New & Used Subaru Baja: In Depth
2003 Subaru BajaEnlarge Photo
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The Subaru Baja, sold from 2003 through 2006, was the quirky Japanese maker's attempt to sell a type of vehicle it hadn't offered since its Brat 20 years earlier: a quasi-pickup truck, or at least a passenger vehicle with a pickup bed. The company marketed it as a "multiple choice vehicle," and elements of its styling paid homage to the tough trucks that compete in the Baja off-road race held annually on that Mexican peninsula.
In effect, the Baja was a Subaru Outback wagon with the roof over the rear cargo bay removed and a pickup bed substituted. It was roughly 6 inches longer than the 2000-2004 Outback, with which it shared most of its body panels forward of the pickup bed. To make its 41-inch-long pickup bed more useful, a "Switchback" panel in the back of the cab could pivot forward to sit on the back of the folded rear seat, allowing longer items to protrude from the bed into the cabin.
The Baja also offered a cargo cage that pivoted back to sit on the dropped tailgate, further extending the length of what was, in reality, a pickup bed little longer than the load bay of an Outback. Even with both ends extended, the bed length was little more than 6 feet--too short for that legendary 4'x8' plywood sheet, though eminently usable for sports gear, luggage, gardening supplies, and the like.
In trying to reinvent the pickup this way, Subaru echoed several elements of the much larger Chevrolet Avalanche of the same period. This was another four-door pickup (full-size, in this case) with a short bed and cargo space that could be extended into the cab. Both vehicles even had "flying buttress" braces from the rear corners of the roof into the pickup bed to reinforce their body structures.
When it launched in 2003, the Baja was fitted with a 165-horsepower 2.5-liter flat-four engine and the choice of a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic transmission. An optional 210-hp turbocharged version of the same engine was also available for buyers who wanted more power.
While owners who bought the Baja loved it, the model never lived up to Subaru's expectations for it. Only 30,000 Bajas were sold over four model years, against expectations of up to 24,000 a year. A handful of minor updates were made each year, and the Baja lasted two years longer than the Outback wagon it was derived from--which was redesigned for 2005. Like the Subaru Brat before it, the Baja may one day become an arcane collector's item. Today, most Bajas are likely still carrying owners and their goods around just as they did when new.