Pickups that blur the line between car and truck

A Vehicle Is Born on the Baja Peninsula- the Subaru Baja

You can see the rise of hill-top dwellings as you look south from San Diego. You cross the border, hook right, go up a hill, and hook left to enter the “Coastal Route-1.” Route-1 was built by America to help thwart any potential Japanese coastal invasion in WWII. Route-1 was designed to send emergency supplies as far away as Cabo San Lucas in the 1940s, and it hasn’t been paved since. In fact, once you pass Ensenada, much of Route-1 is now missing, and you have to follow nearly impassable tracks through a barren desert wilderness dotted by ranches and fishing villages.

Anyone who has been there or who was brave enough to race through this terrain in the annual Baja 1000 knows well enough that what you’re driving needs to be tough, extremely off-road capable, easy to fix, easy to pull out of holes in the earth, and highly versatile with respect to the cargo and people it can carry.

The original Subaru Baja came with custom amenities to cope with the rigors of Baja off-road life on “the peninsula.” Early models enjoyed:

  • Off-road lighting
  • Lifted 7.3″
  • Expandable rear cargo-beds
  • Movable license plate frames (after all, this is Baja)
  • Copious storage and map pockets
  • Leather seating
  • All-Wheel-Drive
  • A 2.5L 165HP Engine
  • A 2.5L Turbo with 210HP
  • A 5-speed manual or Auto transmission
  • A rear-seat pass through to the cargo bed
  • Flip-up cargo bed seating (after all, this is Baja)

When you are conquering the endless stretches of dirt-packed horizons with only cattle crossings as your landmarks, it makes a lot of sense that exterior seating is available. After all, you might have to lend a helping hand to a stranded rancher and an injured calf. The back of the Subaru Baja was designed especially for this. Unfortunately, a recovery vehicle for stranded Caballero’s couldn’t compete with the full-size SUV revolution. So the formidable and adventurous Baja has been waiting for its moment, south of the border. To the legions of Subaru Baja fans out there, the Baja SUVs time has finally come.

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The Original: Ford Ranchero

Legendary as the El Camino may remain to this day, it wasn’t the first car-based pickup that came to market. Ford beat Chevy to the punch with the Ranchero. Dearborn’s take on the format first emerged in 1957 and lasted through ’79, seeing over half a million made along the way. Versions of the Fairlane and Falcon wore the Ranchero name as well in markets around the world, and it was even marketed under the Meteor brand in Canada.

Infotainment and Connectivity

Hyundai ensures its pickup truck is outfitted with a contemporary infotainment system in the form of a standard 8.0-inch or an available 10.3-inch touchscreen. However, we think the company’s decision to omit any physical controls is a misstep. Along with wireless device charging, the Santa Cruz offers wireless pairing for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Those who want an upgraded stereo can opt for the eight-speaker Bose sound system. With Hyundai’s Blue Link services, which are provided free of charge for three years, users can start the truck, lock and unlock doors, and more remotely via the Internet, myriad apps, and even Amazon Alexa.

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The bed is 4 feet long – only a foot and a half less than the shortest bed on a full-size Ford F-150 crew cab. It’s 3.5 feet across at the wheel wells, and 4.5 feet across above them (in metric, that’s 1,219 mm long; 1,092 mm wide; and 1,143 mm above the wheel wells). You can hook the tailgate cables higher up, putting the partially-opened gate in line with the tops of the wells. That lets you slide in wider items, such as a sheet of plywood.

Similar to the Honda Ridgeline, there’s a trunk under the cargo bed. It has drain plugs, for washing it out or after filling it with ice for a cooler. Up top, there’s a roll-up, hard-plastic tonneau cover. Once you unroll it to the end of the box, you secure it by turning a knob under it. Close the tailgate, lock the truck up, and everything inside the bed and its hidden trunk is secure. The tonneau is standard, eliminating the need to shop the aftermarket to see what’ll work.

The Euro: Skoda Felicia

Though far less common, the Europeans have made their own fair share of pickup cars – especially in the former Soviet Bloc. Volkswagen’s Czech subsidiary Skoda made two pickup versions of the Polo/Fiesta-sized Felicia hatchback that preceded the Fabia – including the pictured Felicia Pickup and the adaptable Felicia Fun. Renault’s Romanian budget brand Dacia did a pickup version of the Logan that’s also been offered as a sedan, wagon, and panel van. Unfortunately these show even less promise of ever being offered in North America than its Australian or South American counterparts.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Does Subaru make a truck?

Yes, though not anymore. Subaru, over time, released two trucks in the North American market: the BRAT and the Baja. The BRAT came about in 1978 as a plucky open-bed variant of the Leone (a model that later evolved to become the iconic Impreza) and lasted on sale until 1994. Defining features like bed-mounted seats and a boxy body make the BRAT an instantly recognizable classic among Subaru enthusiasts.

Meanwhile, the Baja was a BRAT successor based on the Outback wagon that came about in 2003. Following a similar formula, the Baja lasted until 2006 with variants like a turbocharged model – and an iconic yellow paint scheme. As well, in Japan, Subaru makes small “Kei” work trucks like the Sambar, though they never sold them here in America.

Why was the Subaru Baja discontinued?

Relative to full-size pickups, the Subaru Baja was small and expensive. Research showed that the original Subaru Baja didn’t cater enough to the luxury expectation of brand loyalists. The good news is, Subaru, the #1 brand for Brand Trust, is about to solve all those old problems.

Is Subaru bringing the Baja back?

As of yet, we do not know since Subaru has not released any information on the New Baja. Stay Tuned!

Is the Subaru Baja a truck?

Yes. In terms of utility, the Subaru Baja will be spoken of as a pickup truck. Officially, it will not cross the federal weight criteria of 7,000lbs to be classified by the DOT as a truck. But that’s great news. What it saves in weight, it makes up in projected tow capacity. The new Subaru Baja is expected to haul up to 5000lbs.

Towing and Payload Capacity

Although the unibody Santa Cruz isn’t able to tow as much as its body-on-frame rivals such as the Jeep Gladiator and Toyota Tacoma, it can pull just as much as the only other unibody in this class, the Ridgeline. Both trucks are capped at a 5000-pound towing capacity, but that’s with the Hyundai’s more powerful turbocharged engine. The standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder is only rated to tug up to 3500 pounds.

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A forgotten favorite

If you are a fan of these truck-bed toting cars, you know of the forgotten fan-favorite the Dodge Rampage. Even the most enthusiastic Dodge fans often forget about the Rampage, but collectors know this vehicle is a true gem. It wasn’t particularly powerful like you might expect from the brand’s true muscle cars, but its style more than made up for its lack of power. Add on the practicality of a truck bed, and the Dodge Rampage was actually a pretty neat vehicle.

Arrington 1984 Dodge Rampage 2019 SEMA | Copeland
Arrington 1984 Dodge Rampage 2019 SEMA | Copeland Facebook

RELATED: Arrington Performance Mid-Engine Dodge Rampage

Car-based trucks are far from the most popular option on the market, and even though there are plenty of them that sit in antique car collections, we don’t expect to see any new ones being put into production.

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