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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Diane M
Diane M
4 months ago

I’ve always loved the X-90 for letting it’s freak flag fly high and loud, it’s one of those ” I would love to own one as a 2nd car” I had the 2001 2-Door Tracker with the pickup style back canvas. The X-90’s painted up as the General Lee are also a riot!

Yeah, I’m weird, but that’s the Autopian way!

Data
Data
4 months ago
Reply to  Diane M

So I felt I had to see a General Lee X-90 and googled. 0 1/2 classic.

https://bangshift.com/general-news/top-11-worst-general-lee-clones-time/

Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
4 months ago

I regularly see a few of those Sportages on the wild. I wonder how difficult it might be to keep this one on the road. It looks like a reasonable vehicle for someone who does need a car and has only 18 Washingtons.
The X90 is not even ready to hit the street, so, looking at it under the best light, it is only a project. A weird pursuit of unobtainable parts to arrive at something driven by teens a quarter of a century ago.
Kia it is, then.

Data
Data
4 months ago

Out here in the real world, I wouldn’t consider either of these. But here in Autopia with I-bucks, I would choose the Kia. I’d rather have a complete crap-can rather than an incomplete crap-can.

When I was in college, my freshman roommate added -age to the end of all sorts of words; I’m going to get some lunchage or time for studyage etc. I remember he got a real kick out of Kia creating a vehicle called the Sportage.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
4 months ago
Reply to  Data

That was a neat storyage! 🙂

Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
4 months ago

Pre merger Kias were self disassembling rattle traps when they were new. I’d hate to see what somehow surviving 23 years and that many miles must have done for one. The X90 would have to be burned to the ground before I’d pick that Kia first

Last edited 4 months ago by Rusty S Trusty
Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
4 months ago

“Space Patrol calling X-90, come in X-90. Repeat, Space Patrol calling X-90.”

“It’s no use sir, he’s not answering. It’s been hours. I’m afraid he’s gone.”

“No! That can’t be. Keep trying to raise him. He would never give up on us and we’re not giving up on X-90!”

Data
Data
4 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

I’m getting Thunderbirds are Go vibes here.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
4 months ago
Reply to  Data

Fireball XL-5. I’m old. Same production company.

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
4 months ago

Throw some studded snows on it, and the Kia will be useless 10-20 times a year, whereas the Suzuki will be useless all 365 days.

Last edited 4 months ago by ColoradoFX4
MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
4 months ago

A Wisconsin winter beater with missing parts, or a South Texas single soccer mom mobile?

At least the only salt the Kia will have seen is maybe some Port A wave-washed sand and rim-salt from some spilled margaritas.

I’ll take the boring functional vehicle.

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
4 months ago

Maybe it’s the recent Donut videos influencing me, but even though I’ve always enjoyed the Sportage, I have to go X-90 today.

DDayJ
DDayJ
4 months ago

The Kia was garbage from the day it left the factory, so Susie-Q for me. I’d trailer it and hit the trails David Tracy style while getting laughed at by Wrangler owners until they realized I put almost no money into this thing.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
4 months ago

Sorry, but can’t vote for either. Even lunatics tend to have standards when it comes to self abuse.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
4 months ago

Tucker, you magnificent bastard. You got me to vote for an X-90.

(Leo DiCaprio “Wolf Of Wall Street” clapping.gif)

Fuzzyweis’ idea of bodging a Sidekick/Tracker front end onto the thing is The Way, I think. Also, TIL Suzuki sold a “Philippe Cousteau Edition” X-90 in Europe!

ExAutoJourno
ExAutoJourno
4 months ago

Gonna go for the Sportage. Had a X-90 for a week once. It reminded me of a Suzuki Samurai with added embarrassment. I wanted to drive with a bag over my head. At least this one is painted that fershlugginer purple like most I saw.

My Sportage experiences were with AWD versions, but depending on one’s locale, 2WD shouldn’t be awful. You can cram stuff into the Kia, and it’s cheap.

The X-90 WON’T be cheap when you find the bits to make it semi-presentable. But it will always be a X-90, reason alone to say “Nuh-uh!”

