Pontiac calls the Aztek a sport recreation vehicle that blends the attributes of a sport utility vehicle with those of a minivan, sedan and wagon. Designed to provide all-purpose transportation, it was introduced for the 2001 model year to considerable hoopla. The vehicle was aimed at younger buyers. Based on the platform used for GMs front-wheel-drive (FWD) minivans, the Aztek was the corporations first SUV/minivan crossover vehicle. Buick uses similar construction for its Rendezvous, which looks more like a conventional SUV.
What Pontiac and GM failed to anticipate was the adverse reaction to the Azteks unconventional appearance. Amid considerable criticism from the media and industry observers, many of whom branded the vehicle ugly and unappealing, the Aztek failed to attract enough young buyers. Annual sales fell far short of the 50,000 to 60,000 units that the automaker expected. As reported by Automotive News, only 27,322 Azteks were sold during 2001. Many people considered the styling too bizarre.
Despite the sales shortfall, not everyone agrees with the conventional wisdom that the new model was an unforgivable error for Pontiac. Still, the negative reaction prompted designers to make a few adjustments to the vehicles appearance last year.
The Aztek is built in Mexico and comes with a V-6 engine and either FWD or Versatrak all-wheel drive (AWD). An integrated overhead DVD entertainment system and a tire-inflation monitor will be available for 2003 as part of the Comfort & Security Package, which also includes 17-inch tires. XM Satellite Radio is also available as an option.
The Aztek has four conventional side doors, and it seats five occupants. Pontiacs trademark twin-port grille is familiar enough, but the rest of the body is a love-it-or-hate-it creation. The bumpers and lower bodysides are clad in gray plastic, and a large flip-up glass rear window gives the back end a steep slope. A tailgate below the rear glass folds down and contains built-in seats and cupholders.
The Aztek stands 66.7 inches tall, rides a 108.3-inch wheelbase and measures 182.1 inches long overall thats 5 inches shorter than the standard-length Pontiac Montana minivan. A rear spoiler on the Aztek is standard. Three-spoke, cast-aluminum, 16-inch wheels are standard, but 17-inch tires are available.
Pontiac promotes the Azteks versatile interior, which features two front bucket seats and a three-place rear bench as standard equipment. Two captains chairs are optional in place of the rear bench. Both seats fold down to produce extra cargo space, or they can be removed completely. With the rear seats removed, the Azteks cargo capacity is 93.5 cubic feet and can accommodate a 4-by-8-foot plywood sheet.
Two cargo storage systems are available: a pull-out cargo tray that holds up to 400 pounds or cargo nets that hold up to 200 pounds and can be configured 22 different ways using floor-mounted anchors. The cargo tray rolls on built-in wheels and has a grab handle for removal. A removable insulated cooler/console latches between the front seats and holds a dozen 12-ounce beverage cans.
An optional head-up display (HUD) projects the vehicles speed, turn signals, a low-fuel warning, radio-station frequency and other information into the windshield in the drivers line of vision. Two optional Lifestyle accessory packages are available: one for camping with a tent that fits over the back half of the vehicle, and another for biking.
Under the Hood
Borrowed from the Montana, the Azteks powertrain consists of a 185-horsepower, 3.4-liter V-6 engine and a four-speed-automatic transmission. The Aztek may be equipped with either FWD or Versatrak AWD, which engages automatically in low-traction conditions.
Side-impact airbags are standard. AWD Azteks have all-disc antilock brakes.
Aesthetic opinions do differ, but the Aztek is quite an attention-getter, especially when its painted in a bright color. This SUV is surprisingly quiet, but it is not a vehicle for the timid because of its external appearance. The Aztek is solid on the road, and it steers with a light touch. Its an easy and appealing vehicle to drive. The SUV maneuvers nicely around town and is stable on the highway.
Eager performance might not set any records, but the Azteks response is more than satisfying. Its handling is just about on par for a vehicle of this caliber, but the biggest bonus is its flexible interior space clearly a cut above the SUV pack in versatility.