Subaru Baja Turbo
Lake Placid, New York-
When the Subaru Baja was introduced last year, it had a 165-horsepower, 2.5-liter four, 7.3 inches of ground clearance, and, on just about every press car, a jaunty yellow paint job. When the Baja Turbo arrives this fall, it will have 210 horsepower and 8.4 inches of ground clearance. The preferred hue now seems to be black-the color of outer space, Oakland Raiders uniforms, and other serious things. It appears that in the pickup car's sophomore year, Subaru wants to be sure that people will say "Baja," not "Ba-ha-ha-ha-ha."
The Turbo looks a bit more aggressive than the original Baja, but Chevy Avalanches still might try to buy it drinks. Visual giveaways are limited to unique six-spoke alloy wheels, red-outlined Baja badges, a roof-mounted antenna, and a functional hood scoop. Even the latter is a modest catfish mouth compared with the gaping maws of the WRX and the Forester 2.5XT. The 2.5-liter is a detuned version of the WRX STi engine, running 11.6 psi of boost to the STi's 14.5. It's also tuned for a more tractable torque curve, cranking out 235 pound-feet at 3600 rpm. The standard five-speed manual transmission is the best way to take advantage of the turbo's punch; the four-speed automatic is the Boost Nazi: "Need one more gear! No boost for you!"
In corners, the increased ride height is noticeable, and dips and bumps bring more jounce than they would in an Outback wagon. But the additional ground clearance endows '04 Bajas with a butch stance, especially when viewed from behind. Given that this car is all about image, the decision to go more desert racer and less El Camino was no surprise. And it's still more nimble than a Dodge Ram 3500 Cummins dualie.
Subaru conceived the Baja to take its owners to ski slopes, big waves, and other destinations of the active-outdoor-lifestyle set. In the Baja Turbo, they can prime their adrenal glands on the way there.