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2022 has been the year of the small pickup revival. Manufacturers weren’t even sure about midsize trucks until a few years ago, but now we have trucks that are decidedly compact and crossover-based. Ford launched its all-new Built Ford Tough Maverick; Hyundai, in turn, launched the all-new Santa Cruz, which they claim is not a truck but a “sports adventure vehicle”.
The booming compact pickup segment is expected to grow as the first trucks prove the concept to other manufacturers. And one automaker expected to enter — or in their case, re-enter — the segment is Subaru.
Subaru pioneered the compact pickup with the BRAT in the 1970s and revisited it with the Outback-based Baja in the early 2000s. You could say these vehicles were ahead of their time.
Their time has come.
The market is finally ready for a small Subaru pickup
America wasn’t quite prepared for the Baja in the early 2000s. Pickup trucks were still stigmatized in many places, and besides, if you wanted a cheap, adventure-ready little pickup truck, you could buy a Toyota Tacoma. Now, body-on-frame trucks of all types are getting expensive; the base model, a $20,000 midsize truck, no longer exists. The trucks are more popular among younger buyers of non-traditional pickups.
Subaru might nail the little pickup in a way other manufacturers haven’t
Ford killed it with the Maverick. It looks cool, rides well, is super versatile and practical. There’s a reason it made our list of the best cars of 2022. About the only catch is that you can’t really go off-roading with it – yet. The AWD version may come with an FX4 package. But the more interesting of the two Mavericks – the base hybrid model – doesn’t even offer all-wheel drive.
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 off-road capability. Plus, the Santa Cruz isn’t all that affordable; the nominal starting price is $24,440, but if you want the bare minimum for doing off-road stuff—AWD and floor mats—that Santa Cruz starts at nearly $28,000.
The brand that could best combine the Maverick’s affordability and some serious trail capability is Subaru, maker of crossovers like the Crosstrek.
Subaru would need to be convinced to try another pickup
Launching any new car requires tremendous effort. Subaru doesn’t have a lot of effort right now. The brand has struggled to release existing models with the shortage of chips; Subaru has also fallen behind in converting to more fuel-efficient powertrains and – judging by Hybrid Crosstrek and Solterra EV pricing – doing it at an affordable price.
Subaru would also need compelling evidence to revisit a Baja-like truck. After all, they tried the exact vehicle I’m offering in recent memory, and it failed.
But there’s reason to think Subaru could eventually build a truck.
Subaru launched its new global SGP platform in 2016. The first vehicles that debuted there will likely be revised in the next few years. About 44% of the Subaru lineup is made up of hatchbacks, hatchbacks and coupes. Combined, these models achieved less than 15% of Subaru sales in 2021. Trends suggest that the percentage will continue to decline. And if current gas prices don’t push buyers back to affordable, road-focused small cars, nothing will.
We should see Subaru reevaluate the composition of its current lineup. A similar redesign at Ford led the Blue Oval to scrap 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 seem less risky and more of a competitive necessity.
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