More grip, better ride for controversially-styled Aztek
The Pontiac Aztek is now offered with an automatic four-wheel-drive system, new four wheel disc brakes, and a new independent rear suspension; the regular Aztek introduced last Fall has front-wheel-drive, front disc/rear drum brakes, and a non-independent twist beam axle rear suspension.
The new Aztek AWD has GM’s Versatrak all-wheel-drive system, a permanently engaged system that does not require any input from the driver. Versatrak automatically engages the rear wheels when the front wheels begin to slip, increasing traction and stability on wet, gravel or snow-covered roads. However, the all-wheel-drive Aztek could not be described as an SUV or an ‘off-road vehicle’. It doesn’t have a Low Range gear for steep grades, and it doesn’t have enough ground clearance to challenge serious back roads. Its best use is for rain-soaked roads, loose gravel roads, ice-covered or hard-packed snow-covered roads, or deep snow conditions on unploughed side streets. For these typical Canadian winter conditions, the Aztek AWD provides increased traction, stability and peace of mind for the occupants.
Part-and-parcel of the Verstrak system are four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake proportioning system, and a new independent short arm/long arm rear suspension. The latter improves the Aztek’s ride comfort and handling stability by allowing each rear wheel to act independently – for example, if one rear wheel hits a bump, it doesn’t upset the other rear wheel nearly as much – this reduces body roll and improves steering control.
Otherwise, the 2001 Pontiac Aztek AWD is pretty much what we’ve learned to love or hate – a roomy, five-passenger ‘activity’ vehicle based on GM’s front-wheel-drive minivan platform that offers above-average utility and unique but controversial styling.
Looks like a rhinocerous, drives like a pussycat
From any angle, the Aztek is a piece of work. The front is imposing, the side is very tall, and the back is just plain bulky. The upper body is painted, but the lower half is covered in a grey plastic cladding which is supposed to give it a more rugged look – I’m sure it helps to resist stone chips, but I’m not sure if they really need that much cladding…
Getting in to the Aztek is easy – the Aztek’s doors are large and open almost 90 degrees, and the step-in height is low. Despite this, the driver sits up high with a good view of the road ahead and behind thanks to a large rear window which extends right down to the bumper – this allows the driver to see the front bumper of the car behind when parallel parking. The Aztek has large windows including a third rear side window which improves visibility when shoulder-checking. Large outside mirrors also improve visibility to the rear.
Despite being rather large and heavy (1805 kg/3980 lb.), the Aztek is an easy vehicle to drive and has a very comfortable ride. There is some lean when cornering at highway speeds, and the Aztek’s bulky profile makes it susceptible to strong side winds, but steering effort is light, the engine responsive, and the 4-speed automatic transmission very smooth. Around town, the Aztek is easy to drive because of its tight turning circle (11.1 m/36.4 ft.)and good outward visibility.
The Aztek AWD is not particularly quick from 0 to 100 km/h – it weighs 75 kg (170 lb.) more than the front-wheel-drive Aztek – but it has good low-end torque and responds well from 0 to 60 km/h, the speeds typically used around town. Its 185 horsepower 3.4 litre OHV V6 engine does just 1900 rpm at 100 km/h which reduces engine noise and is good for fuel economy. At freeway speeds, the Aztek’s cabin is quiet – there is very little engine or road noise, and just a little wind noise seeping in from the rear hatchback.
The Versatrak system is imperceptible to the driver when driving on dry pavement, and even when it activates on slippery surfaces, there is little to indicate that it is operating other than the fact that the vehicle has more traction. The all-wheel-drive system is preferable to the traction control system on the front-wheel-drive system because it increases stability and steering control. I would recommend the all-wheel-drive Aztek if you drive frequently on poor roads in bad weather conditions.
Fuel consumption figures for the front-wheel-drive Aztek are quite reasonable for this size of vehicle: 12.3 l/100 km (23 mpg) in the city and 8.3 l/100 km (34 mpg) on the highway, and it uses regular grade gasoline. As the AWD Aztek is heavier and uses all-wheel-drive, expect fuel consumption figures to be approximately 10 to 20% worse.
Ride and handling are similar to the front-wheel-drive Aztek, but on rough roads the AWD model’s independent rear suspension absorbs bumps better and handling is more controllable on undulating surfaces. There is also a little more rear weight bias which improves vehicle stability.
Most critics who drive the Aztek are surprised at how pleasant it is to drive – a surprising contrast from its tough, aggressive appearance. (Note to Aztek salespeople – get your prospects out on the road as soon as possible..)
Interior bold, big, practical
The Aztek’s high roof and near-vertical sides provide a roomy interior for four or five adult passengers. All the seats have a high hip point and passengers sit upright, just like in a minivan. The front seats are raised so there’s lots of footroom for rear passengers. Four leather captains chairs are available as an option.
The ‘in your face’ interior styling blends tough styling with functional utility – the dashboard has large swivelling round air vents, a grab handle, metallic-look trim around the instruments and carbon-fiber-like trim surrounding the central control panel, red backlit instruments, large front door handles, and a bold floor shifter.
