2003-2005 Subaru Baja

Monte Doran
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Created from the Subaru Outback wagon, the Baja is the spiritual descendent of such automotive oddities as the Chevrolet El Camino, the Ford Ranchero, and Subaru's own Brat.

Like them, this sort-of pickup uses passenger-car mechanicals, in this case the Outback's four-wheel-drive systems, manual and automatic transmissions, and 2.5-liter boxer four. For now, the 3.0-liter six is still reserved for the priciest Outbacks.

The Baja also uses the Outback's four-wheel independent suspension, which lends the Baja a composed, confident road demeanor, the first in a pickup. Yet the light-duty suspension also limits the Baja's towing capacity to 2400 pounds.

The Baja and the Outback part ways behind the C-pillar, where the cargo area is replaced with a stubby pickup bed. The Baja's additional six inches of rear overhang help achieve a bed length of 41.5 inches. Lowering the Baja's Switchback partition adds another seventeen inches.

0210 Subaru Baja 01

But don't pack your active-lifestyle gear just yet. Like the Chevrolet Avalanche's, the Baja's pass-through extends the load floor at the expense of the rear seats. Unlike the Avalanche's, the Baja's rear window is fixed, and the Switchback orifice is slightly narrower than the bed. The Baja easily swallows a surfboard but gags on a Zodiak inflatable. And for now, a weather-tight tonneau cover is not offered.

We'd say the Baja's advantage over the Outback in utility is marginal at best. Subaru is betting that for about the same money, 20,000 people will choose the Baja's open cargo hold over the Outback's enclosed one. But, as the extinct El Camino, Ranchero, and Brat attest, pickups carved from passenger cars are usually too compromised to stick around for long.

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