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What America really needs is a small Subaru truck

Subaru ForesterSubaru

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

Small trucks are on the rise. In 2021, Ford launched the Maverick; Hyundai, meanwhile, introduced the all-new Santa Cruz, which it says is not a truck but a “sport adventure vehicle.”

Just a few years ago, manufacturers weren’t even sure there would be mid-size trucks. Now there are trucks that are blatantly compact and crossover-based.

The burgeoning compact pickup segment is set to expand as early trucks prove the concept to other manufacturers; it looks like Ram may soon launch a revived Rampage. And one automaker that should enter the segment—or, in their case, re-enter—is Subaru.

Subaru pioneered the rugged compact pickup truck in the 1970s with the BRAT and relaunched it in the early 2000s with the Outback-based Baja. You could say these vehicles were ahead of their time.

Your time has now come.

The market is finally ready for a small Subaru pickup

America wasn’t really ready for the Baja in the early 2000s. There was still a stigma attached to pickup trucks in many places, and besides, if you wanted a small, cheap, adventure-ready pickup truck, you could buy a Toyota Tacoma.

subaru forester
The Subaru BRAT.

Today, all types of body-on-frame trucks are getting more and more expensive; the base model, a mid-size truck for around $20,000, is no longer available. Trucks are more popular with younger, non-traditional pickup buyers. A Baja would feel like a natural outgrowth of those buyer interests.

Subaru could manufacture the small pickup in a way that other manufacturers have not managed

Ford has hit the jackpot with the Maverick. It looks cool, drives well, is super versatile and practical. There’s a reason it made our list of the best cars of 2023.

The only criticism is that you can’t really drive it off-road. The AWD version can be supplied with Tremor and FX4 packages. But the more interesting of the two Mavericks – the base hybrid model – doesn’t even offer all-wheel drive.

Vintage photo of a Subaru dealer with BRAT trucks in the parking lot
A family of Subaru BRATs.

Hyundai has correctly recognized that buyers want a vehicle that is more adventurous. But adventure is not in the brand’s blood; affordable luxury and comfort are better than appealing off-road capability.

Additionally, the Santa Cruz isn’t quite as affordable; the nominal starting price is nearly $27,000, but if you want the bare minimum for some off-roading—four-wheel drive and floor mats—then the Santa Cruz is even more expensive.

A vintage ad for the Subaru BRAT and Wagon.

Subaru, maker of crossovers like the Crosstrek, is the brand that can best combine the Maverick’s affordable price with its serious off-road capabilities.

Subaru would have to be convinced to try another pickup truck

Launching a new car requires considerable effort. Subaru doesn’t have much to do at the moment.

The chip shortage has left the brand struggling to bring existing models to market. Subaru has also fallen behind in the transition to more fuel-efficient powertrains. Ambitious plans to change this will take priority.

Subaru BRAT
The Subaru BRAT.

Subaru would also need convincing evidence to test a Baja-like truck again. After all, they recently tried to build the exact vehicle I’m suggesting and it failed.

But there is reason to believe that Subaru might build a truck at some point

Subaru launched its new global SGP platform back in 2016. The first vehicles to debut on this platform will likely be revised in the next few years.

Almost half of Subaru’s model range consists of sedans, hatchbacks and coupes. Together, these models accounted for less than 14 percent of Subaru’s sales a few years ago.

Trends suggest that this percentage will continue to decline. And unless increased gas prices encourage buyers to return to small and affordable road-going cars, nothing will.

We should see Subaru reassess the composition of its current lineup. A similar rethink at Ford led to the blue oval discontinuing the Fusion and Focus and creating the Maverick.

And if Ford’s small truck still sells well and poaches some potential Subaru buyers by mid-decade, a new Baja may seem less of a risk and more of a competitive necessity.

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