By on October 25, 2006

x04pn_az001222.jpgAutomotive history is littered with titanic failures. For every hot-selling Mustang, there’s a hatful (hateful?) of Vegas, Pintos, Excels, Yugos, Edsels and, of course, Azteks. From its introduction until its timely demise some four years later, the Pontiac Aztek SUV was the subject of journalistic dog-piling and a thousand weak jokes. But really, does it belong in this infamous company? The answer is a bit complicated; the Aztek was certainly a failure, but not exactly in the way you might expect.

First, let’s look at the Aztek’s indisputable failure: sales. Pontiac aimed to sell 75k Azteks a year. In its first model year (2001), GM shipped less than 10k Azteks to private buyers, dumped quite a few thousand on unfortunate middle-managers and sent the rest to the rental fleets. After an emergency re-style, a price-cut and deep discounts, sales climbed to around 25 – 27k units per year, and stayed there until the car’s demise. 

2001pontiacaztek-2222.jpgThe Aztek may have been a car lot pariah, but it was no Chevy Vega. There were no major recalls or horror stories involving melting engines. The model was as reliable as any GM vehicle of its time, cutting edge in many ways (CAD-CAM designed, red light dash, optional heads-up display), outdoorsy (could be converted into a camper, complete with built-in air compressor for your air mattress), lifestyle-oriented (racks for bikes, canoes, kayaks, etc.) and beloved (high scores on “CSI" owner surveys). Despite abuse from all quarters, the Aztek earned itself a group of passionate devotees.  

Even so, it bombed. So who exactly gets the blame for this so-called fiasco? Again, there's no denying that the engineers didn’t make it pretty, but they made it well. The UAW also gets a pass; GM built the Aztek (and Buick Rendezvous) in Mexico’s Ramos Arizpe plant. No, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of GM's bean counters. That’s because the Aztek’s biggest problem wasn’t its confused looks (though they didn’t help). It was price.

The Aztek was designed for younger couples and families who didn’t want a great honking SUV. Pontiac priced the Aztek in the region of $25k to $30k. Unfortunately, the price was well into premium minivan and three-row SUV territory. The Aztek offered Versatrak all-wheel drive and a lot (a LOT) of cladding, but it fooled no one. The vehicle its makers labeled “quite possibly the most versatile vehicle on the planet” was priced at least $5k above its logical, non-SUV competition. 

x2pn_az04222.jpgGiven that most of the Aztek’s technology was off-the-shelf, and south-of-the-UAW labor costs were low, why was the initial asking price so high? When the Aztek was designed, Pontiac had no high profit SUV’s. When their line finally got an SUV (ok, a proto-crossover), Pontiac’s brass were hungry for big profit margins, despite the fact that the Aztek was a more-expensive unitary design. So GM cut production costs as deeply as possible and then set the retail price to deliver big profits while still undercutting Chevy’s mid-sized SUVs (Trailblazer). Great in theory, poison in practice.

Even so, why did GM/Pontiac think they could sell 75k Azteks? Of course, missing a sales target is hardly a novelty in the car industry, especially at General Motors. Even though the domestic automaker pays thousands of researchers huge amounts of money to find out how many people want (or think they want) what, no one has quite cracked that particular nut. The market research leading to the Aztek is locked away, deep inside GM's vaults. Did they ask the wrong questions, or simply draw the wrong conclusions? 

x05pn_az00322.jpgGM certainly was on to something with the Aztek's manufacturing system. Like Honda's Odyssey/Ridgeline twins, the Mexican plant could switch between Azteks and Rendezvous. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough demand for either vehicle to make the so-called "flexible" system work. In fact, GM has had some terrible luck with plants capable of making limited production runs, such as the now-closed Lansing facility (Reatta, EV1, SSR). As a result, the majority of GM's business is still built on big runs, with the “extra” (i.e. surplus to retail demand) units going to fleets. The company is still not set up to profit on small volumes for niche markets. Which is exactly what today's fragmenting market demands.

Now that it’s gone, many want to write off the Aztek as one of the great all-time automotive disasters. On the face of it (should you be able to look), it was. But in many important ways, it wasn’t. Again, the model broke new ground in many areas. The epitaph should not be “GM’s Edsel”. Or maybe it should. Edsel Ford was hounded by his famous father and ruined by the stress of holding a disintegrating company together. The Aztek died because it was forced to carry the hopes and dreams of an entire division, when it was just a decent, homely little people-carrier.

 

 

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110 Comments on “In Defense Of: The Pontiac Aztek...”


  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Interesting editorial. I think we have to keep in mind that if we want automakers to offer things that are new and different, there are going to be some failures. It would be a pity if GM’s takeaway was that taking chances is a bad thing.

    Andrew makes a good point about pricing. If Pontiac had introduced a decontented model at $15K, the Aztek could have gotten the buzz the Scion xB has.

    Bygones.

  • avatar
    gforce2002

    Good editorial! The Aztek’s styling may have been, um, “unique” (to be kind), but it was not overall a “bad” vehicle for it’s intended purpose. But overpriced it was. By far.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    We should remember, though, that the Aztek –like the GM minivans it was based on–had lousy safety ratings, which made it hard to pitch to young families. There’s a limit to what Marketing can do if a product is poorly engineered.

  • avatar
    Gerry T

    I liked the subject matter of this editorial. It would be interesting over the next few months to read articles with the inside story of other classics… Gremlins, Pacers, Chevettes, Cimarrons, Yugos, Chrysler Maseratis.

  • avatar
    JJ

    Just goes to show that cars that look terrible aren’t going to sell in huge amounts. Of course the people that buy them are satisfied with their purchase; the fact that they buy a car this ugly says they don’t expect very much from their cars. Probably they just went to a Pontiac dealer and bought whatever they saw that was about the size they were looking for, never wondering what else there was on the market. They are easily satisfied with their car because the only standard they’ve got is if it gets them from A to B.

    We had a similar case here in Europe, called the FIAT ***shiver*** Multipla. A minivan with six seets divided between the first two rows. Hugely practical car, reasonable quality, reliable engines (diesel) but unbelievably ugly. It had lights on the front end but also…at the low end of the A-pillar (eventually they completely redesigned the front end). It also had great ratings in customer satisfaction.

    A view houses down the street they had one. Of course, a FIAT employee lives there…

    Now I could give you a link with pictures of this thing, and I will:
    Nose

    Car

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    JJ,
    I’m in the middle of breakfast — please don’t post any pictures of the Multiplia just yet!

  • avatar
    Glenn

    OK SherbornSean, I hope you have finished your breakfast, sine JJ could not get a photo to go, I’ll endeavor to do a link to autoindex.org (which has photos of all cars now produced in the world and recent past, plus specs).

    http://www.globalautoindex.com/model.plt?no=132&ass=

    Click on the photos to make them enlarge. If you dare. This car was thankfully restyled in 2004. Much more palatable.

    http://www.globalautoindex.com/model.plt?no=3690&ass=

    OK while we are on the subject, here is the South Korean Ssangyong Rodius which is about as “handsome” as Hermann Munster.

    Looks challenged would be a kindness. Makes the Aztkek look like a beauty queen. Hold on to your stomach before you look.

    http://www.globalautoindex.com/model.plt?no=3803&ass=

  • avatar
    Ed S.

