I recently had the chance to drive a Subaru Baja Turbo, which was a rather unusual experience. I say this because the Baja Turbo is really a very strange vehicle: it’s a Subaru, with Subaru sizing, and Subaru styling, and typical Subaru wagon ground clearance … but then also it’s a pickup truck. Oh, and it’s turbocharged with a manual transmission. You try to explain this thing.
Of course, you can’t explain this thing, because truthfully no one can. The basic situation is this: the Baja was offered from 2003 to 2006, and the thinking was that it would be a pickup version of the Subaru Outback. Basically an Outback with pickup practicality for the zillions of people who needed that. Of course, nobody actually needed that, so the Baja had a horribly difficult time finding any sort of buyers.
Interestingly, Subaru made a performance version of this vehicle: that would be the Baja Turbo, which was sold from 2004 to 2006 with a 210-horsepower turbocharged flat-four that touted a relatively meaty 235 lb-ft of torque. Shockingly, this was also offered with a manual transmission, meaning you could get a high-performance Subaru wagon pickup … if you wanted.
Manual Baja Turbo models are rare, though — admittedly, any Baja is rare, though these are the rarest — but that’s what I wanted to drive, if I was ever going to review one. So I tracked one down and I drove the Baja Turbo manual.
Here’s what I discovered: it’s a pretty neat — and pretty weird — vehicle. One weird aspect is that the bed is really short, on account of the fact that this is basically built on the same platform as the Subaru Outback, so it can’t be huge like a normal pickup. The result of this is that you can’t get all that much in the bed if you’re looking to use your Baja Turbo to transport stuff — and the result of this is that Subaru provided a fold-down bed extender that enlarges the size of the bed so you can cruise around with your bed down and a larger size bed. The problem, though, is that your license plate will then be obscured — so Subaru has the license plate mounted on a little folding piece that can tilt out and keep it on display.
The entire Baja is full of unusual solutions like this, including the little pass-through from the passenger compartment to the bed — but I think I was most impressed with the car’s driving experience. Really: I didn’t plan to enjoy it, but it was a surprisingly huge amount of fun.
The basic gist is that the Baja Turbo is essentially an Outback with a longer rear end and few other changes, and it really behaves like it. The Outback from this era was pretty sporty, and that meant the Baja Turbo is pretty sporty, too. I had a tough time believing this was only 210 hp. It feels quicker, and it’s surprisingly fun to go through the gears, to downshift, to accelerate hard, all of which it can do with ease. This is certainly among the more thrilling pickup trucks I’ve ever driven.
Steering and handling, too, is pretty good — hailing from the days before excessive over assistance, I’m impressed with the quality of the steering feel, especially for a pickup. Admittedly, this thing is no sports car, but it’s more exciting than I was expecting — and I really did enjoy driving, accelerating, and even turning in the Baja Turbo.
If I was to name some demerits, I’d have two: one is that it’s not really all that practical, and not really any more practical than a regular Outback XT from this era due to the small bed and the fact that you can’t realistically stick any large objects through the bed and into the passenger compartment, limiting its carrying capabilities. The other drawback is that the interior is tremendously dull. For such a weird car, it’s clear Subaru spent all the money weird-ifying the back, and then didn’t do a single thing to change the interior from the Outback.
Still, I enjoyed the Baja Turbo, and I love the fact that it exists — and I wish it wasn’t so rare, though I suppose that’s one of the coolest things about it. As a lover of weird cars, I’m certainly glad Subaru made it, even if only for a short time — and I’m thrilled that it has the "fun" to back up the "weird." Find a Subaru Baja for sale