Showdown: Lesser of Two Evils Edition

In our last showdown, the wankeled 510 walked (or hmmmmm-ed) away with the win. Two words: chin spoiler.
But enough of that wannabe dorifto/auto-X nonsense. It’s winter, so lets try to find some vehicles that’d be nice in the snow, or will be great to take to the beach once the weather breaks in February (SoCal FTW). In today’s Showdown, we’re rounding up compact SUVs and pitting the Best of the Worst against the Worst of the Best…

To put it simply, no one likes the Bronco II. …which is funny, given that it’s the chassis-mate and two-door predecessor of the we-sold-so-many-we-forgot-how-to-make-cars O.G. Explorer. To most, it’s a symbol of crappy, underpowered and underbuilt 80s Ford products.
Bronco II for sale on craigslistBronco II for sale on craigslist
…but this one’s probably about as good as they come. It’s got a manual transmission, new clutch, rebuilt engine and what looks like a pretty good exterior. Between the stickshift, dinky engine and 18lb curb weight, it probably gets the great mileage.  $1495 ain’t bad for a not-so-bad little SUVlet. Craigslist.
Maybe you’re looking for a little more room. Maybe you’re looking for a better chassis. Maybe you’re looking for the paragon of 80s SUV badicalness: the Toyota 4Runner. With notoriously good reliability and sweet boxy 80s styling, they’re the no-frills, simple SUV that blog commenters (but surprisingly few customers) clamor for.
Turbo 1987 Toyota 4Runner for sale on CraigslistTurbo 1987 Toyota 4Runner for sale on Craigslist
…but we’re not gonna make it that easy for you. We’re willing to bet few of you knew that between ’85 and ’87, you could get a turbo
4Runner. That’s right, before they introduced the craptastic 3VZFE, Toyota used forced induction to attempt bridge the horsepower gap between the 116hp 22RE and engines like Chevy’s 4.3L V6. Alas, like many an 80s turbo motor, today’s specimen has a blown head gasket. Also, turbo 4Runners only came in automatic, so you’re left choosing between mockery and a tranny swap.
On the plus side, the paint and 80s-tastic decals look good. The $1000 asking price is probably pretty flexible, given the work needed. You could use this as an opportunity to get a great deal on a clean body/chassis to start a bitchin’ trail machine build.
So…which will it be: Best example of one of the worst 80s SUVs, or nutjob basket case from a well respected family?
[poll id=”6″]


  1. Turbo 22R for the Afghan warlord grade win! Swap in a manual cog swapper and you are good to go, after addressing the saggy rear end.

  2. The tippiest vehicle ever made or the most durable vehicle ever made??? hmm.
    (This is in large part a guess, but if you're running a turbo engine off-road, wouldn't an automatic be preferable? No boost fall-off whilst shifting?)

    1. Auto-only was commonly emissions-driven. 80s ecus weren't very good at dealing with the off-throttle rich/lean/boost/no-boost situations that come with an MT.
      Supras suffered the same fate.

  3. That seemed like a brilliant idea on Toyota's part – take a vehicle that's good enough to be a third world tank, and muck up the reliability with an 80's turbocharger. It's the Owner of a Lonely Heart of SUVs.
    No, I'll stick with the Ranger wagon Bronco II. Short wheelbase, stick shift, parts available in any wrecker where they use road salt, and a 302 swap is easy enough, if you're into that sort of thing.

    1. You raise an excellent point, and I will have an XJ some day. Toronto Craigslist has this to offer – no lift, but it's got a stick and costs $1000 less.

    2. I almost ran the 4Runner against a stickshift Cherokee, but figured the Cherokee would walk away with it.
      Cherokees are probably the best cheap vehicles around. They'll run a long time with lousy maintenance and all that 4.0L will ever do is leak oil and get cracks in the combo-manifold.

      1. Cherokee would have my vote, hands down. I sold my largely neglected and still going strong '99 this fall with 155K. I bet it had another 75K in it before needing anything major.
        If you ever want cheap wheels that will go most anywhere, those are your best bet.

