2001 Pontiac Aztek

GM calls the Aztek the ‘world’s first sport recreational vehicle’, a combination SUV/van/sedan that is aimed at people who like outdoors activities such as biking, camping, snowboarding, skiing, and day trips to the lake or the beach.

Controversially-styled Aztek aimed at recreational buyers

2001 Pontiac Aztek
I’ll be the first to admit that automobile styling preferences are purely subjective (eye of the beholder and all that stuff), but really, what were GM stylists thinking when they designed the Aztek?

The Aztek’s styling is definitely the most controversial GM design to come out of Detroit since the 1992 Buick Skylark. Its bulky proportions, and aggressive in-your-face front-end remind me of futuristic vehicles seen in old low-budget sci-fi flicks like ‘Road Warriors’, or ‘Death Race 2000’.

The Aztek’s tall, military-style bumper and side body cladding, imposing nose, deep-set headlamps, hood-mounted air intake, and ‘eyebrow’ turn signals present a tough, aggressive image – ready to strike fear into the hearts of motorists seeing it in their rear-view mirrors for the first time…

Well, maybe I’m being a bit too harsh. The Aztek is certainly unique – something in its favour – and its bold styling is bound to appeal to people looking for something different. Pontiac’s product planners believe potential buyers will be, and I quote, “intellectually and physically active people who don’t want to follow the herd..”, “self-assured free thinkers”, “innovative”, and “computer savvy”. Specifically, Pontiac believes the Aztek will appeal to active young couples without children who want a vehicle to complement their active lifestyles.

Pontiac certainly deserves credit for stepping into untested waters..

A ‘sport-recreational’ vehicle

2001 Pontiac Aztek
GM calls the Aztek the ‘world’s first sport recreational vehicle’, a combination SUV/van/sedan that is aimed at people who like outdoors activities such as biking, camping, snowboarding, skiing, and day trips to the lake or the beach.

To attract these people, the Aztek offers many unique features which complement the outdoors lifestyle. These include a removeable cooler between the driver and passenger seats that doubles as a centre console and storage bin; removeable ‘saddle-bags’ in the front door pockets; water-resistant seat covers; and waterproof floor mats.

For ‘tailgate parties’, the Aztek’s rear tailgate has seat depressions and there are optional rear stereo controls and speakers. The folding rear seats are removeable; there’s an optional slide-out rear cargo tray, rear cargo nets, and an optional rear air mattress and tent which clips onto the back of the Aztek.

In addition, bike racks, ski racks, and roof-mounted cargo containers are available.

Bold interior, too

Like its exterior, the Aztek has a unique interior with a bold look. Strong interior styling features include a passenger grab handle on the dash, durable heavy-cloth seat fabric (mine had a discreet ‘camouflage’ pattern), large round air vents, metallic-look dash trim, faux carbon-fiber instrument backgrounds, and orange coloured backlit instruments.

2001 Pontiac Aztek
The Aztek’s interior is roomy, a function of its tall roof and boxy proportions. With big doors and a low step-in height, the Aztek is easy to get in and out of and offers plenty of interior room for five passengers and their cargo.

The driver sits up high, and has good outward visibility, particularly to the rear where there is a large rear window and a lower window as well. The driver’s seat offers excellent lateral support due to large side bolsters, and is comfortable on a long drive – front seats have handy inside folding armrests. Some models have optional manual lumbar adjustment on the driver’s seat.

Between the front seats, a removable centre console/cooler can store up to 12 pop cans, and can also double as a storage compartment for CD’s and valuables. The centre console includes dual cupholders with inserts for various-sized cups, and a 12 volt power outlet. Two more power outlets are located behind the console and one in the cargo area.

At the rear are 50/50 split folding rear seats which can recline for passenger comfort. To accommodate cargo, the rear seatbacks can be folded forwards, the whole seat can be flipped and folded forwards, or it can be removed completely from the vehicle – each rear seat weighs 20 kg (45 lb.), light enough for an average adult to lift.

2001 Pontiac Aztek Seat Covers
Optional are separate rear captain’s chairs which can also be removed from the vehicle. With the rear seats removed there is 93.5 cubic feet of space, more than in a Dodge Durango according to Pontiac.

The three-person rear seat offers plenty of legroom and headroom. There are three 3-point seatbelts and two outboard adjustable head restraints. The new LATTCH child seat restraint system for new child seats is standard on the Aztek.

To access the cargo area from the rear, there is a lift-up hatch door and a lower flip-down tailgate. The hatch can be released from the inside or with a remote keyfob, but there is no handle on the hatch itself. The rear windows have electric defrosters but a rear wiper is not available.

As mentioned, Aztek’s are available with a slide-out cargo tray to make loading easier or a larger cargo tray with separate storage compartments. The cargo area is big enough to store several 4X8 sheets of drywall with the tailgate down. In addition, there are dozen cargo anchors, cargo net, and side storage compartments for loose ends.

