2000 Pontiac Aztek Review


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by Ted Laturnus

The first thing that strikes me about the new Pontiac Aztek is its sheer ugliness. I’m sorry, but to my eyes, this is one of the most plug-ugly vehicles ever to put rubber to pavement. It looks like it’s been whomped with an ugly-stick. Already it’s being known as the wart-hog, because of its stubby body and pushed-in styling job. Even my teenage daughter - to whom the Aztek is being marketed - has mixed feelings about it. “The front’s okay,” she says, “but the back looks like it hasn’t been finished.” To put it mildly.

Having said that, I also recognize that another equally homely vehicle, the Toyota Echo, is selling like hot-cakes, so what do I know? And I have to admit that I’ve never driven a vehicle with as much disparity between its physical appearance and its driveability. Behind the wheel, the Aztek is actually a pleasure to drive.

That’s probably because it’s based on the General Motors U-van platform - Pontiac Montana and Chevrolet Venture - and shares many components with them, including a 3.4 litre V6 that develops 185 horsepower at 5200 rpm, and 210 foot-pounds of torque at 4000 rpm. There is only one transmission, a four-speed automatic. It’s also currently available with front-drive only, but an all-wheel-drive version with GM’s VersaTrak system, is on the way. Pontiac product planner, Jim O”Donnell, says that the Aztek is Pontiac’s first “cross-over vehicle”, that is, it has the attributes of a sports sedan, the versatility of a sport utility, and the practicality of a van. For the record, the Aztek is not a sport ute, though….it’s a sport recreational vehicle.

Obviously, the key to the Aztek’s appeal doesn’t lie in its drivetrain or styling job. General Motors is marketing this rig as, and I quote, “quite possibly the most versatile vehicle on the planet.” That remains to be seen, but certainly there’s no lack of options and add-ons. For example, you can order a roof-mounted bicycle rack (an additional $780), a detachable backpack ($473) that attaches to the back of the front seat, and a clip-on tent and air mattress outfit ($272) which converts the Aztek into an RV. Standard equipment also includes a centre console that doubles as a cooler, sliding rear cargo trays, and lightweight removable back seats that can be carried with a handle and only weigh 21 kilograms (45 lb.) apiece. According to Pontiac’s assistant brand manager, Debbie Hadden, the Aztek is aimed at “physically active free thinkers who are out there, doing.” These consumers, according to Hadden, are the first people to do e-trading on the net, use Palm Pilots, and “shape the world.” Pontiac is fervently hoping that they will be attracted to the Aztek’s practicality and unorthodox design.

Standard equipment level on the Aztek is quite high. Engine block heater, power door locks, power windows, air conditioning, four power points, front and side impact airbags, anti-locking brakes, and battery run-down protection all come standard. Two models will be offered: standard and GT. The base model will start at $29,255, with the GT going for $32,895. Basically, equipment level is what separates them. You can also order four-wheel-disc brakes for either model, as well as power sunroof and beefed-up suspension.

As dismayed as I was by the Aztek’s physical appearance, during a three-hour drive up to BC’s Whistler Mountain resort area, I have to admit that I enjoyed driving it. Its combination of a high-road road stance, surprisingly nimble handling, and plenty of pulling power made me forget, for awhile, that I was piloting one of the strangest-looking vehicles on the road. The “looka that!” factor of the Aztek is right up there with the new Beetle, Prowler, and PT cruiser. I’m happy to report that although the exterior of the Aztek may be unusual, the interior is sensibly laid out, comfortable, and has very good ergonomics. GM is offering an optional Heads-Up Display (HUD) system with the Aztek, which projects various functions onto the inside of the windshield. Interesting, but not crucial. And the corporation’s OnStar service will also be available. Among other things, this communications system will give you instant access to GM technicians, should you break down, and can even unlock the doors if you lock yourself out.

In terms of actually selling the Aztek, maybe the folks at Pontiac are banking on the fact that it’s so strange looking, people will buy it just to stand out. The fact that you can also take it camping (and off-road, when the AWD system is available) is, all things considered, a bonus.

Pontiac is also offering everyone a chance to win an Aztek. Log onto the web site: www.Aztektrek.com, and you can register for a virtual rally. Participants with the highest score will win an Aztek as well as other RV products and jewelry.

SPECS- Seating: Five Drivetrain: 3.4 litre V6/four-speed automatic transmission Power: 185 hp @ 5200 rpm/210 foot-pounds of torque @ 4000 rpm Wheelbase: 2751 mm (108.3 in.) Brakes: Front disc/rear drum w. ABS Price range: $29,255 to $32,895

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