On today’s Shitbox Showdown, we’re looking at two utterly pointless little red SUV-ish things. They’re both silly to begin with, but to make matters worse, one of them doesn’t have nearly enough driven wheels, and the other suffers from a severe lack of cargo space… and headlights.
But before I can tell you more about those, we need to finish up with yesterday’s sad-sack Seventies slugs.
The Gutless wins it by a country mile, as I suspected it might.
The lack of a valid title didn’t help the Granada’s cause, but honestly, it’s a crap car even among crap cars. With competition like the Granada, and the Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volaré, it’s no wonder Oldsmobile ate everyone’s lunch in sales. The Cutlass didn’t have to be great; it just had to be better. And that was a low bar.
Today, we’re trying to answer a question that can’t possibly come up too often: which is more pointless, a 2WD SUV, or one with zero cargo capacity? Do you risk getting stuck in the snow in the Costco parking lot, or not have room for that fifteen-pack of paper towels? Is it better to have hauled and lost traction than to never have hauled at all?
Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, RWD
Location: San Antonio, TX
Odometer reading: 144,000 miles
I had absolutely no idea how many SUVs were available in 2WD form until I moved to California in 2005. Having grown up around the Great Lakes, and later having spent a decade in the Twin Cities, I never saw them; SUVs were four-wheel-drive, for the snow, and that’s all there was to it. Otherwise, what was the point? But in the past seventeen years, my wife and I have owned three 2WD SUVs: a Toyota 4Runner, a Nissan Pathfinder, and an Infiniti QX4. The Nissan and the Infiniti were here in Portland, where we do get some winter weather, and I was completely unsurprised to discover that they were both absolute crap in the snow.
To me, then, this little 2WD Kia Sportage is about as useless as a surfboard in the desert. But apparently, in places where it never gets cold, like, for example, San Antonio, deleting the front drive components makes some economic sense. Most SUVs never leave the pavement anyway; why weigh your car down with a whole extra gearbox and axle that will never get used?
The first-generation Kia Sportage isn’t exactly a great vehicle, though. It’s from the bad old days when Kia’s vehicles were kinda-sorta Mazdas, but slapped together without much care or precision. Its reliability record was appalling – it was recalled twice for wheels literally falling off – and its safety ratings were only marginally better than a Vespa. Kia didn’t sell many after the first couple of years, and not many of those made it past the first owner or two. That makes this a rare car.
It’s not in bad shape at all, actually. The body is clean and straight, the paint is intact, and even the interior looks all right. Someone took care of this dumb little thing. The seller says it has new tires, and the air conditioning works. Its reputation may precede it, and it might be utterly useless for any terrain more challenging than a drive-thru line, but it might not be a terrible little runabout. I mean, it is kinda cute.
Engine/drivetrain: 1.6 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, part-time 4WD
Location: Jefferson, WI
Odometer reading: 125,000 miles
Runs/drives? Yes, but not currently street-legal
“Ok, so you know our Vitara compact SUV, right?”
“Of course. It’s popular all over the world.”
“So we have an idea for a new version of it. A hip, sporty, youth-oriented version. We’re going to give it T-tops.”
“And take away the rear seats.”
“And make it look kinda like a squashed Honda Del Sol.”
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a huge Japanese car fan. But I have to admire their “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” method of product design; if you can’t find something you think is cool among Japanese car offerings, especially from the 1980s and 1990s, you aren’t looking hard enough. Most of the really weird stuff they kept for themselves, but a few oddities made it across the Pacific, like the Suzuki X-90.
The X-90 is essentially a Suzuki Vitara under the skin, sold here at the time as the Suzuki Sidekick and Geo Tracker. As such, it has a small but stout four-cylinder engine, dual-range 4WD, and at least the potential to go off-road. How many of the 7,000 X-90s sold in the US ever hit the trails is a mystery, but I’m willing to bet it wasn’t many. I’m not sure who the target demographic for the X-90 was – no one is – but it certainly wasn’t the Moab crowd.
This X-90 needs some help; it has had an altercation with something, and lost a fender, grille, and headlights in the process. Based on its location in rural Wisconsin, I’m guessing someone hit a deer in it. The damage looks half-repaired, and I’m also willing to speculate that the reason it isn’t fixed is that the seller couldn’t find another X-90 in a junkyard to pull parts from. That appears to be the only source; a quick check of a few usual suspect websites turned up nothing in the way of replacement body panels for this thing. You may have to do without a fender, and rig up some sort of aftermarket lights.
The good news is that it runs and drives well, the four-wheel-drive works, and apart from the damage, it’s in decent condition. There still isn’t room in it for much more than a case of Leininkugel’s from the Kwik-Trip, but you could say the same thing about a Miata. And I bet this is a lot better in the snow.
I’ve always like small SUVs. I wanted a Suzuki Samurai in the worst way when I was in high school, and I’ve been a Jeep CJ fan ever since I learned to drive in one. But for me, a compact SUV has to have three things to be worthwhile: a manual transmission, four wheel drive, and some space for cargo. Both of these check off one of those boxes, but compromise on one of the others, and honestly, I’m not sure which compromise I’d be more willing to make. What say you?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)