    Andrew makes a good point about pricing. If Pontiac had introduced a decontented model at $15K, the Aztek could have gotten the buzz the Scion xB has. -SherbornSean

    There was a very comfy profit built in at the $25-30K price point, but lets not forget who as building the thing. Even GM-Mexico can’t build a car using “inflexible” manufacturing for a profit with a selling price of $15K. Decontenting would have to have included final assembly. For the market space, “some assembly required” might have been a neat way to welcome your new car into the family.

    While the vehicle may have broken new ground for GM by implimenting CAD design (using computers even!) the standard ofquality the car was designed to was still lower then the domestic market was willing to pay for. Cladding was just an example of what Pontiac & GM thought they could get away with.

  • avatar
    Lemmy-powered

    I’ll never forget the large crowd that gathered around the Aztek at the 2001 Toronto Auto Show.

    Though there were many wisecracks made about styling, most of us were checking out the nifty tent attachment on the rear and (it being winter) imagining what it would be like to take the rig camping when summer came.

    Then it happened. A woman blurted out: “wait a minute — where are you supposed to put all your gear while you sleep?” The crowd murmured, then dispersed.

  • avatar
    erinth

    My first TTAC post. As an Aztek owner, and half of a two Aztek family, I was wondering if there’d ever be any carping about the Aztek. This is the most fair editorial regarding the Aztek, and it brings up a point I’d not condsidered before: price.

    Our Azteks are both 2002 models, and we thought they were great value for the money. I intially suggested one to my partner near the end of the 2002 model year for three reasons; end of model year incentives, a $3000 rebate and the notion that the unpopularity of the Aztek would lead to an even better deal.

    I was so impressed with his that I went back two days later and bought mine.

    Other than some mechanical issues (don’t getme started…) we can’t have been more pleased with the comfort, economy and the sheer usefullness of these vehicles. NO ONE who has ridden in one hasn’t said something to the effect of “I never knew these were so nice inside”

    So it’s nice to see someone recognize that instead of GM’s Edsel, maybe the Aztek was simply a collection of ideas not quite ready to mesh together.

    I’ll add one point on why I think sales tanked. Lack of cool advertising. Since styling is all a matter of personal preference…if Honda can sell something as…unique as the Element with ads that showed skateboarders jumping through the Elements unique side door arrangement, why couldn’t have Pontiac come up with something like…”Hey,we know it’s ugly, but wait until you see what it can do…”

    Then again, maybe that’s why I’m not an advertising copy writer…

    Peace

  • avatar
    JimP

    Thanks for the essay; love to see more like it.

    I’ve always wondered whether there’s a bit of chaos theory, or just luck, in rolling out a new product. Yes, you have to get the fundamentals right, no question. However, once you meet or exceed the base level of consumer expectations, the rest is chance. There seems to be almost no way to guess what the consumer will decide is Hot. Producers (or retailers) struggle to offer enough choices that something will have the indescribable It, while ensuring that failures don’t tank the whole enterprise. It is a very tricky balance. I do wonder what would have happened with a better price point, and a slightly less shocking appearance. Swing… and a miss.

  • avatar
    ash78

    I’ve always had sort of a soft spot for the Aztek, despite its looks (although I can name about 10 cars that are uglier and sell better). But you can’t ever get away from the fact that the #1 selling point on a car–across the board–is the style. No matter how much people go on about safety, performance, reliability, style is still the “silent dealbreaker,” even for most of the driving appliance crowd. If the curb appeal doesn’t pass muster, how are you going to generate interest in the rest of it?

    I honestly think Honda and Toyota can get away with it because they are capitalizing on the burgeoning sense of Japanese character that is distinctly lacking from most of the country’s offerings. When I see an xB or Element or Yaris, I’m viscerally connected to some freakish anime story from the year 2500, where everyone is driving around in boxes and has purple hair and huge eyes. It’s “cute appeal,” and the practicality and reliability don’t hurt. With the Aztek, there was no cute appeal out of the gate, so how are you going to sell practicality to people who aren’t listening?

  • avatar

    How are the dealers to blame for the Aztek’s pricing? GM set the pricing.

    I’ve long said that if GM introduced this with the 2002 design (painted instead of gray cladding) and the optional for 2002 17s as standard equipment, it would have done okay.

    But by the time the 2002 came out, the public had already formed an impression of the Aztek based on the 2001.

    Price was also an issue, and cutting the base price from $21,995 in 2001 to $20,545 in 2002 wasn’t enough of a correction. The Aztek was aimed at the same crowd as the Dodge Caliber and Scion xB. They’ve both done well with pricing in the high teens.

  • avatar
    blautens

    Regardless of the competency of the power train or general driveability, no one associated with foisting the styling of the original Aztek on the public should feel good. Honestly. They should go home, look in the mirror, and feel ashamed for not having said “no – this is wrong”.

    It should be considered the poster child for why plastic body cladding is generally a bad thing.

    As an owner of a 2006 GM vehicle, I can tell you those people are still lurking at GM, crafting poorly fitting bits to stick on most GM cars…just not in the proportions that overwhelmed the Aztek.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    They were god awlful looking without a straightline anywhere inside the cabin. They should have at least looked something like a pontiac or a buick when they looked anything but.

    What is a a platofrm anyway?

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Michael,
    The other problem at introduction was that the drivetrain was FWD only. They eventually added AWD, but — as you point out — consumers had already made up their minds: this wasn’t a real SUV.

  • avatar

    Good point on the lack of AWD at intro. And when they did offer it, it was overpriced at $3,000. The market generally pays about $1,750 for AWD without a low range. The problem was probably that AWD required an IRS instead of the beam axle in the FWD, and this seriously bumped the manufacturing cost.

    I was inside GM while this was being developed. Essentially, the board insisted on a crossover fast and cheap. As any engineer will tell you:

    “Fast, cheap, good: pick any two.”

  • avatar
    Grendel

    The Aztek was a colossal failure. By 2001 all autos were “reliable” and the Aztek gets no points for meeting the bare minimum. Pontiac sponsored “Survivor” which had astronomical TV ratings but still couldn’t sell the thing because it was a FAKE – a warmed over minivan! Poor mileage, heavy, sloppy handling and virtually no offroad ability. And then there is the styling… The Aztek reflected GM’s belief that US consumers are stupid and will buy anything GM chose to sell. And Pontiac as brand is still suffering. No amount of flexible manufacturing would have saved this vehicle – or made it profitable. The Aztek reflected poor decision making start to finish. And did I mention its ugly…still.

  • avatar
    Steven T.

    I could use a versatile vehicle like the Aztek, and might have looked past its sheer ugliness if it had excellent reliability. Didn’t happen. Honda can get away with offering overpriced and ugly products; GM can’t.

    Good article.

  • avatar
    memikeyounot702

    To Glenn, regarding the South Korean Ssangyong Rodius pictures; while it’s grill IS odd, if you look at the side design, it looks a lot like the new Honda CR-V. Which as we know is the BEST LOOKING Honda ever made.(in my best sarcastic voice)

  • avatar
    Blunozer

    Anybody else notice that the Honda Element did everything that the Aztek was supposed to do, only better and for less money?

    Oh, and it also had available AWD from its first day of sale.

