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The 2006 Subaru Baja is an interesting car-and-pickup blend that comes up a bit short in outright functionality.
Comfortable ride, stable handling, turbo model's peppy performance, convenience of an open bed, unlikely to be lost in a parking lot.
Midgate's glass isn't removable, limited towing and hauling capability, tight rear seat, no side airbags.
Available Baja Models
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There are no changes to the 2006 Subaru Baja.
The Subaru Baja is, generally speaking, a car-based crew-cab pickup truck. Based on the 2000-2004 Subaru Outback, it shares the same 104.3-inch wheelbase, but is 6 inches longer in rear overhang. The Baja has seating accommodations for four full-size adults, with rear-seat legroom noticeably tighter than in the Outback. But instead of a conventional trunk or the glassed-in storage box of a wagon, the Baja substitutes the cargo box of a pickup truck. Subaru figures that the Baja appeals to those wanting utility without the harsh ride and poor fuel economy that often come with a truck-based vehicle.
Should you think that the Baja is just a remake of the El Camino, Subaru has added some features that make the cargo box even more useful. Most importantly, the Baja's cargo bed can be extended by using the "Switchback" feature, similar to the Midgate design found on the Avalanche. The front of the bed along with the rear seat back fold forward into the rear seating area, expanding the usable length of the bed from 41.5 to 60 inches. The rear glass is not removable, however, which limits your hauling options. Although the Baja is relatively enjoyable to drive thanks to its responsive suspension and steering, acceleration is sluggish with the base 165-horsepower, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine. Subaru addressed that issue last year by adding a turbocharged version of that engine, good for 210 hp. The Baja Turbo still isn't a performance car any more than it's suited for serious towing and hauling, but it is a lot peppier in traffic.
Even with the power increase, it's our opinion that the Subaru Baja is more of an exercise in style and a statement about your lifestyle than a conveyance rooted in function. It's for those who frequent Home Depot as a hobby, picking up a new ficus and trellis instead of drywall and furniture. It's great at transporting bulky sports equipment, such as a surfboard or skis, but not necessarily great for moms picking up kids and the groceries during a rainstorm. The 2006 Subaru Baja has limited appeal, but for those who need about half the open-bed cargo utility of a truck as well as a vehicle that rides like a car, the Baja is a reasonable choice.
The Subaru Baja is a four-door utility vehicle available in two trims -- Baja Sport and Baja Turbo. The Baja Sport starts you out with 16-inch alloy wheels; foglights; air conditioning; a CD player; cruise control; a moonroof; power windows, locks and mirrors; and keyless entry. Step up to the Baja Turbo and you get a more powerful turbocharged engine along with an upgraded six-speaker audio system with an in-dash CD changer. Among the available options are a tubular bed extender, a bed-mounted bike rack, roof-mounted rally lights and a sunroof. Turbo models are eligible for a Leather Package that provides leather upholstery, heated front seats and a hard bed cover.
The Baja Sport is equipped with a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that delivers 165 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque. The Baja Turbo boasts a turbocharged version that produces 210 hp and 235 lb-ft of twist. A five-speed manual transmission is standard; a four-speed automatic is optional. Automatic-equipped Baja Turbo models also get an automanual gate that allows for manual shifting when the driver desires. All Subaru vehicles sold in the United States come with standard all-wheel drive, and the Baja is no exception. This Subaru can carry a maximum payload of 1,050 pounds, and has a 2,400-pound towing capacity. This is about half of what a typical compact pickup can pull, but it's enough to easily accommodate a personal watercraft or a couple of motorcycles.
The Subaru Baja comes standard with four-wheel antilock disc brakes and pre-tensioners and load limiters for the front seatbelts. Side airbags are not available. Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has crash tested the Baja.
The Baja's cargo box is smaller than the beds of traditional compact pickups, but this car-based pickup does offer a handsome interior that scores high marks for style, comfort and ergonomics. Utility is maximized via the Switchback feature; to use, flip up the bottom cushion of the rear seat, fold the rear seatback forward and fold the trapdoor flat into the rear seat. The rear window is fixed, however, and that puts limits on the shape and height of items that can fit. An optional tailgate extender is available that increases cargo bed length to 75 inches.
Acceleration can be a bit sluggish in Bajas with the base engine, so those looking for a little excitement would be advised to check out the Baja Turbo model, which has ample power for just about any situation. The 2006 Subaru Baja has a fully independent suspension and rides much more like a car than a truck. It has a comfortable ride around town and never feels unstable when going around corners. Heavy-duty suspension components and 8.2 inches of ground clearance allow it to tackle rutted dirt roads and sandy washes without a problem, but don't expect to do any serious boulder bashing.
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