A unique tent attachment is available that wraps around the back of the Aztek with the hatch door open and the tailgate down. An inflatable air specifically designed to fit into the cargo area is also available as an option.

Built on minivan platform

Roof mounted bike rack
Roof mounted bike rack
Cargo net
Cargo net
Console Cooler
Console Cooler
Interior bike rack
Interior bike rack
Sliding tray
Sliding tray

Though it looks more like an SUV than a minivan, the Aztek is based on the current front-wheel-drive GM minivan platform (Venture/Montana/Silhouette). Its wheelbase is 10 mm (4 in.) shorter than the short-wheelbase GM minivan.

Like the minivans, Aztek’s have an independent front MacPherson strut suspension and rear twist-beam suspension – optional is an automatic level control system that consists of air bladders around the rear shock absorbers – the air pressure maintains a constant vehicle level when towing a trailer or carrying a heavy load.

Traction control, which uses both throttle retardation and braking, is standard on front-wheel-drive Azteks. Later this year, GM will introduce a new ‘Verstrak’ a full-time four-wheel-drive system as an optional feature. Versatrak-equipped Aztek’s will feature an independent rear suspension and four wheel disc brakes.

Aztek’s have the same 185 horsepower 3.4 litre overhead valve V6 engine used in GM minivans and a standard four-speed automatic transmission with a floor-mounted shifter. The Aztek’s torquey V6 engine allows for a fairly hefty towing capacity of 1600 kg (3500 lb.) with the optional trailer tow package which consists of heavy-duty radiator, alternator, and auto-levelling rear suspension.

The Aztek’s fuel economy is about the same as a GM minivan and better than most V6-powered SUV’s: in the city it offers 12.3 l/100 km (23 mpg), and on the highway it gets 8.3 l/100 km (34 mpg).

Driving impressions

The Aztek is a much more civilized driving machine than its appearance might suggest. Its standard 3.4 litre V6 engine is very responsive, and the Aztek’s prompt off-the-line performance belies its bulk. The Aztek accelerates quickly with a throaty growl which settles down to a moderate hum at highway speeds. The standard 4-speed automatic transmission performed with the usual seamless performance offered by GM transmissions in general. Highway cruising is quiet and comfortable – the Aztek rides more smoothly than a typical SUV, and the passenger cabin is very quiet.

Handling too, is better than you might expect from this tall Pontiac. The Aztek’s minivan-based unit-body chassis offers a lower centre of gravity than a typical truck, and combined with a wide track, standard P215/70SR-15 inch radials, and the Aztek’s shorter wheelbase, the Aztek corners with minimal lean, is less choppy than most SUV’s, is more maneouverable than a minivan, and is predictable and easy to drive on twisty roads. Its turning circle of 11.1 metres (36.4 ft.) is better than many vehicles of this size.

Outward visibility is excellent – a low sloping hood allows the driver to see the road directly ahead, and the huge rear window makes it easy to see to the rear when backing into a parking space.

Overall, and somewhat to my surprise, I found the Aztek a very pleasant vehicle to drive, both in the city and on the highway.

Two trim levels to choose from

Azteks come in two trim levels, base ($29,255) and GT ($32,895). Standard equipment on base models includes the 3.4 litre V6 engine, 4-speed automatic transmission, dual front and side airbags, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD player with six speakers, power windows and door locks, power liftgate release, power mirrors, cargo security cover, roof rack, anti-lock brakes, P215/70SR-15 inch tires, and all-speed traction control.

2001 Pontiac Aztek with tent
Options on the base model include an in-dash 6-disc CD player and Pioneer 10-speaker sound system with rear cargo area controls, cruise control, cargo net system, slide-out rear tray, deep tinted glass, sunroof, and remote keyless entry.

Standard equipment on Aztek GT models includes everything on the base model plus P215/65SR-16 inch tires and alloy wheels, driver/passenger automatic climate control, removeable console/cooler, front door saddle bags, driver information centre, leather-wrapped steering wheel with built-in radio controls, overhead console, 4-way manual driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment, rear sliding cargo tray, and premium seat cloth.

Well-equipped models can reach $35,000. Can young, active couples afford this? Apparently, they’re not only active, innovative, free-thinking – they’re also well-to-do..

Technical Data:

2001 Pontiac Aztek GT
Base price $29,255
Price as tested $32,895
Type 4-door, 5-passenger sport-activity vehicle
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 3.4 litre V6, OHV
Horsepower 185 @ 5200 rpm
Torque 210 ft-lb @ 4000 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Tires P215/70R-16 all-season touring
Curb weight 1728 kg (3811 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 (45.2 cu. ft.)
  2669 litres (93.5 cu. ft.) rear seat removed
Trailer towing capacity 1588 kg (3500 lb.)
Fuel consumption City: 12.3 l/100 km (23 mpg)
  Hwy: 8.3 l/100 km (34 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km

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