  • avatar
    jaje

    I see the Aztek as a capable vehicle but it was so poorly distinguised from the other minivans and that terrible Pontiac ribbed for her pleasure looks. I kinda rooted for it b/c it gave those SUV owners who never needed a real SUV an option. In fact I looked at a used Aztek when I was shopping for a daily driver that also was a good vehicle to camp out of when I went to the racetrack (save’s 1000′s a year on hotel costs).

    After being intrigued with a flexible interior, I then looked into the Element (another funky looking but much cleaner design – I dubbed it the bread van). There was a lot of practical innovation that caught my eye, it got the same mpg and same driving performance as the larger Aztek, but the seating was configurable and easily affixed to the side (to haul engines, home depot runs, etc.) If it got dirty from my kid spilling food or dirt I got out a leaf blower and in 2 minutes the inside was nice and clean and ready for a simple wipe down.

    To set these 2 apart…Honda made this car unique and far stretched from it’s CR-V roots (GM did very little). Honda also added a lot of innovation (where GM did some innovation nothing was ground breaking). It became a choice of an outdoorsy minivan or a unique looking breadvan. Plus a loaded Element was $20k out the door versus a new Aztek that cost $5k-10k more. Neat link on a Top Gear Review on the Element (test to see if old people liked the Element) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnZBoqWK7kw

  • avatar
    rheath2

    Interesting article.

    I worked a part-time job for a local Chevy/GMC/Buick dealer a few summers ago before they got into Pontiac and Cadillac. I used to be one of the vehicle delivery drivers if we ever had a trade another dealership wanted to make and so I’d either drive it to the other dealer or just ride along for the trip. Once we had to deliver an Aztek. Of all my issues with this vehicle, I have one, and hopefully some Aztek owners will be able to answer:

    How do you look backwards in it, and see what’s behind you? (When we had to back up out of a gas station, it took both side mirrors and one of us outside directing the driver which way to go.)

  • avatar
    whitenose

    I think the Edsel Ford reference is stretching it a bit. He was more or less directly responsible for everything good that came out of Ford between the Model T and the arrival of Henry Ford II. The Aztek can’t make any such claim.

    As for Edsel, the division of Ford, GM’s Edsel is basically everything coming out of Pontiac and Buick except the Solstice.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    A brave position to take. A agree that a company cannot penetrate a crowded market segment with a high-margin product.

    However, this sukka was irredeemably UGLY. Ugly cars can only survive if they offer off-the-charts performance that redefine beauty. The Aztek simply did not have this. Yes, this poor creature, which my kids call the “pigmobile,” had its novelties but they were inadequate to compensate for its debilitating looks.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    When a car was described on TTAC as ” styling by Aztec” the rice was cooked. Only a coke induced coma could have thought this was a car someone would be proud to spend 30K on and be seen with. I hope I never get hit by one, the embarrassment would be too much/

  • avatar
    dolo54

    “That’s because the Aztek’s biggest problem wasn’t its confused looks (though they didn’t help). It was price.”

    I disagree. Every time I saw one of these I would laugh out loud. I don’t think people ever got to the “pricing” part. They took one look and knew they didn’t want to be seen anywhere near that thing at any cost. Seriously you would have to pay me to drive that… and I mean pay me alot.

  • avatar
    Brian E

    rheath2: isn’t that part of the attraction of owning a crossover? A coworker of mine has a Murano, and being in the car when she hit a high curb going in reverse was enough to make me volunteer to drive the group to lunch before she does in the future.

    I thought the restyled Aztek was not disastrously ugly, but then again I have a soft spot for its minivanish proportions (along with the Rendezvous). GM should have given the car plastic panels and sold it as a Saturn. Sure, it’s ugly, but watch what happens when you hit it with a shopping cart!

    It would have been better than the Relay.

  • avatar
    Teds

    I always thought the Aztek looked like one car trying to mount another… That being said I think one of the greatest ironic statements possible would be to “Pimp out” a garish colored Aztek and just roll… then again… maybe not

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    The Asstek was a huge failure. Just as the Solstice is a hit, it continually reinforces that design is king. Style and beauty are of course is subjective but we all as humans have a basis of what we think is attractive. Some designs are polarizing (BMW 5 Series (2004+) is an example). Many of the BMW faithful hate it while it also attracts other’s to the brand (like me I think it looks great same with the Z4). But even polarizing designs will still sell as some like it and some do not. The Aztek is just plan ugly and people don’t like ugly. The designer’s who made it need to go back to design school, they should have known better.

  • avatar
    MW

    Blunozer:

    Anybody else notice that the Honda Element did everything that the Aztek was supposed to do, only better and for less money?

    Plus, it was built off a generally nimble, reliable, economical CUV platform (CRV) vs. the industry’s worst minivan platform. I also was intrigued by the Aztek’s multi-purpose functionality when it came out, and quickly lost interest when I realized it was a restyled GM minivan. No thanks.

  • avatar
    Dr. No

    The Aztek certainly DOES belong on the TWAT list, despite J.D. Powers’ laughable efforts to prop it up. First, the writer calls attention to the lack of recalls –the damn thing has to be in CIRCULATION for any recall. It barely was. Now, if sticker price was under $5k, it might have found 75,000 buyers who absolutely don’t care about styling (use of this word in any context is extremely generous of me). This vehicle today is still a “neck-craner” –I always want to check out the driver that actually paid money for one.

    Now, I don’t work on heads, but if I did, psychiatry would get a new opening question of the patient: “uh, do you own a Pontiac Aztek…?”

  • avatar
    GMrefugee

    Good article as I actually like the Aztek. A few more facts for your consideration.

    The Aztek was produced at a flexible manufacturing plant, alongside the Buick Rendezvous. That is why the Rendezvous sales target was quickly raised from like 40K to 75K units, because they needed to make something at the plant that would sell and it wasn’t more Aztek’s.

    The Aztek concept vehicle was actually really cool, garnering broad praise. The problem became designing and engineering the vehicle on a modified minivan platform. I think the front came out fine (edgy at least) but the slab sides, grey cladding, small wheels (initially) and pinched off rear were too much for most buyers. The repaint job helped the cladding and sides and the spoiler helped the rear but the pig (warthog more like) still didn’t look very pretty.

    Finally the marketing was awful. The tent option was shown extensively but only available with the $25k GT. Also, for anyone who actually camps, you quickly realize this was never a good options because, as pointed out by Lemmy, if you are sleeping in the rear, all your stuff must be either piled in the front seats or left outside the vehicle. Then, if you want to drive anywhere, undo everything. Dumb.

  • avatar
    jazbo123

    Good article. How about an “In Defense Of…” series.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    It failed because it was even uglier than the quirky-ugly Aztek concept vehicle of 1999. If GM had any sense of refinement, the Aztek’s styling cues would blend into the whole ugly picture like the Honda Element, but it wasn’t gonna happen. It was poorly integrated from the wheelcovers on up.

    The car had its merits, but looking at it makes me think the AMC Pacer is good enough to win Best of Show at Pebble Beach in a few years.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    As my mother used to say of the band Ratt when I was a kid, “They’re so stupid they can’t even spell their name right.”

    The owners are satisfyed? Yeah, cause there is something wrong with them!

    Erinth excepted, asking an Aztek owner if they like their purchase is like asking a pedophile if they are happy with their sex life.

