The Subaru Baja was ahead of its time, and we all owe it an apology for not showing it more respect. There’s no beating around the bush on this one. As the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz gets praised for mixing a compact SUV and a pickup truck, let’s not forget to give the Subaru Baja a big shoutout.
The market taste is shifting toward efficiency and utility. There are few things more practical than a small vehicle with a truck bed.
The Subaru Baja and Subaru Brat were ahead of their time
Subaru doesn’t currently have anything in its lineup with a bed. This is a damn shame as we remember the versatility and coolness of the Subaru Baja. As MotorTrend points out, even before the Subaru Baja, we had the Subaru Brat. Subaru has been trying to tell us for a while now that the ute is the way, and we refused to listen.
Although the Brat isn’t something, most of us think about often, we see its progeny out in the world in the form of the Baja. Even still, both of those utes stand on the shoulders of the El Camino, Ranchero, and Dodge Rampage.
As interest in utility vehicles and overlanding reach an all-time high, automakers are moving toward a ute-friendly world without the Baja.
Is the Subaru Baja a good car?
The Baja was very much the spiritual successor to the Subaru Brat. Although, there are some key differences between the two utes.
The Brat had some wacky chairs in the bed that forced drivers to see their ute as a full-blown adventure mobile. The Baja never got these chairs, but the plus side was that now the Baja could be a real junk hauler if need be.
The other point of origin for the Subaru Baja was the Outback. According to MotorTrend, Subaru essentially stretched the Outback by 6 inches, chopped a chunk of the roof off, and slapped on a bed. The Brat laid the groundwork, and the Outback was the platform.
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The Baja hit the streets in 2003 with a bang. Subaru’s 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder powered this little all-wheel-drive ute.
This 2.5-liter engine made 165 hp and 166 lb-ft of torque. If you’re wondering, it did have a five-speed manual transmission along with a four-speed automatic option.
In 2004 the even cooler Baja turbo was released into the market. This is when the Baja really starts to shine. The turbocharger bumps the Baja’s horsepower up to a zippy 210 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque. Subaru was even cool enough to chop a real hood scoop into the Baja’s hood.
Why did the Baja get discontinued?
The Baja had a truly innovative feature called the “switchback.” This was essentially a way to pass through the cab and the truck bed. Although this was a fun and quirky feature, it also allowed people to haul items up to 7.5-feet long with the bed extender.
Despite thoughtful attempts to make the Baja more utilitarian, the model struggled to interest buyers. MotorTrend mentions that the Subaru Baja only ever sold around 30,000 units. Subaru would end up only offering its coolest model from 2003-2006.
Even though 2003-2006 isn’t that long ago, people’s tastes were pretty different. Given the current car market, I think it’s safe to say that Subaru Baja was a killer idea that just happened a few years too early.
We didn’t show the Baja the respect and admiration it deserved, and we lost it. Hopefully sees this rise in utility love from car buyers and considers forgiving the world for our lack of love for the ute. We are sorry, Subaru Baja. You deserved better.