      1. The JDM Surfs have the same super-fragile 2LTE engine as the light-duty landcruisers. Not a good option, unless you like yearly head replacements.

    3. That's more like it. I wouldn't mind a Cherokee one bit. This one is just about right, I'd disappear into the desert with it and come back with empty ammo boxes, guns needing to be cleaned, pretty rocks and mine artifacts, an empty cooler, and a goofy grin.

  4. Bronco II. I like the little buggers. I know I probably shouldn't, but they aren't as bad as people make them out to be. Sure, they weren't a pinnacle of North American ingenuity, but considering the time frame they were sold in they aren't as bad as some other stuff. If I need a runabout SUVish sort of thing, I'd rather have a working Bronco II than a 4Runner with a reputation for reliability not backed up by the blown head gasket.
    Besides, a Toyota could get me lynched where I live.

    1. I feel the same way and I have owned an 85 4runner which I loved…but I have this wierd fascination with the Bronco II…perhaps it's because I have never owned one and don't know any better.

  5. hmmm… my experience with Bronco II's is limited to the one my grandfather had. It's the only car that's ever caught on fire while I was driving it (and I've had plenty of ancient, neglected aircooled VWs). On the other hand, my 4Runner experience consists of having driven one with 175K miles back & forth across the country without a hitch. I gotta go with the anecdotal, first-hand experience – Bronco II! (Oh wait – this isn't PCH?!?)

  6. My new commute takes me past a very well looked after Bronco II. These things fell off my radar years ago, but damn, if I could find a good one close by….

  7. While I could do without either of those (Give me a 4Runner without the crap blown to hell turbo engine. Or even better, any Toyota 4×4 truck from those years) I jumped in just to toss props to the book. It was a good read when I was sitting around bored in an Air Force dormitory right after I was moved to Virginia. I have been in the area he lost that hand in. Wild story.

  8. I don't have anything against the Bronco II, although I've never been in one offroad and have no idea how competent they are in the rough. I prefer the original Bronco, I know of one on a ranch where we buy hay with the little pickup cab, sitting there in the weeds doing nothing. I need to talk to that guy next time I go there.
    I went the the 4Runner. I have a couple of buddies with Toyota 4WD trucks that are about the same vintage, and they climb like billy goats. One of those guys bought his for $600.00. Damn good little truck for that kind of money. I'd risk a grand on that 4Runner and put in a new head gasket, but I spotted an FJ55 Land Cruiser station wagon, here in town. That's more to my liking, the same idea as the Bronco vs. Bronco II I just mentioned. When it comes to trucks, I prefer the older version of whatever is in question.

  9. Had to pick the Bronco II… I'm a Ford guy, and I'm sure that was 90% of it… but for whatever reason, those awesome rear side windows that curve up and into the roof…. those are SWEET!!!
    Also, it's shorter, better for trails like that.
    Even if it breaks down more then the Toyota, it will still probably be less to maintain overall.

  10. My parents owned a Bronco II that the ECM continually failed and 4Runners have a reputation for being stolen…
    Either way I may end up stranded.
    I know it's heresy on a car site, but given the choice I'd rather walk.

  11. Pingback: toyota 4runner
  12. My dad had a Bronco II when I was just a wee lad, and I loved that thing. It was a red V6/5 speed XLS with tan interior, and I remember the day I went with him to pick it up at the Ford dealership in Gaithersburg. Even if the Baby Bronco was the one with a blown head gasket, I'd be forced to choose it over the Toy in his memory. Besides, they still look good to me with a nice set of beefy tires, and all SUVs are prone to tip, just don't try to drive a Bronco like a Mustang and you'll be okay.

  13. I'm going Bronco… Maybe it's the compact SUV thing, maybe it's just cus I always liked them…
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    but I think they can be kitted out pretty nice.

  14. My mother had a '90 Bronco II; I was barely old enough to remember it at the time, but I always liked the idea. In fact, I've always quite liked both of these, and examples of both are few and far between up here in rust country.
    Bronco, I suppose. With a SOHC 4.0.

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