    Their brains do not work properly!

    I’m sorry, I don’t care what is right about the car (and from the one I drove a few years back, the answer is very little), there is no way to overcome the siren of “I look like a dick, I look like a dick, I look like a dick” that plays constantly through your head every second you are behind the wheel.

    Er, that is what should be going through your head if you have a properly funtioning brain.

    It is not as if cars suddenly just showed up in 2001. Humans had had a century of design precedence pre-dating the arrival of the wrongly spelled Aztek.

    Only the insane could look at one and go, “that’s me.”

  • avatar

    I remember asking a friend of mine (who is in the design community and had done some automotive design) what he thought of it. He said that he loved it, as did a number of his friends who were designers–but that designers are “wacky like that.” Perhaps the Aztek concept was designer-driven rather than market-driven. Thus, we have an innovative design with no market. Nevertheless, we need to encourage this line of thinking because it simply does not happen enough at GM (or in many companies, for that matter) and it is a fast way we can realize the innovation that the industry needs (as opposed to waiting for new styles and features to slip in as “refinements”).

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Well neilberg, my buddy who was the art director at LACMA for over a decade vomits everytime he sees one.

    It was a cynical design exercise on GM’s part at best. The guy who did the Aztek, did the C6 Vette.

    Awful, awful, awful, awful.

  • avatar
    gfen

    I always figured the Aztek looked alot like the Le Mans:
    , just bigger and more ridiculous. Had they done something nicer with the styling, especially on the front, maybe it would’ve made a difference. I mean, I read about all the clever things that it was meant to do, and I’m kinda intrigued.. Then again, I also really quite like the Element (but not the xB).

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    neilberg: I have designer friends who interned at GM back when the Aztek was coming to production. Everyone was ashamed of it, and from a story I heard, Wayne Cherry had at least one sleepless night because of it.

    I think the Industrial Design community collectively threw up in their mouths a little when the Aztek came out.

  • avatar
    gfen

    Wish I knew how to use the post editor here… sorry ’bout that…

  • avatar

    JJ writes:
    We had a similar case here in Europe, called the FIAT ***shiver*** Multipla. A minivan with six seets divided between the first two rows. Hugely practical car, reasonable quality, reliable engines (diesel) but unbelievably ugly.

    The Aztek is just plain old ugly, but this thing is VERY cute. I could see it being a cult classic, like the old Beetle, or the Deux Chevaux. The part of me that loves the xB loves this thing. This would be an ideal template for an art car.

  • avatar
    Hutton

    Whoever commented about pimping out an Aztek… here’s your ride:

    http://www.aztekrally.org/jim&loaztekhell/Tek%20from%20Hell%201.jpg

  • avatar
    algibson

    The Aztek was only overpriced at the dealership.

    If you drove one off the lot and then tried to sell it the month after paying the taxes and getting the title, the next owner could easily pick one up for mid-teens.

  • avatar

    >>I’ll add one point on why I think sales tanked. Lack of cool advertising. Since styling is all a matter of personal preference…if Honda can sell something as…unique as the Element with ads that showed skateboarders jumping through the Elements unique side door arrangement, why couldn’t have Pontiac come up with something like…”Hey,we know it’s ugly, but wait until you see what it can do…”

    iNTERESTing to bring up the Element. Now there’s a really ugly car. It may be as ugly as the Aztek. But it has better pricing, better advertising, and Honda’s bomb-proof reputation. And yeah, maybe the advertising contributeed too.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    The Aztek looks like an Element after it left a burn unit.

  • avatar

    “Aztek” is a surprisingly appropriate name for that vehicle. From the front, it looks like different archeological strata squashed together.

  • avatar
    geeber

    I figured the inevitable comparisons to the Honda Element would surface (they always do on Edmunds.com).

    There are some BIG differences between the Aztek and the Element.

    The Aztek was based on a second-rate minivan platform…and quickly became a third-rate crossover. The Element was based on a first-rate “cute ute” platform, and Honda kept the good stuff when making the translation from CR-V to Element.

    The Aztek’s drivetrain was a coarse overhead-valve clunker that even GM diehards had trouble defending. The Element featured a typically smooth Honda four-cylinder engine.

    Finally, the Aztek’s styling was…incoherent. Not one line appears to relate to another. At least the Element looked like a shrunken Brinks truck, which gave it some “cute” factor, even if it wasn’t beautiful, or even good looking.

    Still, an “In Defense Of” series is a good idea. Maybe we can tackle the AMC Pacer next…

  • avatar
    Joe Chiaramonte

    I still wonder why, with all of the focus group and marketing testing companies like GM must rely upon, the Aztec was produced as ungainly and cladden as it was. Didn’t someone give them a clue? Then, to price it into dangerous territory was just plain greed.

    GS650G: What is a a platofrm anyway?

    It’s right in Webster, I don’t know how you missed it:

    platofrm: n. – the unfortunate result of mating between a platypus and a porpoise with a misshapen head. Synonym: “Multipla.”

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    The Aztek is also “the Homer”

    http://perso.orange.fr/Jas-n-Geoff/Geoff/homer.jpg

  • avatar

    Hutton, concerning that pimped Asstek….that was an in house effort by the GM Performance Division. I remember it in AutoWeek. It has somewhere around 500 horsepower(maybe more) out of the V8 under the hood. The article mentioned something about one of the engineers that worked on it saying “It may be ugly, but at least it’s fast.”

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    Jonny said:

    The Aztek is also “the Homer”

    In terms of design, I prefer the Homer. Besides, IIRC in that episode, Homer said, as he was designing the car, that he wanted an engine so powerful that when he gunned the accelerator “people will think the world is coming to an end.” I’ve never driven an Aztek but something tells me this is not a great description of its powerplant.

  • avatar
    sitting@home

    The first time I saw an Aztec I was reminded of the first time Europeans saw a Duck-billed Platypus; thought it was a damned ugly beast stitched together from the body parts of other damned ugly beasts.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Thank you for a wonderfully balanced and insightful piece, Andrew. Whether an exterior design works or not is, as you know, highly subjective. The Edsel was – and remains – a one-word synonym for failure. However, at a collector car auction in Reno this past August, an Edsel station wagon, in excellent condition, sold for $43,000 (plus a six percent buyer’s fee).
    When I was given a Pontiac Aztek for a week’s evaluation, about three years ago, I recall pulling up to a stoplight with a early ’70s BMW 2800Csi on my right. I used to electronics to get the passenger window down and shouted over, “This car is as ugly as yours is beautiful!” The owner of the BMW smiled and asked, “What is it?” of the Aztek.
    I explained what it was and said, “It isn’t such a bad little machine, if you don’t have to look at it. It looks like a wedge of cheese to me.”
    But then, again I could be wrong and at some auction 30 years from now, maybe someone will pay good money for a restored Aztek.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Correction to last post: meant to write, “I used the electronics…” not “I used to electronics…”

  • avatar
    Rakinyo1

    ” There is one born every minute”

    A) sucker
    B) Aztek owner
    C) dumbass
    D) all of the above

  • avatar
    ash78

    I remember reading one of those Automobile mag bits where they deconstruct the design. When it came to the Aztek, it reminded my of that line from A Beautiful Mind, “There is a mathematical explanation for why your tie is so ugly.”

