By on April 20, 2017

Pontiac Aztek - Image courtey Doug Demuro

The Pontiac Aztek was widely regarded upon its 2000 debut as one of the ugliest new vehicles to ever set wheel on pavement. Between 2000 and the last sales trickle in 2007, General Motors sold just under 120,000 Azteks in the United States.

Americans were admittedly gung-ho for SUVs in the early part of this century, but not to the extent they are now. In 2002, for instance, when Aztek sales peaked, passenger cars still accounted for nearly half of all new vehicle sales. They account for just 37 percent now.

2017, not 2002, is the time for SUVs and crossovers. And while we’re not advocating for the return of the Pontiac Aztek, we wonder whether the Aztek would be far more successful now than it was then, and not just because everybody and their dog is now choosing an SUV/crossover instead of a car.

No, we wonder whether the Aztek would succeed in 2017 because, to be frank, there are already a wide variety of decidedly unattractive SUVs selling rather well today. 

The Lexus NX is no conventional beauty, but Lexus sold twice as many NXs in 2016 as Pontiac sold Azteks at the Aztek’s peak: 27,793 units in 2002.

2016 Lexus NX200t - Image: Lexus

In fact, last year, 59 different SUV/crossover nameplates produced more U.S. sales than the Aztek did when it was at its most successful point. And in that mix of 59, there are surely some others that aren’t among the planet’s most attractive vehicles, subjectively speaking.

Forget style, there are many SUVs/crossovers selling more often now than the Aztek did then that are old (Ford Expedition, Dodge Journey), or expensive (Cadillac Escalade, Mercedes-Benz GLS), or discontinued (Jeep Patriot), or about to be replaced (Volkswagen Tiguan), or undersized (Buick Encore).

Perhaps the Pontiac Aztek was simply ahead of its time. American consumers are now willing to fork over significant sums of money for a BMW X4, Honda HR-V, Nissan Juke, Mini Countryman, Lexus LX570, and Maserati Levante.

Could the Pontiac Aztek, immensely practical and entirely avantgarde, be just what GM’s doctor ordered in 2017?

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @timcaingcbc.

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80 Comments on “QOTD: Would the Pontiac Aztek Be Successful In 2017?...”


  • avatar
    gearhead77

    Absolutely, although it would probably still be ugly. Maybe not huge volume, but possibly like Hondas Ridgeline, enough to see a decent number of sales. See also first Chrysler Pacifica, with better styling.

  • avatar
    gasser

    No. Fugly then, fugly now.

  • avatar
    la834

    The Aztek did presage similarly-shaped hunchback crossovers, some also unsuccessful (Honda Crosstour), but others a hit (the “SUV coupes” from BMW and Mercedes like the X6). But the Aztek still came out looking like what it was – a Pontiac Montana AWD minivan without the convenience of sliding doors, third row seating, or height in the cargo area. And uglier.

    The bumpy grey plastic cladding all over the early models quickly became a dated cliche.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Yes it would, but the cladding would have needed to be body color.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I suppose it’s possible – Americans do seem to like fugly crossovers (I’m lookin’ at you, Buick Encore). But then again, there’s fugly, and there’s the Aztek.

    Verdict: it fails in 2017 as well.

  • avatar
    TR4

    The 1934 Chrysler Airflow and the 1975 Triumph TR7 were considered ugly at the time of introduction but looked like the mainstream styling of several years later.

    • 0 avatar
      la834

      I always thought the Airflow was attractive.

      Also, take a two-door ’34 Airflow, shrink it to half size, and close off the grille and you essentially have the same shape as a VW Beetle.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      The 1996 Taurus would look bland and under-styled today.

      Next QOTD: Was the 1996-1999 Mercury Sable a 4 door coupe?

      • 0 avatar
        BigOldChryslers

        No. Despite what marketing would like you to believe, there is no such thing as a “four-door coupe”. :) A coupe has 2 doors and really should not have a B-pillar. These are really four-door “fastbacks”.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      There were quite a few of us who thought that the TR7 was not only good looking, but that it was a precursor of future car designs.

