For 2005, the Pontiac Aztek has few changes; OnStar Gen 6 hardware with upgraded hands-free capability has been added, and there are three new exterior colours.

The Aztek, like its Buick Rendezvous cousin, is built on a shortened and strengthened minivan chassis; even in all-wheel-drive configuration, it’s not going to be out conquering the rough terrain, which is why Pontiac calls it a sport “recreation” vehicle, rather than an SUV. It’s in its twilight year, awaiting the introduction of the Equinox-based Pontiac Torrent.

The Aztek is powered by a 3.4-litre V6 mated to a four-speed automatic; its available all-wheel-drive Versatrak system keeps it in front-wheel-drive until it detects slippage, whereupon it sends torque to the rear wheels as well. AWD models come with an independent rear suspension and four disc brakes.

The Aztek comes in base or GT trim, with AWD available in both; the base includes fog lights, power mirrors, roof rack side rails, 16-inch steel wheels, variable intermittent wipers, air conditioning, cargo net, floor mats, tilt wheel, power windows, cloth seats, CD player with six speakers, and power locks with keyless entry.

GT models add privacy glass, 17-inch aluminum wheels, rear cargo tray, removable front cargo console, overhead console, cruise control, tire pressure monitor, driver’s information centre, leather-wrapped wheel, and premium cloth upholstery.

A Canada-only ISD option package includes leather heated seats, six-way passenger power seat, OnStar, premium Pioneer ten-speaker CD/MP3 player with graphic equalizer, theft alarm and rear cargo audio controls for a $2,415 premium.

With its minivan underpinnings, the Aztek’s ride is more big car than heavy truck, although its weight does make for casual acceleration. It’s spacious, with a great deal of leg room and comfortable seating for five adult passengers, and its abbreviated rear end makes it fairly easy to put it straight between the lines at the grocery store. An optional rear-end tent never attracted the young, outdoorsy types Pontiac thought would flock to it, but the children might enjoy it when they camp out in the back yard.

The Aztek never made a first impression with buyers, and you can’t blame them; even with the original model’s awful plastic cladding stripped off, it’s still a warthog on wheels. Somewhere, a designer is going to eternal flames for this one. If you can get past the exterior, you get a decent interior, and with dealers eager to move them, you can probably swing one heck of a deal. But if you really want quirky and useful, the Honda Element sits on a slightly lower branch of the ugly tree, and it’s cheaper.

The Aztek is built in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.

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