    There are certain designs that are universally appealing (think of photography ratios, French curves, etc), and the Aztek just fights against good design and proportion in many ways. I don’t think there’s anything subjective about most of it, although we can debate the details. Case in point: The perfectly horizontal rear liftgate crease, which closes onto a slightly upwardly-curved sill. You eye WANTS them to be parallel, but they’re just not.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Agreed with Ash: The Aztek is objectively horrific to look at.

    Anyone who says otherwise also sees naked Emperors.

    And, as Cumberford described in his deconstruction of the Aztek’s design, the hole cut into the body for the gas cap looks like a wound.

  • avatar
    rheath2

    Hutton,

    Regarding the link about the pimped-out Aztek, I actually think it looks better when it’s lowered to the ground. In stock form it reminded me of a hippopotamus balanced on four small pizza-cutter wheels.

  • avatar
    mikey

    I no have no doubt that in the meetings leading up to the decision to produce the AZTEC.that 60% of the decision makers wanted to upchuck thier breakfast when they saw the proto types.Because of the culture at GM they all nodded thier collective heads and said ,great idea boss your brilliant.
    Lucky for us Bob Lutz [who hates plastic cladding] killed it before it could do any more damage.

  • avatar
    blautens

    Hutton -

    Even better than that link (just more reading):

    http://www.aztekfanclub.com

    Some of my favorite forum quotes:

    “We are all Aztek owners, we have things to say without opening our mouths. Like hey, I just passed 10 cars exactly like yours down the road. Hey is that an Equinox, a Torrent, or a Vue- they all look the same. Ha hahahahahaha ha”

    “Just driving your tek says plenty, it’s making a statment.”

    Heh-heh….

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Yes, it states clearly that you are blind. And/or crazy.

  • avatar
    Hutton

    Yeah, I saw that Aztek posted on VWvortex like a year ago. That image actualy haunted me. It’s not even the look that weirds me out (it’s not that terrible)…. it’s that someone would go to such lengths to customize an Aztek. It’s unsettling.

    Then today, I find out it was a GM sponsored project. Now it makes sense. Now I can sleep at night.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    Erinth:

    You just mentioned the number 2 car on my list of most ugly american cars (behind the Aztec, sorry), the Honda Element. Others may decry the boxiness of the Scion xB or the bulges on the newer BMW designs, but for me nothing compares to the Honda Element. Ridiculous cladding, it’s got it. Totally out of proportion dimensions, hey its got that too. The lauded Honda reliability would actually be a negative selling point for me in the case of an Element. It just means I’ll be driving it that much longer. About the only thing that drops it below the Aztec on my list is its unity of ugly design and no tent on the back (I’m sorry even if it is usefull, it still looks completely ridiculous).

    What Element would that be, Buttuglium?

  • avatar
    Hutton

    The Element is a good design. It’s an unexpected design, for a car anyways, (if it was a toaster or a vacuum cleaner, it wouldn’t bother anyone) but take it out of that context, and really look at the lines, the details, where the panels join and why they join there, the way the doors open, the proportions, the simplicity. It’s pretty compelling, I think. It’s not sexy, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s not everyone’s taste, but it is a good design.

    The Aztek is an abomination, it has no design “theory”, and like Lieberman pointed out, it is the real world epitome of “The Homer” (a bunch of unrelated elements and features, cobbled together with no plan, and no rhyme or reason) and doesn’t even look a little bit like an Element or an xB, so I don’t know why it’s such a popular comparison.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    As ghastly a design as the Aztek was, I think there is still a niche in the market for a utility/passenger vehicle that can double as a small camper. One of the most fun vehicles I owned was a 99 Ford Ranger pickup, 2wd.

    What made it fun was the fiberglass shell and carpet kit I got that transformed the truck into a low-profile camping vehicle, a “hard shell tent”, in fact. With that I could drive all over the place and when I got tired, I didn’t have to worry about putting up a cloth tent or trying to find a cheap motel, I could just roll my sleeping bag into the surprisingly comfortable carpeted section of the bed (which used the entire bed width – just a little smaller than a queen sized bed, with storage underneath) and go to sleep. Next morning I could climb into the cab and take off without every going outside, if that’s what I wanted.

    I eventually traded the truck in because I did have the occasional need to haul more than 1 passenger, and the little “jump seats” in the back of the cab wouldn’t cut it. I also needed something with 4wd/AWD and the 4wd Rangers get abysmal MPG, not to mention that I have serious issues with their “push button” transfer case.

    I replaced the Ranger with a Subaru Outback wagon, a good vehicle with AWD, good ground clearance, also very reliable and economical. But every time I go on a long trip I miss the versatility of that truck. It was nice to be a “turtle” and be able to carry my “home” with me wherever I went. And of course when I had to move or carry large items across town, it was very convenient to have not only the space of the pickup bed, but also the ability to lock it up with the fiberglass shell.

    The Element comes close to fitting my requirements, except that it’s not quite long enough and the ground clearance is too low. Something like the old Mazda MPV in 4wd trim would probably be about the closest anyone’s ever made to a vehicle that meets all my needs. So, I’ll give GM credit for at least daring to shove aside convention, even if their execution was more than a little bit flawed.

  • avatar
    durailer

    Nice editorial, the Aztek has its merits. For me, it’s not the ugliest car I’ve seen, I actually kinda like its angular lines, but I was raised in boxy Volvo wagons.

    At least the Aztek was infinetly more imaginative than the Torrent, the vehicle that replaced it. If it weren’t for the ugly gray cladding and the lack of AWD in its debut, the product wouldn’t have earned such a bad rep. At least GM was trying to target a niche market, but they undercut the concept with their lousy minivan platform, and its optional camper proved to be less functional than the Element’s pillarless doors and fold-away seating. Another example of GM shooting themselves in the foot.

  • avatar

    >>Still, an “In Defense Of” series is a good idea. Maybe we can tackle the AMC Pacer next…

    The Pacer is a movie star. I don’t think they’ll ever put an Aztek in a movie.

    >>The Element is a good design. It’s an unexpected design, for a car anyways, (if it was a toaster or a vacuum cleaner, it wouldn’t bother anyone) but take it out of that context, and really look at the lines, the details, where the panels join and why they join there, the way the doors open, the proportions, the simplicity. It’s pretty compelling, I think. It’s not sexy, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s not everyone’s taste, but it is a good design.

    Two big problems with the Element. The face is terribly ugly–although perhaps not more so than the Ford Focus. And the cladding is ugly. Nothing wrong with the milk truck concept; in fact, I love the xB.

    >>I replaced the Ranger with a Subaru Outback wagon, a good vehicle with AWD, good ground clearance, also very reliable and economical. But every time I go on a long trip I miss the versatility of that truck. It was nice to be a “turtle” and be able to carry my “home” with me wherever I went.

    If you want to wax nostalgic, read Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck (Charlie was the dog). One friend of mine who does a lot of x-country traveling to sheep dog trials has a Vanagon (with a Subaru engine) for the same reason. The only other thing you need is a good coffee maker.

  • avatar
    Kevin

    It dudn’t matter if this thing can stick a tent out it’s butt. Look at the front. Look at the back. It’s preposterously ugly. It’s much uglier than the Family Truckster in “Vacation”, which was the ugliest car Hollywood filmmakers could envision. GM outdid ‘em.

