It May Be Time To Admit The Pontiac Aztek Was Right

First, I can’t believe that Regular Car Reviews hasn’t featured the Pontiac Aztek until just now. Second, for all the Aztek’s many flaws—it had a horrible engine, deplorable early 2000s General Motors quality, and it was quite ugly—it may be time to admit the Aztek was right. More than that, it was the future.

The Aztek was only made from 2001 to 2005. Few cars from that era remain as talked about and controversial as it does today, and for good reason. It still stands as an example of design by committee gone wrong—despite coming from a striking concept car and actually being innovative in its design, everyone involved at GM wanted something different, so the end result was inherently compromised.

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Though a few committed owners loved them, and some even do today, it was widely considered both a sales and public relations failure.

That’s why it was so fitting as the ride of choice of the pathetic, beaten-down high school teacher Walter White before he became a meth kingpin on Breaking Bad. It’s a sad and dismal car for sad and dismal people.

But the Aztek got one thing very right: essentially it was a front- or all-wheel drive minivan underneath, dressed up to look like some rugged off-roading SUV. In that way it was an early example of the crossovers that now dominate the U.S. car market.

There’s no forgiving that face, but the Aztek was way ahead of the curve. At the very least it deserves some credit for that today.

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In this RCR video, Mr. Regular goes through a yellow (they’re always yellow somehow) 2001 model and all its flaws: Cheap plastic interior, subpar fuel economy, a 3.4-liter V6 that nobody thinks highly of today.

But it had a tent that came out of the trunk. The center console was a cooler that you could detach and take with you. It could carry a ton of stuff. It had a sliding cargo floor. GM tried a bunch of stuff here and it didn’t always work out great, but it was ambitious as hell, and in line with what a lot of buyers want today.

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It is a story of “bravery and stupidity in equal measure,” Mr. Regular says. And while the final product wasn’t great, it was right.

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About the author

Patrick George

Editor-in-Chief at Jalopnik. 2002 Toyota 4Runner.