Home » Not Enough Driven Wheels: 1994 Jeep Cherokee vs 2003 Pontiac Aztek

Not Enough Driven Wheels: 1994 Jeep Cherokee vs 2003 Pontiac Aztek

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Welcome to another Shitbox Showdown! In this second-to-last installment of our Route 66 journey, we’re stopping in Flagstaff, Arizona to look at a couple of vehicles that look all off-roady but aren’t really. But first we have to see if the Toyota name is worth twice the price:

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Heh. Well, I guess that settles that. Can’t ask Bring A Trailer money for a Bob’s Auto Ranch-quality truck, even if it does say Toyota on the back. Best of luck to the seller, but most of us are more than happy to Dodge that high price.

When you think of SUVs and crossovers, certain characteristics come to mind: four doors, a two-box layout with a rear hatch, and, typically, four- or all-wheel-drive. In some parts of the country, the idea of buying an SUV without 4WD is frankly ridiculous; you want the extra traction for snow, or for off-roading. But for the majority of use that most SUVs see, two-wheel-drive would do just fine, and most of them were available that way at one time or another. My wife and I have had three 2WD SUVs – a Toyota 4Runner, a Nissan Pathfinder, and an Infiniti QX4 – and all were perfectly useful, practical, tough vehicles, just not suitable for use in a snowstorm. The biggest problem with them, frankly, is resale value.

Today’s contenders were both available with 4WD or AWD, but the original buyers of these two opted not to check that box on the options form. Are they still worth a look? Absolutely. Which one pulls off 2WD better? You tell me.


1994 Jeep Cherokee Sport – $2,800

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Engine/drivetrain: 4.0 liter overhead valve inline 6, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Flagstaff, AZ

Odometer reading: 168,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep!


At first glance, you’d think this Jeep Cherokee had it all: it’s green, it’s rust-free, and it’s equipped with that stuff-of-legends four-liter inline six. It’s an automatic, but at least it’s a good automatic in these, so we’ll let that slide. But one look at the interior would tell you something was a bit off: the customary transfer case lever alongside the center console is missing. Peek under the front end, and your suspicions would be confirmed: Yes, someone back in 1994 actually ordered a Cherokee Sport without 4WD.

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This Jeep could be prettier, but we’ve all gotten so used to seeing scruffy beat-up Cherokees that it doesn’t matter much. The lack of rust is the key; anything else it might need bolts on, and shiny paint on an old SUV is overrated. The driver’s seat is pretty nasty, but a replacement should be easy to find.

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The seller doesn’t give us much to go on regarding its mechanical condition; all we get is “runs decent” and “good tires.” But any mechanical foibles these have are well-documented, so it shouldn’t be hard to keep it on the road. You should even be able to convert it to 4WD, with a few junkyard parts.


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Is it worth the trouble to add in a driven front axle? I wouldn’t have thought so a few years ago, but XJ Cherokees aren’t getting any newer, and demand for them isn’t going away. Cheap 4WD ones are usually pretty rough these days, so this 2WD Cherokee might make a better starting point for a build. Or just keep driving it as it is, and save a couple miles per gallon.

2003 Pontiac Aztek – $3,600

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.4 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Flagstaff, AZ


Odometer reading: 146,000 miles

Runs/drives? Indeed!

The Pontiac Aztek is possibly unique in the automotive world, having become infamous for no other reason than its controversial styling. Mechanically, it’s identical to Buick’s Rendezvous, and not too different from a whole lot of other GM vehicles over the past few decades: a transverse V6 with an automatic, front-wheel-drive, mediocre handling, reasonable comfort, all that jazz. But wrap all that in a package that most buyers found absolutely hideous, and suddenly you have a legend for all the wrong reasons.

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This Aztek claims to be a “Trail Boss” model, and has badges on the back fenders to back it up, but I can’t find any record of there ever having been an Aztek Trail Boss. And you would think with a name like that, such a trim level would include all-wheel-drive, but this car is only 2WD. I get the feeling somebody just stuck the decals on. What it does include, however, is one of the Aztek’s more clever options – a “camping package” that includes a pop-up tent that fits over the hatch, and an air mattress that fits inside.


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Of course, they couldn’t have bothered to erect the rear tent for a photo, but here’s what it looks like in place:

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Image credit: GM

Generally, this Aztek is in good shape, and the seller says it has new tires and the air conditioning works. Yeah, the styling isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but personally I like it. And the interior materials are typical cheap-shit GM plastic. But if you can look past that, you’ve got a reasonably comfortable, reasonably reliable vehicle that can do a lot, including camp.

Buying an SUV or crossover without four wheel drive might sound foolish, but unless you really need the added traction, it kind of makes sense. You save a little on fuel, and greatly simplify maintenance. Of course, if you do need 4WD, these two are non-starters. But let’s assume you don’t. Which one of these fits your lifestyle?


(Image credits unless noted: Craigslist sellers)

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Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
1 year ago

Buy the aztek and wait until cars from the aughts have their own Radwood-like movement..People of a certain age will eat that shit up at some point in the future…maybe….

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