  • avatar
    No Nickname Required

    NO! The Aztec was one horrible vehicle. Besides being ugly as sin, it was a mechanical nightmare. Combine the 3.4 v6 with other components engineered for car duty and you have a recipe for failure. For example, wheel bearings, which would generally last at least 100,000 miles on a car, would start to fail by 50,000 miles.

    We had one customer many years ago who brought his Aztec to our shop asking for an estimate to repair its problems. If I recall correctly, it had around 130,000 miles. Well, the head gaskets were blown, fourth gear was out, the A/C compressor had failed, at least one wheel bearing was howling, and the fuel gauge didn’t work. As the car was only worth 5-6 thousand dollars, the owner opted to replace rather than fix it.

    No, although GM may have a dark past, even it is not worthy of another nightmare called Aztek.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Well, it would likely have a modern GM engine if sold in 2017. 2.0T or 3.6L V-6.

      They were electrical nightmares, too, they and the Rendezvous would often have the “Christmas tree look” on their instrument clusters (many warning lamps of different colors illuminated at once, some flashing).

      • 0 avatar
        Mandalorian

        I think that’s it. Forget the looks for a second, the Azetc was a very low quality vehicle. The interior was full of the nastiest ugliest plastic in pretty much any vehicle ever made, the seat fabric made dryer lint look luxurious, the engine was anemic, and the build quality was atrocious.

        It failed then and it would fail now. Especially considering how competitive its segment has gotten.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    Assuming everything were updated on it for the current era (interior, powertrain, etc) of course it would be a success. It was shockingly ugly at the time because the proportions were highly unusual and there was too much black plastic cladding. Currently the high-beltline brigade makes the proportions of the original Aztek far less out of the mainstream and black plastic cladding/trim is the de rigeur virtue signal of the wannabe CUV crowd.

    Aztek was ahead of its time. And as per usual with GM, disjointed from the original concept while being horribly executed.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Maybe a limited Walter White edition would sell.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    I think absolutely yes! I too think it was ahead of its time, or perhaps more appropriately, it would have been more at home in today’s market vs labeling GM’s design team revolutionary.

    You would have to assume that today’s Aztek would have some changes to what we saw in the early 2000’s, namely lighting, tech, rims, likely different treatment of cladding. The sheetmetal as a whole, is not all that offensive considering some of today’s offerings.

    Id love to see a 2017 Aztek rendering with modern appointments, maybe a Chevy or GMC badge. Bet it would fit right in.

  • avatar
    tommytipover

    I think ugly was its biggest fault. I’ve heard a couple of owners compliment it on its utility. I think it would have been more successful then and today if only GM hadn’t beat it with their ugly-stick.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    The Aztek would sell bigley because this whole world has gone insane.

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    The Vehicross would have been a hit… but only with 4 doors.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Would the Aztek be successful assuming it also benefited from 17 years of advancement in GM platforms and overall automotive engineering?

    e.g. wasn’t built on an outdated minivan chassis with a coarse engine, rear drum brakes, etc. and benefited from modern lighting, GM interior standards circa 2017 (which is vastly better than the Playskool offerings of the Aztek era) and the required litany of safety gear?

    The answer in my opinion is yes, it would sell. The current GM would never let that design language pass today — but I’ll add, as this story eludes to, the Aztek looks almost normal today in its sans cladding form.

    As the years go by, I think the Aztek will be viewed as a decade ahead of its time, hobbled by beancountery.

  • avatar
    EquipmentJunkie

    My father, brother, and I discussed this topic recently. Our conclusion: GM’s market research department absolutely nailed that vehicle. It was packed with features that buyers really wanted and what most competitive crossovers became. The exterior design was just so horrid that it turned people away. Those who could stomach it’s appearance raved about the Aztek’s practicality. If reskinned, it would thrive today.

    Walter White helped to make the Aztek an Ugly Christmas Sweater on wheels…so bad, it’s good.

