Subaru Baja

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Subaru Baja
Subaru Baja Turbo
Automotive industrySubaru-Isuzu Automotive, Inc.
Parent companyFuji Heavy Industries
Production2003 - 2006
AssemblyLafayette, Indiana
Car classificationMid-size Pickup truck
Car body style4-door Pickup truck
Automobile layoutAll wheel drive
Internal combustion engine2.5L 165 hp (123 kW) Flat-4
2.5L 210 hp (157 kW) Flat-4
Transmission (mechanics)4-speed Automatic transmission
5-speed Manual transmission
Wheelbase104.3 in (2649 mm)
Length193.1 in (4905 mm)
Width70.1 in (1781 mm)
Height64.2 in (1631 mm) (2003-04)
65.1 in (1654 mm) (2005-06)
RelatedSubaru Legacy

The Subaru Baja (pronounced ba-ha) was an light-utility, All-wheel-drive, four passenger, four-door Crossover SUV manufactured from 2003-2006 by Subaru. The Baja combined the handling and passenger carrying characteristics of a car with the open-bed versatility, and to a lesser degree, load capacity of a pickup truck.

The Unibody design borrowed heavily from existing mechanicals, Automobile platform and sheetmetal of the Legacy and Outback wagons [1]. Production began on July 18, 2002[2] as a 2003 model at the Lafayette, Indiana, factory (Subaru of Indiana Automotive, Inc., aka SIA) once shared with Isuzu.

The Baja's concept recalls many similar car-based, open-bed vehicles:

  • Subaru's earlier BRAT four-wheel-drive, unibody pickup marketed in the US from 1978-1987)
  • Other small US-marketed unibody pickups: Volkswagen Caddy, Dodge Rampage/Plymouth Scamp
  • The prominent US rear-wheel drive Ford Ranchero and Chevrolet El Camino [3]
  • the two and four-door vehicles of Australia, known as Coupé utility
  • much earlier American car-based pickup truck known as Pickup truck.

The Baja is named after Mexico's Baja California peninsula — home to the Baja 1000 off-road race.


Design, marketing and sales

Subaru Baja: profile view with bed-mounted bike rack

In a package 6 in (152 mm) longer than an Outback [1], the Baja featured a four-door passenger compartment along with a 41 in (1041 mm) open bed and drop-down tailgate.

A system marketed as the "Switchback" [4] allowed the rear passenger seat to fold down and a small thru-hatch to fold inward, allowing an extended length of 75 inches (1900 mm) to the end of the open tailgate. A light in the instrument cluster signaled an "open" status for the Switchback.

Competing against the larger Chevy Avalanche and Ford Explorer Sport Trac, the Baja received a cool market reception. Limited advertising, late arrival of the turbo-charged model, heavily styled lower-body plastic cladding and a yellow-and-silver introductory color scheme may have discouraged broad appeal. James Healey, writing for USAtoday at the time of the Baja's introduction called it a "controversial fashion statement with limited utility" [3].

The Baja received the 2003 and 2004 J.D. Powers's APEAL (for Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout Study) Award — measuring owner delight with the design, content, layout and performance of their new vehicles — for "Most Appealing Compact Pickup" and the Consumer Reports 2006 highest score for reliability in the pickup truck category. [5].

Production of the Baja came to end in April 2006 just as fuel prices Oil price increases since 2003 and fuel economy became a higher priority in the marketplace.

With Subaru projecting to sell 24,000 per year [4] [6], only 30,000 were sold over four and a half years. Subaru discontinued Baja production in April 2006 See: History.

See also: article for photos of open Switchback


  • Tinted rear door windows and rear window
  • Integrated bed liner
  • Dual-illumination bed light
  • Four bed tie-down hooks
  • Bed recesses to receive standard 2x4's — to allow, for example, the owner to construct bi-level storage or install a custom bike rack.
  • Standard roof rails with cross bars for additional load capacity.
  • Two distinctive stainless steel flying buttresses [1] behind the passenger compartment, marketed as Sports Bars, provided structural reinforcement for the open bed.
  • Tow rating of 2,400 lb (1,089 kg).
  • Rear seat center position rigid hinged storage compartment with integral twin cupholders, rear-seat power supply, rear-seat center storage net, map-pockets at rear of each front seat.
  • Under-bed mounted spare tire, operable via a cable winch accessible from an access panel in the bed itself.
  • Fold-up license plate holder.
Notably, because the license plate on the Baja was tailgate-mounted, a mechanism allowed the plate to lock perpendicular to the tailgate, such that with the tailgate lowered, the plate remained visible — mimicking the tailgate and license plate arrangement on older Station wagon with biparting tailgates, e.g., the Volvo Amazon.

Conception: rally-race truck inspired

Working with technical support from Subaru Japan, a special team led by Peter Tenn [3], Subaru senior designer, penned the Baja in the United States. According to an August, 2002 interview [3] with Tenn,

the Baja's jarring look is homage to rally-race trucks (Les Camions Dakar). "It's supposed to look funky, look different. It doesn't fit any category, and we knew that going in. It's not like anything else on the road. And that's important to a lot of people".

