Used 2003 Subaru Baja Review

An interesting car-and-pickup blend that comes up a bit short in outright functionality.




what's new

The Baja is all new for 2003. It's similar to the Subaru Outback, but it has an open cargo bed. Certainly a niche vehicle, it should appeal to people with active lifestyles, especially those who ski or surf.

vehicle overview

In automotive-speak, the term crossover has tended to apply primarily to vehicles that blend positive SUV attributes with passenger-car handling and comfort. It makes sense that manufacturers would try to find a new way of packaging SUV-style functionality; the Ford Explorer was, after all, the third best-selling vehicle last year. But the two top-selling vehicles in the nation last year were pickups (the Ford F-Series and the Chevy Silverado, numbers 1 and 2, respectively), which begs the question: Are pickups next in line to be bitten by the crossover bug? Those with their ear to the ground know that vehicles such as the Chevy Avalanche (which mates a Suburban's passenger room with a covered, expandable pickup bed) have already illustrated that the answer to this question is yes. Now Subaru gives us its spry Baja, which, the company claims, blends pickup-truck ruggedness with the responsive handling and ride comfort of a passenger car.

Subaru has covered similar territory before. The manufacturer touts its Outback wagon as the first sport-utility wagon, and indeed, the vehicle — part SUV and part passenger car — played a part in initiating the current crossover trend.

The Baja is based on the Legacy platform. The front fascia is strikingly similar to the Outback's; both are dominated by a prominent bumper with integrated foglights and feature Subaru-style angled headlamps. The two vehicles also share large foldable body-color mirrors, pumped-up front fenders and pervasive lower-body cladding. The Baja does, however, feature exclusive Silver Stone-hued cladding, and a Silver Stone monochromatic model with matching body and bumper color is available.

Lead an outdoorsy, go-anywhere, do-anything sort of lifestyle? If you do, you'll find that the Baja was designed with your needs in mind. Its pickup bed is expandable (it may be lengthened to nearly 7.5 feet); Subaru's "Switchback" panel allows for the reconfiguration of the rear seating area and cargo bed, granting a high level of versatility in the transportation of both people and cargo. An integrated bed liner minimizes wear and tear and simplifies cleaning; bed sport bars, a bed light and four tie-down hooks serve to enhance functionality further. Roof rails and crossbars are standard, and attachments for skis, kayaks and snowboards will be available.

Since it's a crossover, the Baja's free-spirited, adventurous nature doesn't compromise comfort, according to Subaru. The Baja easily seats four, and a bevy of standard features is offered, including a keyless entry system; perforated leather-trimmed upholstery; power windows, mirrors and door locks; and a six-way power driver seat.

The Baja is powered by a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine (the same as is found in the Outback) that generates 165 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque; Subaru boasts that the engine offers a winning blend of performance and fuel efficiency. Two types of Subaru All-Wheel-Drive technology are offered. The standard five-speed manual tranny comes equipped with Continuous All-Wheel Drive, which utilizes a viscous coupling center differential. The four-speed automatic tranny features Active All-Wheel Drive, which uses an electronically managed variable transfer clutch.

Versatility is a top priority for many consumers, and the Baja seems to be designed to satisfy that requirement easily. So, for all you kayakers/snowboarders/camping enthusiasts: This one could be for you.

edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.