Though the Aztek’s interior is meant to look tough, there’s no shortage of comfort features. My well-equipped Aztek GT had dual-zone temperature control for the heater/air conditioner, seat heaters, power seats, steering wheel mounted stereo controls, overhead dual sunglasses holder, and a premium Pioneer 190-watt 10-speaker sound system, with a 6-disc in-dash CD changer and rear seat audio controls.
There are plenty of storage compartments including unusually large door pockets with mesh nets, removable utility packs in the front door trim, rear door pockets with built-in bottle holders, and mesh pockets on the back of the front seats.
In addition to a round tachometer, speedometer, fuel and coolant gauges, my test vehicle had the optional Head Up Display (HUD). This feature displays the vehicle speed in the lower windshield area so that the driver doesn’t have to look down and refocus their eyes on the gauges. The orange HUD numerals can be adjusted for brightness and can be moved up and down to suit driver’s tastes. I found the HUD easier to read than the standard speedometer gauge, but I also found the constantly-changing digital readout distracting when driving – this can be minimized by lowering the readout to its lowest level and turning down the brightness intensity to its lowest level.
A unique feature is a removeable cooler between the front seats which holds six pop cans – it can also be used to store CD’s, cassette, cameras and phones. Rear passengers (read children) have their own radio/tape/CD controls including headphone jacks, and two 12 volt powerpoints for cassette/CD/DVD players.
The 50/50 split rear seats allow many storage options: each seatback will fold flat, or each rear seat will tumble forward against the front seatback, or each seat can be removed entirely. The seats are heavy, but it’s possible for one adult to remove them. With the seats removed, the Aztek has over 93 cubic feet of cargo area, or about six times the room of a conventional automobile trunk. That utility benchmark, the 4X8 sheet of plywood, will fit in the cargo area.
To access the trunk, the Aztek has a combination hatchback and tailgate. The hatchback can be unlocked with a key or with a remote key fob, and must be opened before the tailgate. The large rear hatch door is a bit heavy to lift at first, but side struts give it some assist and it swings up by itself. The heavy tailgate swings down just like a tailgate on a pickup truck. With the tailgate down, it’s a long reach into the cargo area, so I recommend getting the optional slide-out storage tray which slides over the open tailgate and then slides back in. The slide-out tray will support up to 180 kg (400 lb.) of cargo. The tray also features a flip-up grocery box, and a hidden storage container.
For ‘tailgate parties’, the flip-down tailgate has two moulded-in seats, a couple of built-in cupholders, and the cargo-area features stereo controls, two large Pioneer speakers, and a rear power point. A custom-designed tent and air mattress is available for the rear of the Aztek – with the rear seats folded flat and the tailgate down, two people can stretch out in the tent which takes about 10 minutes to put up. It’s useful for weekend camping trips or overnight stays, but the Aztek is no substitute for a tent trailer.
Standard Aztek safety features include front airbags, seat-mounted side airbags, five 3-point seatbelts and 4 adjustable head restraints, rear child door locks, and rear tether points.
Prices and features
Front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive Azteks come in two trim levels, base and GT. Base fwd models are $29,255 and GT fwd Azteks are $32,895. All-wheel-drive Azteks are $32,895 and AWD GT models are $36,185. Freight is an extra $850.
Standard equipment on the base fwd models includes the 185 horsepower 3.4 litre V6 engine, four-speed automatic transmission, AM/FM/CD stereo, front and side airbags, power steering, power door locks, power windows, power mirrors, air conditioning, tachometer, intermittent wipers, 50/50 split rear bench seat, fog lights, 15 inch tires, 4 12 volt power outlets, six cupholders.
The fwd Aztek GT adds 16 inch tires and alloy wheels, a roof rack, dual zone climate control, sliding cargo tray, removeable cooler, air filters in the ventilation system, driver information centre including outside temperature gauge and compass, leather-wrapped steering wheel, better quality cloth upholstery, 4-way driver’s seat, and keyless remote.
AWD models add Versatrak, four wheel disc brakes, and the independent rear suspension.
Major options include glass sunroof, leather upholstery, heated front seats, premium stereo and rear audio controls, OnStar, and trailer towing package. There are also some biking and camping accessories available as options.
Azteks are built in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico
|2001 Pontiac Aztek GT AWD|
|Price as tested||$36,185|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger, mid-sized utility vehicle|
|Layout||transverse front engine/all-wheel-drive|
|Engine||3.4 litre OHV V6|
|Horsepower||185 @ 5200 rpm|
|Torque||210 lb.-ft. @ 4000 rpm|
|Curb weight||1805 kg (3980 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2751 mm (108.3 in.)|
|Length||4625 mm (182.1 in.)|
|Width||1872 mm ( 73.7 in.)|
|Height||1694 mm ( 66.7 in.)|
|Cargo volume||1282 litres (45.4 cu.ft.) behind rear seat|
|2669 litres(93.5 cu.ft.)w/rear seats removed|
|Towing (maximums)||1590 kg. (3500 lb.) with towing package|
|910 kg. (2000 lb.) without towing package|
|Fuel consumption||City: 12.3 l/100 km (23 mpg)|
|8.3 l/100 km (34 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|