The Pontiac Aztek is a frequently criticized vehicle, often incorrectly called the ugliest car ever made, as though Chrylser didn’t make any cars in the late 1970s. Its styling is, um, brave, to be sure, but is it a good vehicle? Does anything come out of the crazy mixture of a Montana minivan, a Grand Prix, and an unmitigated affront to imprudent design?
The Aztek was designed for a younger, active buyer. It was a vehicle that couldn’t be pinned down with a label like “SUV”, or at least not with just one. The concept car Aztek was well received, but the production version not so much. It is a great example of what happens when you take the vision of a talented designer and shove it through the giant corporate design-by-committee, focus-group, bean-counting meat grinder.
Still, functionally, the vehicle is impressive. Sure, it’s ugly on the outside, but it’s beautiful on the inside. I don’t mean the interior, that’s not so great either. I mean the metaphorical inside.
Visibility is excellent, ground clearance is good, and it came with neat features and options like a removable cooler console, a sliding cargo tray, and a tent. The 3.4-liter engine is good for 185 horsepower and a 0-60 mph time of 9.4 seconds. Towing capability is a respectable 3500 pounds, and the optional Versatrak all-wheel-drive system is good for directing power from the slippy wheels to the grippy wheels. The rear seats are foldable and removable, and you can fit an entire 4’ x 8’ sheet of plywood in the back.
The ugly black cladding was a bad idea, but that was removed after two years of production for a slight improvement. The Aztek was discontinued after 2005, and the production line was retooled to build what this writer considers to be a far uglier vehicle: the Chevrolet HHR.
The Aztek story is one that General Motors has gone through many times: People asked GM for something different, tired of the same boring sedans and minivans. GM showed up with something truly different, versatile, and capable, and the people replied: “That’s not quite what we meant.”
But it was a good vehicle.