    Any GM decision maker who approved this disaster should be lined up against a wall and shot. In the knees.

    The federal government should identify anyone who bought this thing and assign some civil servant to choose their future vehicles from them, like a color-blind man being dressed by his wife.

  • avatar
    tom

    Nice article and I guess you’re right that it was a horrible landing at the right airport (at that time). That having said, I think its faliure is all about the design. Even if it was the best car on this planet for the most competitive price, it would still have flopped with the looks it had.

  • avatar
    CSJohnston

    A very good article.

    The Aztek was the culmination of Ron Zarella’s “if it works for toothpaste, it’ll work for cars” approach to automotive branding. If there ever was a poster child for the expression “a camel is a horse designed by committee” this is it.

    I would guess that the Aztek was conceived by focus groups, gestated by brand planners and delivered by accountants. Design and Engineering were pretty much along for the ride.

    In fact, if you subscribe to the notion that it takes 4 years for a car to go from concept to reality, you could blame most of GM’s late 90′s product planning for the position it is in today.

    Who was in charge back then? Mr. Proctor & Gamble.

    Say what you like about Big Bad Bob Lutz, at least this guy knows the car biz.

    CJ

  • avatar

    I think Aztek was a great name for it. So many sacrifices were made and yet it still died out after great controversy.

  • avatar

    Anyone who wants to defend the AMC Pacer is cordially invited to drop and give me 800 of your best words on the subject.

  • avatar
    Ryan

    I know I’m in the minority here, but I almost like the Aztek. I know it’s monumentally ugly, I know it’s based on a half-assed minivan, and I don’t care. I’d never buy one, but the whole “post-apocolyptic minivan” thing is more interesting than most of the blandmobiles out there (Toyota Highlander, I’m looking at you).

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Yes, the same with someone with the ebola virus is interesting.

  • avatar
    RicardoHead

    I don’t know about this review.

    It’s like saying “yes, she is fat, ugly, smelly, disgusting, foul, and otherwise worthless …… but she is still female so that makes her okay to be seen with by your friends.”

  • avatar
    Joe Chiaramonte

    I wonder if, as the Pacer can be seen as indicative of errant 1970′s design tastes, the Aztec will be remembered as connected with poor taste in automotive design and reality television (linked to its starring role in the first Survivor, fittingly won by Richard Hatch, the archetypical oddball of the genre), decades after the last run of Survivor (“Survivor Compton” maybe?) has run.

    That’s the longest damn sentence I think I’ve ever written.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    Hutton,

    The reason that the Aztec is often compared to the Scion xB and the Element is because of the numbers of people out there that think they are ugly cars. But, nobody – okay, almost nobody – compares it favorably to the Element. It’s usually a comparison like mine, the Honda Element is ugly, but that’s nothing compared to the level of ugliness exhibited by the Aztec.

    I only mentioned the xB because I know many people find it to be ugly; personally, I don’t. I actually like the xB as long as you “pimp” it out right. ;-) Heck, I nearly bought one. I still think that Microsoft should do some sort of tie in with the XBox. I think a black xB with a green X on the sides and possibly hood would look cool.

  • avatar

    The difference begtween the xB on the one hand, and the Aztek and Element on the other is that a lot of people, me, foir example, and various friends of mine, love the look of the xB, even though others think it’s ugly (my girlfriend). Most people think the Aztek and the Element are ugly. And yes yes, I know the Element has redeeming qualities.

  • avatar

    I enjoyed the recurring role an Aztek had in Dark Angel.

    The idea of an Aztek surviving the pulse merely compounded its cockroach commonality.

  • avatar

    It seems to me it was also one of the many predecessors to the current crossover craze.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Most people are wrong about most things most of the time.

    Except the Aztek, which Americans got right.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    Trying to join the snark here, but WordPress keeps munching my comments. Something about the Aztek concept interior being interesting, but almost as ugly as the production version. There’s only so much you can do when you’re building off the CSV’s predecessor.

    Here’s a “Defense of…” challenge – when the winners of TWAT are selected, to try to come up with 800 words to defend one.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    hmmm

    the aztek can hold my bike?

    and its comfortable?

    wow.

    i like buying cars that are unpopular, they are generally dissed cause people dont liek the way they look, which dissappears when u are inside of them. I will look at the aztek, it might be cheap. (Im serious). Also, as soon as the VW phaeton gets to 30K, im buyin one. I rode in one, it is sublime.

    I love cars, love them.

  • avatar
    Gerry T

    Past Motor Trend COTY winners include – Edsel, Corvair, Vega, Mustang II, Pacer, Renault Alliance. Looks like an “in praise of” series of articles to me.

  • avatar
    Steven T.

    I don’t recall if Zarella was still there when the Aztek was under development, but I vaguely remember GM officials bragging that the Aztek’s design reflected a move away from such heavy reliance upon focus groups and internal second-guessing. The big complaint against GM at the time was that its products were too bland because its decision-making process was too cautious and ponderous.

    The great irony here is that Pontiac would have done much better by cranking out yet another focus-group-designed Anycar. The kind of car that would never generate a word here at TTAC because of its utter anonymity.

    Should we be criticizing GM for taking an interesting risk, or for allowing the bean counters to so thoroughly compromise the original concept?

  • avatar
    Hutton

    Should we be criticizing GM for taking an interesting risk, or for allowing the bean counters to so thoroughly compromise the original concept?

    Well, the term risk seems to imply some chance of success. Putting $1000 on a roulette table is a risk. Putting $1000 in the toilet and flushing is not a risk. It’s just stupid.

    In this equation, Aztek = toilet. If you know you can’t do what it takes to make a project succesful, due to beancounting, incompetence, whatever… why would you push it through anyways? How many half-assed attempts need to result in failure for GM to realize in this industry, it takes your WHOLE ass.

  • avatar
    Steven T.

    Hutton, the concept car wasn’t that bad. Sure, the front end was too “loud,” but that could have been fixed if adults had been in the room.

    The key problem with the production Aztek was that it was placed on the minivan platform to save money. That was like attaching the head of a horse to the body of a cow. Mooheee!

  • avatar
    mungooz

    You have got to be squirting me. The Aztek was a failure because it was (still is) UGLY! It stands alone as the single ugliest, most grotesque, most misshappened, most malproportioned vehicle to come out of Detroit EVER! When my wife first saw one she said: “I just saw an SUV and felt an urge to get a hammner and reshape it.” When I would see one (rarely) on the road I was, seriously, overcome by two impulses. One was to cry, really. Just cry from sadness that a human being had to drive such a monstrosity. The other impulse was to laugh hysterically at the sight. You can try to discern the reasons this product failed, and they are legion, but the only thing that mattered was that it was too ugly for human eyes. Please dedicate your energies to more productive efforts than this attempt to re-explain something so perfectly obvious.

  • avatar
    mungooz

    Regarding Aztek and focus groups, I am reminded that when Dodge first showed the initial Dodge RAM design to focus groups, some people liked it, some people disliked it. But it was obvious that those who liked it, really, really liked it. The competing proposed design was neither liked nor disliked by anyone. So Dodge decided to go with the design, one I applaud, that elicited some enthusiasm. On the other hand, when the Aztek proposal was shown to focus groups, most viewers hated it, a few liked it. GM decided that their results paralleled the Dodge RAM results, so they built it for those few who liked it. I guess the lesson to be learned is that if a majority of your test group hates a design, you might want to rethink it.