The Baja followed closely Subaru's ST-X (Sport Truck X-perimental) concept vehicle presented at the 2000 North American International Auto Show [7], and also designed by a special Subaru America design team. In a 2001 interview [6], Peter Tenn said

Having created a new market niche with the Outback Wagon, we wanted to explore a new type of crossover niche that Subaru could fill comfortably. At the same time, we wanted to demonstrate the strength and flexibility of the Subaru Legacy/Outback platform and drivetrain.

The ST-X offered a greater complement of features than the production Baja (power rear window, under floor storage compartment, tailgate cupholders), but nevertheless set the production groundwork for an Outback-based, four-door, car-truck hybrid.


The history of the Baja rested heavily on the economics of three Japanese companies, their various levels of market success in the US, and their respective success at sharing production facilities on US soil.

Subaru and Isuzu had formed a joint venture, Subaru-Isuzu Automotive Inc., on March 17, 1987 to share production facilities at a new plant in Lafayette, Indiana. After Isuzu suffered severely dwindling sales by 2002, Subaru dissolved their joint agreement with Isuzu[8], renamed the facility Subaru of Indiana, Inc., and continued to produce the Isuzu Axiom, Isuzu Rodeo and Honda Passport through July 2004 -- in addition to their Subaru production.

From 2004 through 2006, Subaru assembled only their own products, the plant capital costs amortized over fewer vehicles. Subaru conceived the Baja and later, the Tribeca, that could potentially maximize use of their assembly lines. Despite reaching fewer than half its projected sales, the Baja required little special accommodation at the under-utilized plant — as it largely shared the Outback-Legacy Automobile platform.

Toyota and Subaru announced in March 2006 a collaborative agreement. Toyota would invest over $200 million, the plant would remain Subaru-owned and retain the SIA moniker, and Subaru would manufacture up to 100,000 Camrys per year under contract to Toyota, absorbing the unused capacity at SIA. Subaru consolidated its own production onto fewer assembly lines, partly by squeezing the Baja out of the lineup.

The first Toyota Camry rolled off the Lafayette assembly line on April 20, 2007 -- one year after the last Baja was manufactured.

Production notes

  • Subaru formally introduced the Baja in 2002 as a 2003 model.
  • Subaru "stock-piled" an inventory of 2006 models before discontinuing production in April 2006, and dealers continued to sell 2006 models as late as September 2007. The Baja was removed from the Subaru USA website on July 31, 2007.
  • Subaru marketed the Baja in the USA, Canada and Chile. The Subaru Chile website pulled the Baja model in April 2007.
  • The 2.5 Litre Turbo Boxer engine (EJ255), an option from 2004 onward, is shared with the Forester XT 2004 to present.

Variations by model year

  • 2003 The initial model featured leather seats, power driver's seat, and sunroof. A lower priced Sport model, equipped with cloth interior and manual seats followed later in the production year, also without color-keyed exterior door handles and mirrors, 4 beam headlamps, leather shift and steering wheel, front door puddle lights or an illuminated ignition key ring.
  • 2004 offered a new 2.5 L Turbo Flat-4 model with cloth or leather interior and Manual transmission or Semi-automatic transmission transmissions, a large hood scoop and color-matched exterior door handles and side mirrors. All models received increased ground clearance (8.4").
  • 2005 All models were given a raised ride height, a power outlet in the center console, rear seatback net pocket, and Turbo models with leather offered a new tonneau bed cover.
  • 2006 The Turbo received an optional package that included leather trimmed upholstery, heated seats, special alloy wheels, a hard bed cover, and the sport-mode automatic transmission. All models received an enhanced security system.

Paint colors by model year]

Subaru Baja in Baja Yellow
  • 2003:

Silverstone Metallic (monochrome)
Regatta Red over Silverstone Metallic
Baja Yellow over Silverstone Metallic
Obsidian Black Pearl over Silverstone Metallic
Mystic Blue Pearl (monochrome), Sport model only

  • 2004:

Mystic Blue Pearl (monochrome)
Monterey Silver Metallic (medium gray) over Silverstone
Obsidian Black Pearl over Silverstone
Obsidian Black Pearl over Onyx Pearl
Regatta Red Pearl over Silverstone
SilverStone Metallic (monochrome)
White Frost pearl over Silverstone
Baja Yellow over Silverstone metallic

  • 2005:

Atlantic Blue Pearl (monochrome)
Regal Blue Pearl (monochrome)
Monterey Silver Metallic (medium gray) over Silverstone metallic
Obsidian Black Pearl over Silverstone metallic
Obsidian Black Pearl over Onyx Pearl
Regatta Red Pearl over Silverstone
Silverstone metallic (monochrome)
Satin White Pearl over Silverstone
Baja Yellow over Silverstone metallic
Garnet Red Pearl

  • 2006: (all monochrome)

Atlantic Blue Pearl
Brilliant Silver Metallic
Obsidian Black Pearl

See also

  • Coupé utility


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