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 and is aimed at younger buyers. Based on the platform used for GMs front-drive minivans, the Aztek was the corporations first SUV/minivan crossover vehicle. Buick uses similar construction for its 2002 Rendezvous, which looks more like a conventional SUV.
What Pontiac and GM didnt count on was 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. 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 has prompted designers to consider a few adjustments in the crossover vehicles appearance, possibly emanating from the Aztek Salsa and Sport Edition that were displayed at the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas in autumn 2000.
For 2002, Pontiac has dropped the GT edition, leaving one model with front-wheel drive and another with Versatrak all-wheel drive. A freshened exterior includes a rear spoiler. Four option packages are available, and a CD player now is standard. Three-spoke cast0-aluminum 16-inch wheels are standard, and optional 17-inch tires are available for AWD models.
Seating four or five occupants, the Aztek has four conventional side doors. Pontiacs trademark twin-port grille is conventional enough, but the rest of the body is a love-it-or-hate-it creation. 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 rides a 108.3-inch wheelbase and measures 182 inches overall 4 inches shorter than the standard-size Pontiac Montana minivan.
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, cargo volume is 93 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 ways using floor-mounted anchors. The cargo tray rolls on built-in wheels and has a grab handle for removal. A newly standard, removable insulated cooler/console latches between the front seats and holds a dozen 12-ounce beverage cans. An optional head-up display projects vehicle speed, turn signals, low-fuel warning, radio-station frequency and other information into the windshield in the drivers line of vision. Two optional Lifestyle Packages are available: one for camping with a tent that attaches to the back of the vehicle, and one for biking.
Under the Hood
Borrowed from the Montana minivan, the Azteks powertrain consists of a 185-horsepower, 3.4-liter V-6 engine and a four-speed-automatic transmission. Azteks can have front-wheel drive or Versatrak all-wheel drive, which engages automatically in low-traction conditions.
Aesthetic opinions may differ, but the Aztek is quite an attention-getter, especially when its painted in a bright color. This SUV is surprisingly quiet, and it is not a vehicle for the timid because of its external appearance. Solid on the road and steering with a light touch, its an easy and appealing vehicle to drive. The Aztek maneuvers nicely around town and also is stable on the highway.
Eager performance might not set any records, but the Azteks response is more than satisfying. Handling is just about on par for a vehicle of this caliber. The biggest bonus, though, is its flexible interior space clearly a cut above the SUV pack in versatility.