The Modern El Camino: Subaru Baja Vs Hyundai Santa Cruz

Subaru Baja vs. Hyundai Santa Cruz

Remember the Subaru Baja? That quirky yellow pickup truck-meets-outback mashup from the early 2000s? Well, the spirit of the Baja is back, and it’s kicked off a niche rivalry.

Hyundai’s Santa Cruz has stormed onto the scene, reviving the compact, lifestyle-focused truck that seemed lost to time. So, how do the old-school Baja and its modern successor stack up? Let’s dive in.

Baja Vs Santa Cruz
Baja Vs Santa Cruz

Old Quirks vs. New Tech

Picture the Baja, and imagine its boxy charm and two-tone paint jobs. It’s a funky little workhorse, ideal for hauling bikes around or tackling a light trail.

Inside, it’s pure early-2000s Subaru—simple and functional. The Santa Cruz, on the other hand, is sleek and modern.

It looks like a crossover SUV with the back chopped off. Loaded with tech, the Santa Cruz’s interior offers the comforts you’d expect in a modern ride.

The Heart of the Matter

Under the hood, the Baja keeps old-school with a naturally aspirated 4-cylinder boxer engine. It’s enough oomph for daily driving, but don’t expect to be drag racing.

The Santa Cruz offers a standard peppy 4-cylinder or a punchy turbocharged option. This newer engine tech translates to better fuel economy and more power on tap.

Utility with a Twist

Both the Baja and Santa Cruz boast the cleverness of a multi-tool. The Baja has its nifty switchback feature: drop the tailgate and fold down the rear seats, and your cargo bed magically extends into the cabin.

While the Santa Cruz’s bed is smaller, it rocks a lockable trunk hidden underneath. Perfect for sandy beach towels or muddy gear you want out of sight.

Let’s be honest: the Baja is a cult classic. It’s got character and nostalgia going for it. But if you want practicality, modern performance, and a smoother ride, the Santa Cruz takes the win. It’s a true contender in the emerging world of “sport-adventure vehicles.”

However, the Baja holds a special place in automotive history. It was bold, weird, and unlike anything else on the road. One day, Subaru will surprise us with a Baja revival. Until then, we’ve got the Santa Cruz to carry the torch.


Subaru Baja (2003-2006)

  • Design: Quirky, boxy, two-tone paint jobs, SUV/pickup hybrid
  • Engine: Naturally aspirated 2.5-liter Boxer 4-cylinder (165 horsepower, 166 lb-ft torque)
  • Drivetrain: Standard all-wheel drive (AWD), choice of automatic or manual transmissions
  • Utility: The “Switchback” system allows the bed to extend into the cabin, with a 1,050-lb payload capacity
  • Features: Simple and functional interior, basic amenities like air conditioning, CD player
  • Pros: Unique character, fun to drive, surprisingly capable off-road
  • Cons: Underpowered compared to modern trucks, dated interior, limited features

Hyundai Santa Cruz (2022 – Present)

  • Design: Sleek, modern crossover truck styling
  • Engine: Standard 2.5-liter 4-cylinder (191 horsepower, 181 lb-ft of torque), optional turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder (281 horsepower, 311 lb-ft torque)
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive standard, AWD available, 8-speed automatic transmission
  • Utility: Short bed, innovative under-bed storage trunk, up to 1,600+ lb payload capacity (varies by trim)
  • Features: Tech-rich interior with modern infotainment, available digital instrument cluster, extensive safety features
  • Pros: Comfortable ride, powerful turbo engine option, fuel-efficient, wide range of creature comforts
  • Cons: Smaller bed than traditional trucks, not as off-road-focused as some rivals

Feature Highlights

Here’s where the Baja and Santa Cruz differ:

  • Technology: The Santa Cruz wins hands down. Modern infotainment, driver aids, and safety features were unavailable when the Baja was around.
  • Comfort: Santa Cruz’s emphasis on a car-like ride and interior quality trumps the Baja’s practical approach.
  • Power: The Santa Cruz outperforms the Baja significantly, especially with the optional turbo engine.
  • Fuel economy: Modern engines in Santa Cruz offer better fuel efficiency.

Which One to Choose

  • Subaru Baja: If you want old-school charm, a quirky vehicle, and decent off-road chops, the Baja’s low price on the used market makes it an exciting contender. Just expect something other than modern features or refinement.
  • Hyundai Santa Cruz: If you value comfort, technology, power, and fuel efficiency in a versatile package, then the Santa Cruz is the clear winner.

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