*** Banned ***
Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: Connecticut, USA
02 WRX Sedan
Forbes' Baja Review
A thumbs-down review from http://www.forbes.com/2003/02/03/cx_...est_print.html
, and the body cladding isn't mentioned even once.
nice fit and finish.
Limited cargo room,
2003 Subaru Baja
We've been getting hate mail for awhile now.
Readers have slammed us for saying critical things about the Hyundai Tiburon, the Suzuki Aerio SX, and, less specifically, about various American-, Asian- and German-made cars. In other words, we've had at least one not entirely glowing remark about every car we've ever driven. And you know what, when we say disparaging things about readers' cars, you'd think we'd told them their mothers were shallower than the dupes on Joe Millionaire.
So here's fair warning: We're about to cut into another car. Gentlemen, fire up your rotten eggs and get ready to throw them at yours truly.
Mind you, it's not that we don't want to like the latest toy from Subaru, called the Baja (and, by the way, looking for all the world like a Subaru of yore called the Brat). That's because the Baja is fun. It handles like an Outback Wagon, with a sporty if slightly soft suspension, a willing 2.5-liter engine (same as the Outback's), and a tractable if hardly inspired five-speed manual floor shifter. And, naturally, it has all-wheel drive, so it'll go in the snow or the muck without complaint.
What it will not do is supplant the utility of even the shortest-bed pickup truck. Yes, yes, it has a backseat, so it has some of the usefulness of a car, like many four- and five-seat extra-cab pickups. But its 3.5-foot bed is dinky. You can extend that to 5 feet via a flip-down bed extender (a C-shaped aluminum cage that rotates 180 degrees on a pair of pins on either side of the bed) and use the dropped tailgate area to create extra cargo room. The extender creates its own limitations, however, which I'll enumerate below.
Not that it's all bad news: Based on the Outback platform, the $23,995 Baja will run circles around any other pickup on the market, with a fully independent suspension and reasonably quick steering. And the cockpit is nicely appointed, trimmed in plastics and switches that seem a grade above what you'll get in even more expensive four-seat trucks; they're at least as rich as the surface treatments of car-platform SUVs in the category, such as the Honda CR-V.
But how do we get beyond a bed so small only Mini Me could fit inside? Well, Subaru has an out (sort of): a roughly 1-foot-by-3-foot pass-through from the bed to the cabin that allows--when combined with the bed extender--for loads up to 6.5 feet long.
All right. And how well does this contraption work? Stay tuned.
From The Driver's Seat
Not your typical truck cockpit.
As we said earlier, the Baja interior is pretty darn sharp, with silver leather on the wheel and shifter; metallic-looking trim; lovely, highly legible blue gauges; and a fairly buttoned-down, sporty bearing. It may look like a beach-storming dune buggy on the outside, but inside it fits the Subaru buyer to a T. (FYI: The typical Subaru purchaser is a scruffy, college-town denizen who's well set, but likes the sensible-shoes, if slightly quirky, image of the alternative Japanese brand).
As slick as a Honda? Nah, but Subaru marches to its own drummer, which requires a bit of sass. Check out the interior of the WRX and you won't think it's a rip-off of a BMW; it's not meant to be.
Be that as it may, the Baja isn't a WRX. It is sporty, though, with decent grip from its 60-series tires, and no notable shudder or shake from the chassis over bumps, despite missing most of its derriere (and the attendant structural soundness one assumes that provides). Naturally, Subaru made sure to add reinforcements throughout the chassis, so any on- or off-road driving we did felt sure-footed and agile. Not hoot-at-the-top-of-your-lungs thrills, but grin-wide enjoyable for certain.
Grip is good; steering, fairly sharp.
It's a bummer about the meek motor, though. We wish there was a bit more snort from the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (165 horsepower/166 foot-pounds of torque), which doesn't hit horsepower or torque peaks until well up in the rev band. That means a lot of rowing of the five-speed transmission if you want to merge onto the freeway or pass a pokier vehicle. Yep, "row" is the right verb--this shift gate is the one thing that reminds us too much of other trucks, with extremely long throws and a bit of vagueness, just to add some extra labor. This is not the WRX tranny by a long shot.
OK, and that acclaimed crossover utility?
Uh, well, before we get to that, it seems appropriate to mention other vehicles with shortened beds that have seating for five: General Motors' Chevy Avalanche and Cadillac Escalade EXT. Both of these are huge compared to the Subaru Baja, but each achieves the compromise between truck and car a bit more successfully, since the entire back wall of the cockpit folds away into the floor and disappears. This way, you can easily throw a refrigerator or your skis back there, and the long load fits snugly in the bed and can extend into the cabin. Also, a semi-hard cover seals tight over the bed itself, so the climate of the cabin isn't violated by frigid or boiling air from outside.
The back of the rear seat folds completely flat, melding with the
pass-through door surface.
As Subaru has argued, with the bed extender in, the Baja can also accommodate sporty gear, like snowboards or fishing poles; if you find it necessary to pop open the hatch at the rear of the cockpit and slide through some skis, however, the weather will come with them. We know because we tried this. Why? Well, it's our job. And, also, skis can easily slide out through the bed extender's grate-like railings. So we popped them into the cab of the Baja instead. Too bad this meant we had to crank the heat to compensate for the massive loss of cabin warmth--and turn the radio volume way up as well, to overcome the constant wind drone.
The extender only works well with box-shaped items.
Oh, sure, Subaru has made a special rack for skis that allows them to be mounted on the roof, but we thought of something even easier: Buy an Outback Wagon instead--since it lists for five grand less, at $18,795--and toss your skis in back. Or throw your mountain bike inside. Heck, you could even put some antique chairs back there and not worry about a sudden rain shower. And if you did that, you might only have to fold down half of the 60/40 split backseat, leaving room for a third passenger.
Sorry, can't do that with the Baja; in order to use the pass-through, you have to fold the entire bench forward.
Should You Buy This Car?
Dude, it's great if you surf!
We can think of far too many reasons why you shouldn't get a Baja. If you want quirky, try the Honda Element, which is actually more fun to drive, despite its boxy appearance. If you want utility, try the Element as well--or just get an Outback Wagon or the aforementioned CR-V, which offers much better interior room than the Baja. And if you want a truck, well, kids, there are so many better choices out there, we can't even count that high.
Trucks are trucks for a reason: They have a big bed that can take abuse and hold lots of stuff. Sure, their ride is far less refined than that of the Baja, but that's because they are meant to carry heavy things. Load 'em down and--bingo!--they ride quite well.
Trucks can also easily do duty as sporting-goods haulers, happily taking on bikes, camping gear and canoes, all stuff that will only fit in a Baja if you buy a whole bunch of accessories--or if you live in Southern California, where you can drive around all day long with the pass-through open (but you still can't get a canoe back there).
As if that's not enough insult, the original Brat had a nearly 5-foot bed, so it could legitimately carry bicycles and water skis and other items that the Baja won't easily swallow without a rack. And that's unfortunate, because we wanted to like the Baja, really; it's just not clever enough to make sense for your hard-earned $24,000.