can be due to a failed coil pack and these if you buy the genuine parts aren’t cheap. The standard clutch was a weak point but fitting a better one can then break half-shafts or the diff. Listen when coasting for rumbling from the rear differential.

Suspension & brakes

Stock RS brakes were ordinary from new, those in the B4 an improvement but not up to the stresses of club-circuit use. Many will already have already gained thicker rotors, uprated calipers and pads and making these changes isn’t stupidly expensive. Thumps from the front-end point to worn struts or mountings. The power steering in these should be razor-sharp and more than 15mm of free-play at the steering wheel means the rack is worn and column joints need to be checked for wear. Misaligned front and rear wheels rapidly chew tyre edges.

Interior & electrics

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The trim used in both models was very durable and it’s possible to find an RS with minimal wear to the original cloth trim. Aussie sun crack unprotected dash-tops and even the dash structure cracks so look for damage. Check carpets, especially in the back, for dampness and that the seats in a wagon lay flat when required. Repairing faulty air-conditioning is costly so a car with a recently serviced and regassed system will be worth some extra outlay. Also check that the heater warms quickly and the front carpets aren’t damp from under-dash coolant leaks. Avoid cars with the optional sunroof as it steals headroom.

VALUE RANGE: Subaru (B4 Manual)

FAIR: $2800
GOOD: $6000

(Note: exceptional cars will demand more)

1990-2004 Subaru RS/B4 Turbo specs

NUMBER BUILT: 824,612 (all Gen One Legacy/Liberty) 902,071
(all Gen. Three Legacy/Liberty)
BODY: all steel, integrated body/chassis four-door sedan
& station wagon
ENGINE: horizontally opposed 1994cc four cylinder with overhead camshafts & fuel injection single or twin turbocharger
POWER & TORQUE: 147kW @ 6000rpm, 260Nm @ 3600rpm
(RS Turbo)
PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h – 6.9 seconds, 0-400 metres
14.9 seconds (RS sedan)
TRANSMISSION: five-speed manual
SUSPENSION: Independent with struts, coil springs and anti-roll bar (f)  Independent with struts, coil springs and anti-roll bar (r)
BRAKES: Disc (f) disc (r) power assisted, some with ABS


From Unique Cars #439, Apr 2020

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