    As to the Aztek vs Element vs xB comparisons, the Element and xB are both cohesive designs. They hold together from front to back and along the sides. You may dislike them, but they are not repulsive. The Aztek, on the other hand, is incoherent. No one style element matches the next, or any other line or component on the vehicle. It is just beyond comprehension that anyone would not be repulsed by this monstrosity.

    Lastly, there seems to be a tendency for design studios to equate ‘different’ with ‘ugly.’ I think it is possible to design a car or truck that stands out without having to add ‘ugly’ to the recipe. There are a lot of beautiful, unique designs out there. Sadly, very few of them make it to production vehicles.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    well, there’s cars that look like pontiacs all over the place here, or are they camrys or perhaps a chevy? hmm hard to tell.

    as ridiculous as it looks, at least the aztek looks like something.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    Hey, I liked the Aztek! I knew I wouldn’t even need the silly “tent” thing. I went so far as to test drive one.

    The car, not the tent!

    But yeah, price is what put it out of range for me. I figured for that price I should have gotten something “more.”

  • avatar
    GMrefugee

    Sure am glad to have Jonny every third post to tell me whats what and how to think. Apparently he and those who view the world as he does are the only beholders of beauty for the automotive world. And to think this site was all about sharing information and opinions.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    The Aztek wasn’t a failure because of one big bad thing – it was a failure because of a lot of mediocre bad things, the main ones being price and styling. Another that was alluded to was the impracticality issue, i.e., thanks to the goofy rear roof styling, it wasn’t possible to slip a third row of seats in there.

    What is supremely ironic, though, is how most of the Aztek’s negatives could have worked for it if two things had been done: lower the price by about $10k and slap some VW emblems on it. That would have given the Aztek the ‘character’ it needed to allow it to get away with the outré styling in the marketplace. An ugly VW gives it a counter-culture affinity. An ugly GM product brands it as a loser.

    Favorite Aztek insults:

    The Aztek tent option would have been okay if Pontiac had offered one to cover the front as well as the rear.

    The Aztek looks like the unholy offspring of a garbage truck mated with an old, Korean-built Pontiac LeMans.

    The Aztek looks like it was designed by the French.

  • avatar
    erinth

    some oberservations regarding the mudslinging…

    Here’s some mud of my own…if anyone buys or choses not to buy a particular vehicle solely based on looks alone, you give a new definition to the word shallow.

    Then again, I see the Bangel-lized BMW’s on the road, along with xB’s, Elements, H2′s/H3′s and Monte Carlos….and think to myself “people have the nerve to call an Aztek ugly?”

    Seriously….during the first year of ownership, I had two interesting experiencesl; one at a gas station, the other at a car wash.

    At the gas station, someone asked me if my Aztek was the new Hummer…and at the car wash (please, anyone drinking while reading had better set their beverage down) asked me if it was an Acura.

    Bottom line, Aztek was brought to market on a decent driving mini-van chassis (as a Pontiac Montana, it won a mini-van comparison test in a 1999 issue of Car & Driver…keeping it’s best feature,all you fold down seat lovers out there…the back seats can come out of an Aztek..the only other remotely similar non-minivan vehicle I know that does this is the PT Cruiser) with, I will admit….bizarre styling.

    It didn’t live up to it sales targets. Big freakin hairy woo.

    If you want to see some loyal owners, check out sites devoted to the Aztek.

    Crazy? Maybe…but I can always find my bright yellow Aztek in a parking lot. I can’t tell you how many times I lost visual track of my silver SHO in crowded mall parking lots during the holiday season.

    Toodles

  • avatar
    joela

    Thank you, Andrew, for eloquently posting what I’ve thought about the Aztek. I, too, thought it was a more timing issue than the SUV’s looks. When I still the occasional Aztek followed by the more numerous xB or, heaven help my eyes, the Element, I still scratch my head on what makes one more attractive/ugly than the other. (Hint: import fanboys.)

  • avatar
    rudiger

    A fan club does not a well-styled car make. A quick Google search will turn up a fan club for every example of automotive mediocrity ever built, from Renault Dauphines, LeCars, and Fuegos to Yugos, Tempos, Citations, and Trabants.

    Still, there is something to the idea that the Aztek’s styling wasn’t all that bad. Consider what might have been had the other vehicle produced at the same time (that was a huge sales success), the Chrysler PT Cruiser, was transposed with the Aztek.

    I’m talking about a PT Cruiser that was based not on Stratus mechanicals and chassis, but on that of a Caravan. And the Aztek utilized not GM’s minivan as its foundation, but the mid-size Malibu. A big PT Cruiser at the price of the Aztek could easily have been as big a failure as the Aztek.

    And a PT Cruiser sized and priced Aztek? We have one now – it’s called the Dodge Caliber. Although it’s not the sales dynamo that the PT Cruiser was, it’s doing quite a bit better than the Aztek ever did…

  • avatar
    allfiredup

    I’m thinking the tent option should have covered the whole vehicle, not just the rear. Couldn’t hurt, might help?

    ‘Lifestyle’ vehicles aimed at active, younger folks have succeeded quite well since the Aztek. The Nissan Xterra and Honda Element come quickly to mind.

    GM still can’t build a competitive mid-size car, what made them think they’d succeed in uncharted waters?

    The upside? IF you can stand the horrid looks, it’s a decent driver at rock bottom resale prices on the used market.

  • avatar
    saabyurk

    Took forever to get my password e-mailed to me, but finally I can correct a mythical statement made here by Blunozer:
    “Anybody else notice that the Honda Element did everything that the Aztek was supposed to do, only better and for less money?”

    Huh? I’ve many times hauled a dozen sheets of plywood lying FLAT on the floor of our Aztek. I don’t think the 38.7 inch cargo width of the Element allows you to do that.
    The Aztek’s 3500 pound towing capacity has allowed me to haul vintage Saabs to Ohio from Tennessee, Virginia and Long Island on a trailer, one trip during a severe snowstorm in January when over 200 pounds of snow/slush accumulated on the trailer. The wimpy 1500 pound towing capacity of the Element would have been maxed out with just the 1200 pound trailer and 200 pounds of snow! I doubt it would’ve made it out of the driveway with the car on the trailer.
    If you want to bash the Aztek’s looks, fine. But don’t say ridiculous things like “the Element can do anything an Aztek can do” because it can’t. Maybe it can do everything you need it to do, but it would be wasted money for me.

  • avatar
    shestewman

    What is all the hype about the looks of the Aztek??? I certainly don’t want to drive around in a ‘cookie-cutter’ car. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder right?!?! I much rather express my style and personality instead of being a true conformist. You only live once and if I can be happy living and driving my unique Aztek then leave me alone and let me enjoy!!!! At least I’m being me!!!!