  • avatar
    OldManPants

    I’d sure buy one for <20K. Build it exactly like the last ones produced; capitalize on people's declining fortunes.

  • avatar
    scott25

    It would definitely sell as a more extroverted, outdoorsy version of the Equinox and Terrain. Would need to have vinyl floors, the tent, and ski rack as standard equipment.

    Hey, they could always put a Corvette badge on it, since next to the C7 this looks like a work of art.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Why in the hell would anyone buy the Aztek over the Rendezvous (which was available with two better engines and one better transmission)?

    Then again, why would someone buy the Rendezvous over the Rainier?

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    Maybe from anybody but GM.

    From GM, “ugly” just gets incorporated into a punchline.
    From an European brand it would be “avant garde” or “daring”.
    From an Asian brand it would be “funky” or “different”

  • avatar
    la834

    The split rear window thing that seemed pretty weird in 2000 is quite common now (i.e. the last three generations of Prius).

    (the Honda Insight had it a year earlier though)

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Honda Civic CVCC had it before the Insight.

      • 0 avatar
        la834

        CRX i think you mean? I knew I was forgetting something

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          It was one of those models. I remember because when I first saw the Aztek I told my wife it looked like a Honda blown up like a balloon.

          That split glass thing is actually a good idea for those cars with steeply-sloped back windows… it actually lets you see more of the road behind you in the mirror so you can be more aware of tailgaters and make parallel parking easier.

          • 0 avatar
            Bee

            The 1988 Honda CRX was the first to have the kammback trunklid with the horizontally split window which I think was first reused on the 1999 Insight before the Aztek and 2G Prius

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Personally, I think it was an ideal way to improve driver sight lines; a low-tech way to do what we’re now using cameras and electronics (at higher cost) for.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    If it had an overworked turbo 4, undersized tires/oversized wheels, much less cargo space, and body colored cladding it’d sell very well.

    Instead we have the Juke and it’s knock offs for this role.

  • avatar
    RobbieAZ

    Every time I watch Breaking Bad the Aztek grows on me a little more.(Yes I’ve watched the entire series multiple times. My wife thinks I’m crazy) IMO, it wasn’t even the ugliest car in that show. I don’t think it’s any uglier than some current models and actually looks better than some. I don’t see why it wouldn’t sell today, not that I would ever consider buying one.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    It was ugly, it was poorly built, it used low quality components, which are all problems for a re-launch, but the real reason a new Pontiac Aztek would be a total failure is the lack of Pontiac dealers. No dealers = no sales.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    “Would the Pontiac Aztek Be Successful In 2017?”

    With some relatively minor modifications, it certainly would. I nearly bought one myself when they came out (and the tent part was especially appealing since wife and I like to camp) but two things got in my way: It’s lack of power for having a V6 under the hood and its too-tiny wheels and tires, disproportionately small for the size of the vehicle. It just felt terrible on the road. Fix the running gear and it would be a great crossover today.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    The Aztek also drove like crap, with a floaty ride. I had one as a rental once and actually got car sick driving it… imagine if I could have seen the outside at the same time!

    GM was ahead of the market with the Aztek and the biggest failing was the bean-counters second guessing spending a bit more to make it a decent vehicle… at least if one reads Bob Lutz’s take on it.

    On a related question, would the 2-seat SUV Suzuki X-90 sell in today’s market? At least the Aztek was a practical odd-looking car. I have no idea what the Suzuki marketers were thinking. Perhaps they anticipated the RedBull marketing cars being a bigger market?

  • avatar
    carguy67

    Well, they could sell a ‘Heisenberg Edition,’ complete with cracked windshield.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      Yes the Heisenberg Edition except when Walter White transformed into Heisenberg he sold the Aztec and bought a black Hemi Chrysler 300 with deep tinted windows. It should be the Walter White edition Aztec and the Heisenberg Edition black Chrysler 300 with deep tinted windows and a Hemi.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    The later versions of the Aztek were much nicer due to the cladding being cleaned up, and we actually checked one out in 2001 and really liked it, but we didn’t need a vehicle at the time.

