There are no more really trashy cars. Even the nastiest -“ Daewoo’s slow and dynamically crap Matiz springs to mind -“ is an automotive Dante compared to the dogs of early last decade. Lada Samara or FSM NIKI 650 anyone? The Daewoo even has great Italian design up its sleeve.

Conversely, in this era of the vulgar $1million Maybach, how good can they become? A Porsche 911 Turbo transports you like the starship Enterprise in warp, while a Rolls Royce Phantom is a minor mansion on the move.

So I’m here to tell you that, from $30,990, the Liberty 2.0 is one of the best cars in the world for the bucks. And that’s no rubbish either.

Subaru does drone on about its symmetrical all-wheel drive, but the truth is, it works. Brilliantly too. The Liberty 2.0 wagon test car tracked up and down mountainous ribbons of road both in the wet as well as dry with the skill and poise of a virtuoso music conductor waving his thing around. I couldn’t faze, fuss, flip or freak it out. Audi’s Quattro is similar, but the cheapest (A4 1.8T) starts at $61,700.

Throw in fluid and informative (if a little dull at dead-on) steering, a most absorbent ride and brakes that pull up promptly and precisely, and that Subaru’s dynamic prowess speaks for itself. Its willing and sweet 101kW 2.0-litre twin-cam engine is married to a slick-shifting five-speed manual or four-speed auto gearbox. Sure, some might think that the Liberty’s performance is adequate rather than thrilling. Yet it revved easily, provided plenty of mid-range and overtaking punch when pedalled to the metal, and returned very impressive petrol consumption figures. Even with five aboard.

Smart engineering is the reason. For this fifth-generation Liberty launched a year ago, Subaru lightened the car by around 60kg yet increased its size and body strength -“ the latter by 10 percent.

Want more oomph? Then for four grand more there’s the 2.5, with a gutsier four-cylinder engine. But it uses more fuel, feels gruffer and the gearbox isn’t as nice to operate. Plus, at 12 percent extra, the 2.5 edges the Liberty’s price too close to the fine Honda Accord Euro, eroding the Subaru’s value.

Here’s another thing. Put a Lexus badge inside the lush Liberty’s interior and you’d be convinced. Excellent ergonomic and aesthetic design is shrouded in fine-feeling plastic, rubber and metal that disgraces the current BMW 5 Series cabin presentation.

And it gets better. Like comfortable and supportive seats, acres of room for tall adults up front, a quality feel to the switches and controls and a superb driver’s environment featuring excellent lighting and instrumentation that’s crisper than Quentin.

Equipment levels are also egalitarian in this Liberty: anti-lock brakes, dual front airbags, air-conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry, power windows, a cracking CD player and alloy wheels are included.

And of course there’s the wagon’s load space -“ it’s the perfect urban carryall, with a cavernous capacity for Ikea flat-pack furniture, Labradors and lustful weekends away. The sedan’s boot is big too.

Okay, before you think I’m on Subaru’s payroll, it ain’t perfect in there: rear seat legroom is too tight for taller folk and the sedan’s rear seat doesn’t split-fold.

Styling is where the Liberty’s dream run ends for some. Handsome, smart and functional, it’s undoubtedly signature Subaru stylistically. But it’s hardly sex-on-wheels, and you’re unlikely to turn heads as you revel inside one. On this count the classy visage of the Accord Euro and suave sportiness of Mazda’s sweet (though slightly raw) 6 has it beat.

Overall, however, the Liberty 2.0 offers an unrivalled combination of quality and skills for the money. It’s built like a Lexus, engineered like an Audi, affordable as, well, a Ford and drives almost like a BMW. For the bucks it’s one of the world’s best right now.

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