JDE
JDE
4 months ago

Hmm, Buy Here Pay Here lot less reliable era Kia? Or perhaps a cheap alternative to a go cart for my daughter to destroy….I will take the suzuki, take off the other fender and maybe even weld up a scrap pile cage/skeleton. put that old light bar I was about to trash that came off the Hummer maybe even the very bright old incandescent spots off the CJ and let her rip tater chip. big question is do you leave the doors on or just let them get bashed and then take them off. Also maybe do you take off the rear bumper, or let it get ripped off in the rocks.

Nycbjr
Nycbjr
4 months ago

oh how far has kia come, I have a ’23 Niro, and by comparison its a mercedes to this lol, I voted kia, the xc-90 is too far gone and I’d want the panels fixed etc

Fuzzyweis
Fuzzyweis
4 months ago

X-90, maybe Frankenstein the frontend off a Vitara/Tracker, plenty more of those around.

Alexk98
Alexk98
4 months ago

I absolutely adore the X-90, even to the point of trying unsuccessfully to hunt one down for a while, but this one seems far too gone to be worth anything over 1k if I’m being generous. While the Kia is the most generic blob I’ve ever seen, it’ll at least work, and for that it sadly gets my vote.

05Mil Machine
05Mil Machine
4 months ago

X90 all day. There are plenty of examples of that platform with TDI VW diesel engines shoved in them…. Y2K Kia was absolute garbage and has no value outside of scrap weight and even that is low quality steel.

World24
World24
4 months ago

There’s barely a Hyundai/Kia I’d willingly own: definitely nothing for daily use. Maybe in some sort of twisted car collection or something like that….
X90 then. I hope the passenger seat is easy to remove: I don’t even need it!

Last edited 4 months ago by World24
V10omous
V10omous
4 months ago

Those X90s are objectively silly but subjectively cool as hell, and the 4×4 5 speed combo is not always easy to find.

Easy choice for me over an anonymous Kia.

Last edited 4 months ago by V10omous
Paul B
Paul B
4 months ago

The Suzuki for me. Rig it for offroading, no need for it to be street legal, it’s light and easy to tow to the trailheads.

PresterJohn
PresterJohn
4 months ago

I was wondering if parts availability for the Suzuki would be covered…given that I had to go with the Kia. At least the stick should mean fewer transmission issues.

Fuzz
Fuzz
4 months ago

My friend and I went to the annual car show back int he late 90’s, and we walked up to that Kia thing. A sales guy was deep into a pitch so we just kinda hung back, but my dad walked over, opened the passenger door, and as he swung it shuts says “hear that boys? That’s the sound of quality!” as the door simultaneously rattled and shuttered. I will never ever forget the look that sales guy hot at my dad. I’m pretty sure he lost that one…

So gotta vote for the weird thingy missing bits. And whatever, weird is good.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
4 months ago

I love the X-90, but the impossible to find headlights and fender make it difficult to justify it.

So I voted for the Kia.

Fun fact: the Sportage was the first car to offer a knee airbag for the driver.

Also, most Honda dealers in the northeast refuse to sell the FWD versions of the CRV, HRV, and Pilot. They only carry AWD.

Last edited 4 months ago by Dogisbadob
Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
4 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

Yep, I’d be going to X-90 if it just needed paint or mechanical work, but those body parts were getting hard to find 15 years ago. Kia it is.

A. Barth
A. Barth
4 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

Great news!

On eBay right now is a passenger-side front fender for an X-90; $350 OBO, pick up in Michigan, and it even looks like the correct color. It’s listed as a “susuki” [sic] part but it’s there.

https://www.ebay.com/itm/374540731202

For the headlights, I’d like to see a Lancia Stratos rally setup. 🙂

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
4 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

Or there’s always diamond plate and pop rivets!

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
4 months ago

I voted for the Zuk. I had a twin-under-the-skin Geo Tracker, and it was a GREAT car. Bought it new, drove it for years, passed it to my son when he learned to drive, and it just kept going. Great fuel economy, and a blast to drive.

It’s been probably 20 years since it was my daily driver, and I still look around on FB marketplace and think about getting another one.

That X-90 could fill a Tracker shaped hole in my life.

A. Barth
A. Barth
4 months ago

and apart from the damage, it’s in decent condition.

“Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” 🙂

X-90, please.

I thought they were interesting when they came out, and it would be fun to turn this one into a mini-Mad-Max type of thing (after talking the price down a bit).

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