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Why I bought a Subaru Baja

Posted by Bill Griffith  March 29, 2010 11:32 AM

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(All photos: Subaru)

Subaru tried reviving the classic El Camino with the 2003 Baja. It didn't last long.

If you’re like me, buying a car is a stressful experience.

My rule of thumb in automotive ownership is that every car in the driveway (two at present) should be in good enough shape to take a lengthy trip at any time. My idea of a lengthy trip would be driving to South Carolina or Florida.

Last spring, I bought a new vehicle and thought I was finished with the car-buying experience for a while. After all, I’m supposed to be an “expert.” It turned out that I wasn’t quite so smart.

At the time, my 1997 supercharged Camry sedan was getting a bit long in the tooth. The day I wasn’t so sure I’d be comfortable packing a bag and driving it to Florida on short notice was the day I started “looking.”

For several years, I’d regretted not buying a Subaru Baja during its short lifespan (2003-2006). The Baja was basically an Outback with a small pickup bed in back instead of a station wagon-type cargo area. I started looking at used Bajas without much success. The two I probably would have purchased already had “sold” stickers on them. The half dozen others I looked at and test drove were either overpriced or not up to my standards.

That meant it was time to go to Plan B, especially since my ideal vehicle doesn’t exist on the U.S. market. That would be a compact pickup truck with a diesel engine and manual transmission.

I needed a pickup truck because the only way to dispose of yard debris in our community is to lug it to the compost dump or pay for a landscaping service.

My other need was a big enough back seat for my grandson’s car seat. So I settled on a mid-sized pickup truck, finally buying a 2009 Toyota Tacoma Access Cab 4x4 with a 4-cylinder engine and 5-speed manual transmission. It was a nice truck and surprised me by averaging nearly 23 miles per gallon.

There turned out to be three downsides: (1.) There wasn’t quite enough space in the rear seating area for said grandson in his car seat; (2.) There was more space than I needed in the cargo bed; (3.) Even a Tacoma-sized pickup was a tad big for parking in my allotted space at home.

Still, I wasn’t quite ready to give up on the truck until a surfing-the-Internet search ( spit out a new crop of Bajas late this winter.


One caught my eye: a 2006 turbocharged Baja with only 15,000 miles on its odometer. The pictures showed a really clean car with a car bra installed to protect the front from stone dings. It sounded as though someone had babied this car.

An email to the dealership—Herb Chambers Ford in Westborough—brought the news that the vehicle was still on the lot.

Unfortunately, it was 75 miles away. However, it was pretty much on the route to visit that aforementioned grandson. So Mrs. G was bamboozled into a dealership stop en route to a family weekend, not an unprecedented event in our 40-year marriage.

“I didn’t really think much of it,” she says. “You’re always stopping to look at some car or truck. But I was surprised when you asked if I’d like to go for a ride in it. And I was really surprised when you started talking numbers.”

When the numbers matched, I surprised myself by buying the Baja. To me, it seemed to be an unusual deal, trading an almost new truck for a not-so-new used car. The CarFax report was clean but my eyes, ears, and butt (all in play on the test drive) said the Baja was a good one.

Fast forward three days. During the paperwork portion of signing titles, I flipped over the Baja title and noticed the name of the previous owner, a gentleman in Blackstone, Mass.

A few minutes on the Internet matched a phone number to the name.

“Oh, it’s a great car. I used it to drive to work every day,” was what the woman who answered the phone said.

Her husband expanded on that. “The Baja runs great and really goes with the turbo. It was garaged all its life. We hated to trade it but had to put it into the deal to get the car we wanted.

“You got a good one, and you’re going to love it.”

And so I do.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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