Home » Silly Little Red Things: 2000 Kia Sportage vs 1997 Suzuki X-90

Silly Little Red Things: 2000 Kia Sportage vs 1997 Suzuki X-90

Sbsd 10 19 2023
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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.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

The Gutless wins it by a country mile, as I suspected it might.

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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.

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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?

2000 Kia Sportage – $1,800

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, RWD

Location: San Antonio, TX

Odometer reading: 144,000 miles

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Runs/drives? Yep

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

1997 Suzuki X-90 – $1,800

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.6 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, part-time 4WD

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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.”

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“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.”

“Cool!”

“And take away the rear seats.”

“O…kay…”

“And make it look kinda like a squashed Honda Del Sol.”

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“Wait, what?”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Nathaniel Scholtens
Nathaniel Scholtens
3 months ago

So, I own this x90. I was looking for headlights for it, and I stumbled upon this article. I was like, “hey, isn’t that a picture of my car” and sure enough, it was. Anyways, I made an account for this website just to say this: for $1200 , it’s still a piece of crap. The headlights came with it, but they’re super busted up. Maybe I’ll 3d print some new ones or something? There’s also like a 10″ x 8″ hole in the driver’s side floor that somebody filled with a piece of plywood and some expanding foam…

TriangleRAD
TriangleRAD
7 months ago

X90 definitely, if only for the extreme Radwood cred. I actually have a friend who has one that’s in great shape and tastefully customized. Last year we were at Rad Carolina (a Radwood-style ’80s/’90s car show held at the NC Transportation Museum). The X90 walked away with the People’s Choice prize.

Torch even made one of his famous drawings of the X90 at that event, which the owner still proudly displays at shows.

Also, who remembers when Red Bull bought up a crapload of X90s and mounted big Red Bull cans on them as rolling advertisements? This was before they did the same thing with Mini Coopers.

Last edited 7 months ago by TriangleRAD
Oldskool
Oldskool
7 months ago

X90 for sure. I have a Geo Tracker 5 speed 4×4. While it’s a rusted out tin can (with a solid frame) that burns a quart of oil every 2 tanks of gas, it always runs if I need it. Goes anywhere in the winter, including my unplowed road and the mountain of snow at the end of the driveway when the plow finally comes. Can’t say that for the Kia.

If I couldn’t find one readily, I’d make a fender for that X90. Run with it until I could find the real thing.

Nathaniel Scholtens
Nathaniel Scholtens
3 months ago
Reply to  Oldskool

That’s exactly what I plan to do. I stumbled on this article after purchasing this exact x90. I’ve been scouring the interwebs for parts since then…

67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
7 months ago

The hell is wrong with you all,why is the Suzuki not getting all the votes?!
Get the KIA is more “practical”,but come on,you might as well buy a Mazda 3 or a Golf or something.
That Suzuki would be amazing to screw around with in the winter.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago

> Otherwise, what was the point?

Snow, ice, and heavy rains aren’t a concern in a lot of the country. Some people want or need the space wagons used to offer, and SUVs (and to some extent minivans) filled that gap. I’d rather have a wagon, but there weren’t any worth owning when I was in the market (the outback’s engine is an embarrassment, VAG are terrible vehicles, and Volvos were too expensive). A sedan + a truck isn’t practical. Minivans are bigger than i need. So a midsized crossover is the best option.

SonOfLP500
SonOfLP500
7 months ago

If you think the X-90 was pointless, Subaru made something even pointlesser, the Vivio T-Top. Take a kei-car barely capable of seating 4 adults and with limited luggage space then, for the sake of about 12 inches of open air above your head, and “convertible” rear glass, remove two seats and most of the luggage capacity. In the process also make it look unfeasibly goofy-looking.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9b/Subaru_Vivio_T-top_003.JPG

Last edited 7 months ago by SonOfLP500
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago
Reply to  SonOfLP500

That looks like an angry cyst

Zelda Bumperthumper
Zelda Bumperthumper
8 months ago

I know the game is to choose the less bad option, but these are both just irredeemable. It’s like choosing between Scalise and Jordan. I feel compelled to vote “Present”. Maybe I’ll write in yesterday’s Cutlass.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
8 months ago

Suzukis are awesome and if you can’t find the body parts do something else cool with it (Lemons, Gambler, etc.)

Cyko9
Cyko9
8 months ago

I had a 2-wheel drive Isuzu once, and it was perfectly cromulent. Decent gas mileage for a 6 cylinder and did all right on gravel. In this contest, I’ve got to go for the X-90. Capability isn’t so much the issue as loads of character. Look at that interior!

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
8 months ago

This was difficult, but had to go w/ Suzuki- just imagine it fixed up and painted teal or light blue, etc.
Also, was just not possible for me to vote for a Kia!

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
8 months ago

I say buy the X90, forget about finding parts tear off the remaining panels and design/build your own one off custom.

Von Baldy
Von Baldy
8 months ago

Ive owned one of these kias but in 4wd auto form, and if you can get past the interior that makes gm have a bmw build quality, and convert the front hubs to manual locks since the auto hubs never worked, these lil bastards will go anywhere.
The engine is a cousin to the miata b6p, so yay for that one, and theyre quite easy to wrench on for the most part.
Took mine offroading into the hills in the woods and itd go anywhere jeeps and blazer couldnt, while pulling stuck cars out and over same hills with no abandon.
Quirky? Yes, but a total hoot to beat on with no care in the world.

Jason Roth
Jason Roth
8 months ago

This is an easy one—my best friend in HS had a Sidekick, and that thing was an absolute blast “off road” (which is to say, whoop-di-doos alongside the railroad tracks and suchlike—this was north Jersey, not Moab). This would be nostalgic while giving me an excuse to find some easy trails around here.

Assuming it’s the same one ~8 years later, that’s a great transmission: not sporty exactly, but not vague or with a heavy clutch (looking at you, Wrangler).

CSRoad
CSRoad
8 months ago

I can scare up the X-90 parts.
That makes the choice simply fun.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
8 months ago

My vote goes to the Kia. I don’t need 4wd or AWD. And the Kia is basically a RWD station wagon with a manual.

Yeah the quality was shit, but at least it’s not an orphaned brand and parts/service will probably be a bit easier in North America than for the Suzuki.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
8 months ago

The prices for these are nuts. That said, I’ll take the goofy Suzuki and use it as I would a side-by-side on the farm.

Max Headbolts
Max Headbolts
8 months ago

My first car was a tintop Samurai, was only five years old, and was still being sold on dealer lots; parts were nearly impossible to find then. I had to mail order a taillight and wiper blades FFS. Now, with Suzuki gone from the US market? Yeah that’s a no for me dawg.

Jimmy7
Jimmy7
8 months ago

MadMaX-90. It’s got Art Car/Thunderdome potential. Embrace the dystopian future.

Luxobarge
Luxobarge
8 months ago

“Not currently street legal”? Hey, be cool Sheryl.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
8 months ago

As is, that Suzuki is great for someone who thinks they MIGHT want to get into off-roading and don’t want to sink a lot of money into finding out.

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