Will Subaru Bring Back the BRAT or Baja? It Should. Here's Why

The BRAT and Baja were ahead of their time...but that time is now.

1981 subaru mv brat pickup truck
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2022 has been the year of the small pickup truck revival. Manufacturers weren't even sure about mid-size trucks until a few years ago, but now, we have trucks that are unabashedly compact and crossover-based. Ford launched its all-new, Built Ford Tough Maverick; Hyundai, in turn, debuted the all-new Santa Cruz, which they insist is not a truck but a "sport adventure vehicle."

The burgeoning compact pickup segment should expand as the initial trucks prove the concept for other manufacturers. And one automaker that should enter — or in their case, re-enter — the segment is Subaru.

Subaru pioneered the rough-and-tumble compact pickup with the BRAT in the 1970s and revisited it with the Outback-based Baja in the early 2000s. One could argue those vehicles were ahead of their time.

Their time is right now.

The market is finally ready for a Subaru small pickup

America wasn't quite prepared for the Baja in the early 2000s. Pickups still had a stigma in many places, and besides, if you wanted a small, cheap, adventure-ready pickup, you could buy a Toyota Tacoma. Now, body-on-frame trucks of all types are getting expensive; the base model, $20,000-ish mid-size truck no longer exists. Trucks are more popular among younger, non-traditional pickup buyers.

2020 chicago auto show media preview
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Subaru could nail the small pickup in a way other manufacturers haven't

Ford killed it with the Maverick. It looks cool, drives well, is super-versatile and practical. There's a reason it made our best cars of 2022 list. About the only quibble is that you can't really off-road with it — yet. The AWD version can come with an FX4 package. But the more interesting of the two Mavericks — the base hybrid model — does not even offer AWD.

subaru baja
Subaru

Hyundai read (correctly) that buyers would want a more adventurous vehicle. But adventure is not a natural fit for the brand; they do a better job with affordable luxury and comfort than engaging off-road capability. Besides, the Santa Cruz is not that affordable; the nominal starting price is $24,440, but if you want the bare minimum to do some off-road things — AWD and floor mats — that Santa Cruz starts at close to $28,000.

The brand that could best combine the Maverick's affordable value and some serious trail capability is Subaru, makers of crossovers like the Crosstrek.

Subaru would need convincing to attempt another pickup

Launching any new car requires substantial effort. Subaru does not have much effort to spare currently. The brand has struggled to push out existing models with the chip shortage; Subaru has also fallen behind converting to more fuel-efficient powertrains and — judging by Crosstrek Hybrid and Solterra EV pricing — doing so affordably.

Subaru would also need compelling evidence to revisit a Baja-like truck. After all, they attempted the exact vehicle I'm proposing within recent memory, and it failed.

2020 chicago auto show media preview
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But there's reason to think Subaru may build a truck eventually

Subaru launched its new SGP global platform back in 2016. The first vehicles that debuted on it will likely be overhauled within the next few years. About 44% of the Subaru lineup is sedans, hatchbacks and coupes. Combined, those models did less than 15% of Subaru's sales in 2021. Trends suggest that percentage will continue to dwindle. And if the current gas prices do not push buyers back to small and affordable road-oriented cars, nothing will.

We should see Subaru reevaluate the makeup of its current lineup. A similar rethink at Ford led the blue oval to scrap the Fusion and Focus and create the Maverick. And if Ford's little truck is still selling well and siphoning off some potential Subaru buyers mid-decade, a new Baja may feel like less of a risk and more of a competitive necessity.

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