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Versatile Baja combines features of car, truck

 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)
Greg Zyla King Features Syndicate

This week, we’re behind the wheel of Subaru’s all-wheel-drive 2005 Baja Turbo, a mix of car and truck with a dose of rally racer thrown in. The high-performance Baja offers the advantages of a compact four-door pickup with the driving comfort of a standard passenger car. When you press the go pedal to the floorboard, the rally racer personality kicks in.

Under the hood sits a 210-horsepower rally-bred SOHC 2.5-liter four-cylinder boxer engine. Baja Turbo engines use technology from the Impreza WRX STi high-performance model and feature strong torque at low engine speeds. A functional hood scoop provides a stream of outside air to the engine-mounted intercooler, making for even more power. We loved the Baja’s power band and had no trouble with on-ramp merging or in passing situations.

Also noteworthy is the standard five-speed manual transmission, which made driving even more fun. This transmission has a locking center differential that distributes engine power on a 50-50 front/rear percentage. However, for you non-gear-pullers, Baja Turbo offers an advanced four-speed electronic direct control automatic transmission, available as a stand-alone option or as part of the optional Leather Package.

The key to the Baja’s versatility is the Switchback interior/exterior system, which provides the ability to reconfigure the rear seating area, as well as the cargo bed, to meet a variety of cargo or people-hauling needs. The rear seatback folds down for added interior storage, while the Switchback door between the cargo bed and interior section can be lowered to extend the cargo area length.

The 41.5-inch pickup bed can handle a variety of cargo, yet by lowering the tailgate and attaching the optional bed extender, you’ll get up to 60.5 inches. Still not enough? Well, if you lower the rear seatback, you’ll end up with a maximum floor length of 93.5 inches for carrying those long items. An integrated bed liner provides durability and allows easy cleaning.

New for 2005 are a 12-volt powerpoint in the center console and a net-type rear seatback center storage pocket. Baja models (the non-turbo is called the Sport) are pre-wired for Baja lights that are offered as dealer options.

Inside, Baja seats four passengers (legroom in the rear may be a bit tight if a tall driver is behind the wheel) and is tastefully finished. All Baja models boast more than 60 standard features, including air conditioning, power moon roof, power windows, power mirrors and door locks, tilt-adjustable steering column, cruise control, a digital outside temperature gauge and remote keyless entry.

The Baja Turbo features a 100-watt stereo with six-disc in-dash CD changer and six speakers, a leather-wrapped shifter and a black leather-wrapped steering wheel designed by MOMO.

The all-wheel drive is full-time, with no switches or gear changes. Heavy-duty raised four-wheel independent suspension provides a smooth ride yet permits off-road excursions. All Baja models provide 8.4 inches of ground clearance and are equipped with 225/60 R16 Bridgestone all-season tires. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS come standard.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 104.3 inches, 3,480 pound curb weight, 2,400 pound towing capacity, 16.9-gallon fuel tank and EPA numbers of 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway on premium 91 octane fuel. The final cost, with destination, came in at $24,775.

Subaru receives a strong nine on a scale of one to 10 for building such a resourceful vehicle. What it lacks in looks it makes up for in versatility.

Likes: All-wheel drive, acceleration, functionality.

Dislikes: Outward design is nothing to cheer about.

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