    I believe the Aztek would be considerably more successful now, and I’m sure the styling would be much more attractive in line with today.

    I never considered the original Aztek as being ugly, but quirky in a way I find attractive. I understand that and the Buick Rendezvous were somewhat thirsty on gas.

    Funny – a friend has had his Acura tied up in air bag limbo for six months, and in the meantime was driving a Buick Enclave as a loaner paid for by Honda. He got his car back on Monday, and now that he had a taste of the SUV/CUV experience, his car feels cramped to him, and he may consider a CUV next time around. He used to hate SUV/CUVs!

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    The strong positive reception of the much-cleaner-looking Aztek concept should illustrate that the basic idea of a liftback-style SUV wasn’t a bad idea. But after GM was—itself—and decided to cut costs by putting it on the boxy U-body platform, the Aztek became undisputedly ugly. It was ugly at the turn of the century and it’s ugly almost twenty years later. But people were probably ready for liftback SUVs way back then, they probably just weren’t prepared for ugly ones. Likewise, I think the Aztek or its modern equivalent would do poorly in 2017.

    Other than being a similar bodystyle, I really don’t get the parallels between the Aztek and the four-dour-coupe / liftback SUVs of today…and I don’t understand why everyone else does.

  • avatar
    its me Dave

    Today’s color palette – white, black, gray, silver, charcoal – would certainly work in the Aztec’s favor.

  • avatar
    ixim

    Bring back, with a modern drivetrain, the Aztek done right = Buick Rendezvous. Tahoe space on a [ca. 2000] Camry footprint. Functionally, my 2004 Rondy was the best car I’ve ever owned.

  • avatar
    JimWalewander

    The Aztek made the world safe for the Honda Element.

    I’m sure this was coincidental, of course, but the Element was just as ugly as the Aztek, yet way, way more functional.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Really: The Element was way more functional? Due to? The anemic powertrain? The rubberized floors? The SUV like fuel mileage?

      Actually, the rubber floor are a good idea. That’s one that should come back on modern cars, especially SUVs and minivans.

  • avatar
    zeus01

    The Aztek would not have been successful even if it had been introduced in 1817.

  • avatar
    MoparDave

    I always joked that if the Aztek had a Honda badge instead of a Pontiac badge, it would’ve sold millions….

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Actually, so have I. If it had a big H or T on the front, it would have been ‘genius’. But here in the ‘States, we love to tear things down, so it was baaad. YMMV.

  • avatar
    newenthusiast

    I think the question, which I assume to mean the vehicle as it was styled and named, would be answered by a ‘no’. Because perception is reality.

    However, lets say you told consumers they could get a CUV/SUV that had the following standard features that most in the class still don’t have:

    – it could fit standard 4×8 plywood or drywall in the cargo area with the seats down

    – a removable cargo tray with 400lb capacity that had wheels and could be use to roll awkward or heavy cargo to and from the vehicle

    – a large cargo net

    and could be optioned with :

    – seat mounted backpacks

    – built in removable cooler

    – a compressor, tent, and inflatable mattress

    – rear cargo area controls for the entertainment system for camping and/or tailgating (at the time, it was volume and input selection for the stereo. Today, my guess would this would be a USB and/or an aux jack input with some way to control volume and likely a small touchscreen…I could even see a way to have small screen for video playback for the kids, like a Nintendo DS sized screen or handheld console. Bluetooth, or wi-fi streaming, or even ye old Blu-Ray player could be back there as the input for the video source)

    – AWD

    – HUD

    – OEM warrantied rack systems for bikes, kayaks, canoes, etc. (not included in pricing below)

    Your choice of the current 4cyl used in the Malibu, or the current 6cyl used in the Equinox/Terrain.

    All starting for about 33,700 MSRP (USD) in today’s dollars at the top trim.

    Would you be interested in that if its styling was less polarizing? Would that not be among the best values in the mid-sized (5-seater) cross over market?