  • avatar
    bhotrum

    Hi,

    As an owner of an 01 GT Tek that came loaded with all options, while I did not pay the 38K price tag, it was an immensely reliable vehicle over the 4 1/2 years I drove it.
    I picked this vehicle up for less than 22K with a gently used
    30K kilometers. The price point discussion is valid for sure as is the notion that it was not advertised enough to generate sales. What I want to point out is, I have never had a vehicle that was so completely functional for outdoor travel – it was great for hauling bikes (inside), kayaks (up top) and camping in all kinds of conditions. I put 260,000 km on it before selling it to a dealer and I miss the vehicle like you would not believe even though I am driving a cookie-cutter Equinox. While I love the Nox, the Aztek GT had a sport suspension and downward stance profile that made cornering awesome, highway driving a pleasure, and overall ride supremacy.
    The 10 speaker sound system was absolutely awesome right from the factory (GT version) and it came with the futuristic HUD Display which never faltered.

    Did I get laughed at for driving one ? Yes. Did I care ? Nope. The Aztek was a far superior vehicle to these grocery getting Jap suv’s that you see lined up row upon row that lack any kind of functionality whatsoever. They are grocery getter, soccer mom tin cans that look the same year in year out.

    In my opinion, we needed the Aztek to crack an old design paradigm and look at some of the designs that have appeared since….

  • avatar
    dlvhi

    Hello all

    I am hoping someone can help me find the next Aztek type disaster, only this time in a sedan.

    I bought my Aztek 3 years ago while expecting the birth of my second son. A key attraction was the 61″ wide rear bench, great for holding two car seats and an adult. Also liked all the gizmos that make it fun to take to the beach, Costco, all that.

    Three years later have only had to have one minor problem fixed under the warranty, have vacuumed the sand out a few times, and feel like this is one of the best purchases I’ve made..

    Thanks to the unpopularity of the Aztek, was able to get it out the door for $4,000 less than sticker, in Hawaii, which is pretty difficult.

    Now expecting my third child, three car seats fit easily in the back – I don’t know what I would have done had GM only had the narrower seats when I wanted to buy.

    I would like to find the same type of bargain in a sedan – any suggestions.

    By the way, my insurance co rates the Aztek high for safety, based on actual experience, not based on crash test dummies….

  • avatar
    zenith

    I own a 2002 Aztek, bought used in ’04.

    Other than replacing a tire that I ruined in ’05 , my costs have been gas, oil, lube, period. NOTHING has broken.

    As to fuel economy being allegedly “horrible”, I get 22 in town at temps above freezing ( my worst ,as yet, was 17.8 was during a spell of below-zero), and average 26 highway with 29.3 being my very best–Omaha to Mitchell, S.D.–mainly flat river-bottom terrain.

    Not bad for a vehicle that hauls as much stuff as this one can.

    Many more recently-designed crossovers with modern OHC engines, 6-speed transmissions, etc., can’t match that!

    My second job consists of hauling car-ad magazines to various supermarkets, convenience stores, etc., plus delivering the advertisers their complimentary books.

    Whenever a dealer gets an Aztek, it sells quickly. “Real” SUVs fester for months,but Azteks and their Rendezvous cousins are gone in a week.

    The Aztek and Rendezvous have far more interior room than a lot of “cute utes” that get no better EPA ratings than they do.

  • avatar
    pierce william

    OK I have to respond to this “ugliness” everyone keeps harping about!!

    I for one LOVE the look of the aztek. it was built in a time when the only way to tell the difference between brands was to look at the nameplate. seriously every car that rolled off the line anywhere in the world in 2001 looked like a bubble on wheels. and the suvs were no better. they all looked the same. “cookie cutter styling” was boring!! then all the sudden here comes the aztek with it’s unique look, and heaven forbid pontiac step outta line with a bold new look!!! now we have elements and scions that look like a shoe box on wheels and nary a peep is heard about these truly UGLY vehicles!! at least GM was willing to think outside the box!!

  • avatar
    Stew Paddasso

    “quite possibly the most versatile vehicle on the planet” Ya right. How is 6 inches of ground clearance versatile. The reason this poor attempt at an SUV failed was because of how obviously worthless this vehicle is offroad. The Aztec was introduced during Americas SUV craze and our love with the idea of getting away from it all and having a vehicle that could get you where no one else had gone before. One look at this “SUV” and anyone with half a brain could tell this thing could barely handle a pot hole let alone ever be able to go on a dirt trail. Why bother making it AWD with only 6 inch ground clearance? AWD doesn’t do any good if the wheels are not touching the ground. A honda civic has more ground clearance and better of road capability than this thing and that’s why it never had a chance. Also, it looks like a retarded mini-van. That didn’t help either.

  • avatar
    dlvhi

    I have had it for over 7 years and I’m still lovin’ my Aztek. Never had the need to take it off road but it is great for Costco runs, going to the beach, backing up to the soccer field and having the kids watch a soccer game, taking everyone hiking, etc, etc, etc.

    I usually keep my cars 10+ years, I am hoping GM has another failure about 3 years from now.

    …and it doesn’t look like every other SUV on the road….oh yeah, and we took our family of 5 camping and there was room for a lot of camping gear and supplies…

  • avatar
    geozinger

    It’s very entertaining to read this article almost 5 years after it was published. Most of what I read here is the same stuff that I heard back when the car was still on sale, it’s ugly. Very few folks ever criticized anything else about the car, although outside of the styling, it was pretty conventional.

    We had a 2001 1SC and a 2004 Rally. For whatever reason, my wife loved them. Of course, at that time, we had two young children and we did all of the soccer, scouts, church camps, etc., and this car was great for that kind of thing. At first I was put off by the styling and the fact that it was a little less functional than a minivan (which is what I wanted). But it was functional in other ways I hadn’t expected. Not having sliding doors wasn’t that big of a deal and the two piece hatch had some advantages.

    The 2001 had some reliability issues intially, but were resolved by our Pontiac dealer quickly. The dealer gave us a very sweet lease deal on this car. During the time we had the 2001, the dealer was purchased by a mega dealer and the level of service changed, no longer as friendly as the original dealer. In 2003, my wife saw pic of the 2004 Rally and decided to get one. I was OK with this, as the 2001 beyond the initial teething issues, was rock solid. We got a 2004 Rally like the ones in the pictures in this posting.

    The 2004 had all of the 3.4 V6 issues along with all of the wheel bearing and a/c issues the U body is known for. The deal breaker for me was the catastrophic failure of the torque converter. I no longer trusted the orange Aztek and we traded it for a Malibu Maxx in 2006.

    So, 5 years later, and I can see the end of days coming for my daily driver. One of the potential cars on my replacement list is an Aztek. Why?

    Even with all of the stuff I know about them, I have not driven a car with the same kind of utility for the size footprint that car has. It’s big enough not to be cramped, but not so large as to be a liability in downtown parking situations. (I work in a downtown location, sometimes street parking is my only choice) The fuel mileage is not punitive, and it will carry most everything I need.

    The problem is, now these are pretty old cars, I don’t know if I want to spend the time troubleshooting one to make it a daily driver. I may have to go with my second choice, another Malibu Maxx…

  • avatar
    NEStriple

    Unfortunately, my wife and I no longer have a love of this vehicle. We finally had enough after $10K in repair costs between 2004 and 2010 on our 2003. Leaked oil directly off the lot, and took three repair sessions to fix. Blew head gaskets TWICE, once directly after having the transmission replaced in 2010. Bad rocker arm issues, and then had constant overheating issues. We loved it for its versatility, but hated it for the huge hole it dug in our wallets. Our 2008 Highlander has been MUCH more reliable.


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