    If the quality of construction was even middle of the pack, and the engine was reliable and durable, do you think that would sell?

    I do. I think GM would sell a ‘expletive’-load.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Like I said before, I came very close to choosing that over my Saturn Vue–but the Vue just offered better performance and handling. I ended up custom-ordering a Vue to get a specific color and the factory-installed sunroof. Really wanted the Aztek but I couldn’t get past that sluggish drivetrain and weak suspension.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      newenthusiast nails it. Get past the looks of the car (which hundreds of thousands of people seem to have done, judging by their acceptance of increasingly bizarre styling exercises foisted upon us by Japan, Inc.), and you find you have one of the most versatile vehicles outside of military use.

      It would sell like ice water in Hell.

  • avatar
    Add Lightness

    The Aztec’s Tupperware styling has grown on me over the years.
    Possibly due to so many abominations in the meantime.

  • avatar
    DIYer

    Aztek was a more practical design than the Pontiac Tran Sport (aka “Dustbuster”). In 2002, I worked in a 5 man office in suburban Detroit, and 2 of the guys drove Azteks. The Aztek was a vehicle ahead of its time.

    I still see the occasional Aztek on the road, no Dustbusters at all.

    Some other quirky, fugly vehicles I see only occasionally:
    – Honda Element
    – Nissan Cube
    – Scion xB
    – Kia Soul

    These never sold well, so I would say the Aztek wouldn’t sell today.

  • avatar
    scuzimi

    You Must Be Kidding! The Lexus NX is also pretty BUTT UGLY.

  • avatar
    Azteccy

    WANTED Your Ugly/Fugly 2000 or newer Pontiac Aztec!
    Realize they come with the odd issue,,as did other makes I’ve owned. Wheel bearings pff,fuel gauge,odd light on dash.
    Hate to say it,don’t want to jinx myself but my beauty of a Bertha,with her defunct gas gauge,odd light,,none of which are check engine I might add and her well worn driver seat upholstery have seen a better day.I purchased her from original owner and she had 230k on her.Bertha owes me nothing,,great memories and just rolled over430k.
    Yeah, I totally love my Aztec,,could I be fortunate enough to find another just like the other.
    Forgot to mention she’s just started to wear,inside under doors,no rust anywhere else.And compliments on her body condition all the time. Oh yeah always has past the Emissions test. Mechanic jokes and shakes his head,,,she had to have been built on a Tuesday!

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I wasn’t going to post on this subject so many times, but as the owner of three Azteks so far (keeping my eye out for a 4th), I feel I had to say something other than recycled George W Bush-era snark.

    When we got our first one in 2001, I was not a fan. It replaced my beloved Dakota and I thought it horrendously ugly. Still do, as a matter of fact. But it turned out to be better than I ever imagined. If you think of a large family wagon of the 1960’s-1970’s style, with a lot more capability, that’s what it was like to live with.

    They’re a tall vehicle, with similar dynamics to a minivan, but smoother riding and the right size for city driving, parking in confined spaces. With the V6, it had decent fuel mileage and plenty of grunt for normal driving circumstances. The Rally suspension with wider tires helped a lot with the driving dynamics.

    My major complaint was the high liftover and the fastback styling ate up lot of usable utility from the car. The high liftover was a function of the AWD system and somewhat mitigated with the sliding tray, but there was no mitigation for the lack of cargo height due to the fastback.

    I’m not actively looking for a 4th one right now, but if the right deal were to present itself…

  • avatar

    If the tent qualifies as a “safe space,” ABSOLUTELY!

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    Really, I think the biggest problem with the ugly is the way the front clip looks like it has four eyes and two noses. The positioning does too much to mess with the human brain’s facial recognition cues, at least in photos. There was a little of that in the concept but the production version turned it up to 11.

    As to the tupperware interior comments, I would think that in a vehicle like this that would be a feature, not a bug. When I picked up a used Chrysler Pacifica I felt that way about the rear interior until my kid used the center console as a stepstool and I realized it was quite easy to clean.


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