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Yes, I’m A Pontiac Aztek Fan

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Yes, I’m A Pontiac Aztek Fan

Even Unloved Models Have Their Champions

AOL Original Content Posted: Jul 29, 2010

The Pontiac Aztek seemed like a great idea at the time. It was the late ’90s, the American economy was booming, and we were buying Sport Utility Vehicles by the literal millions. By 2000, the light truck category accounted for approximately one third of the 17 million cars bought in the U.S., a ratio that would trend even higher as the decade progressed. The midsized Aztek was a can’t-miss opportunity, or so GM thought.

First sketched in 1994 as the “Bear Claw,” at first designers couldn’t decide if the vehicle should be a truck or a sports car. By the time the first concept rolled out in 1999, this “sport recreation vehicle” had a new moniker: Aztek. Reviews were mixed, but the Aztek had plenty going for it: a sporty, rugged look, gear-carrying capability, and the much-coveted-in-suburbia elevated driving height. GM didn’t know it at the time, but it was among the first automakers to develop a crossover.

But when the production Aztek rolled into showrooms for the 2001 model year, it was markedly different than the concept GM had shown two years earlier. This vehicle shared a platform with the Pontiac Montana minivan, and it was boxy and unattractive, to say the least. Introduced in both front-wheel-drive and “Versatrak” all-wheel-drive versions -- both powered by a barely adequate V6 engine -- the Aztek was so poorly executed that it quickly became the butt of jokes.

“That thing is butt-ugly!” my neighbor screamed, loud enough for all of Brooklyn to hear when I rolled up my block on a beautiful, sunny Tuesday in 2001, navigating a rain-slicker-yellow Aztek test driver. The comment was only the first of dozens of raspberries and guffaws I absorbed over a week driving the Aztek in and around New York City. The next came from my own brother: “That’s the Ernest Borgnine of SUVs.” GM might as well have hung a “Kick me!” sign on the Aztek’s rear bumper.

I wasn’t crazy about the Aztek, either, but my complaints weren’t about its looks. “The inside reminds me of an economy hotel,” I wrote in the New York Daily News. “Everything is clean but ever-so-cheap; I half expected a mass-produced painting to be bolted to a door.”

A few auto pundits praised where praise was worthy. The basic concept was sound: It was a mini-vannish, versatile family vehicle, distinct from every other similarly priced SUV on the market. The Aztek interior was vast, big enough to hold a piece of plywood, or so GM boasted. But the problem with its styling remained.

“Every time we look at the Aztek, we wonder what they were thinking,” said Car and Driver. “GM stumbles again... a hideous front end and a huge, angular rear end,” reported Forbes. “Jaw-dropping, chin-scratching, what-the-heck-is-that?” said The Car Connection. Time Magazine even called it one of the 50 worst cars of all time.

If there was anything GM did right it was in the accessory market. These included a bicycle rack, a tent with an inflatable mattress with a built-in air compressor, a center console doubling as a cooler, seatback-mounted backpacks and racks galore for the snowboards, canoes and bicycles. Finally, there were two rear cargo area options, a pullout tray with built-in wheels that held up to 400 pounds, or a cargo net rig that held up to 200 pounds and could be configured 22 different ways. It was this kind of stuff that led many of the Aztek’s early fans to embrace the vehicle, but as it turned out there were just not enough “active lifestyle” customers.

Plagued by nonexistent sales upon the Aztek’s introduction, GM changed the crossover’s plentiful grey cladding to body color and added a spoiler to the rear hatch just a year later. It also dropped the price by $1,450. Though GM had projected it would sell 75,000 Azteks each year (and had even hinted at larger volumes), it later revised that number to 50,000, which was still wildly optimistic. The best year for sales saw only 27,793 sold in 2002. By 2005, when GM cancelled the “Ishtar” of the automotive world, sales had dipped to just 5,020. The public had spoken, and that seemed to be the end of the Aztek story.

The only problem is that a lot of people bought Azteks, loved them, and are still proudly driving them today.

“I’ve had my Red 2001 Aztek since ’03, and I drive it every single day,” says corporate project manager Ken Rhyno, who runs a 1,700-plus member Aztek Fan Club from his home in Port Elgin, Ontario, Canada. “I still get cracks from people, but the car runs great, gets up to 30 miles to the gallon and the amount of stuff you can haul in it is fantastic. People have got to understand it’s not a Corvette. Its looks are not the point.”

Rhyno loves his Aztek so much that he bought Aztekfanclub.com in 2006. “I was a member of the club and then the original owner turned it over to me,” he says. “The last rally we had was in 2008, in Ohio. About 30 Azteks showed up from all over the country. We had people come up from as far away as Texas.”

Musician Lenny Lee told AOL Autos, “I've got a 2003 Aztek and can't say a bad thing about it, despite the ridiculous-looking rear end. I bought it from a relative in '03 who liked it but wanted the same vehicle with 4-wheel-drive and a tow package. Rather than taking a beating on a trade-in, he sold it to me with 2,000 miles for fourteen grand. I couldn't turn down the price.”

Lee says he hasn’t taken his Aztek camping, doesn’t own the tent accessory and doesn’t pay attention to mileage.

“Let’s just say it can get out of its own way,” the Dutchess, New York resident says. “It thrives on neglect. The odometer just passed 200,000 and virtually nothing has gone wrong with it. I’d never intended to keep it this long, but it’s been so dependable and still runs fine and the stereo system sounds good. I just drive it. I figure I’ll let her come in for a smooth landing when she’s ready.”

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” says Rhyno. “People where I work drive Honda Elements, which I think are pretty ugly.” Still, he says, “Nothing draws the fire like the Aztek.”

link:

http://autos.aol.com/article/pontiac-aztek-fans/

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I don't mind them, though I think they could've done significantly better with the styling. They do what they do pretty well, and have creative features. If I were looking for a used vehicle in that segment & came across a good deal on one, I'd buy it.

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I don't mind them, though I think they could've done significantly better with the styling.

What are you talking about? :P

GM, as usual, was ahead of the game by almost a decade, looking at the turds Honda, BMW and Nissan are coming up with, Aztek was their righteous spiritual predecessor. GM was bashed for bringing EV and Aztek, with Leaf and ZDX, it is suddenly Hallelujah.

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I sent GM a E mail as soon as I saw the Concept in Detroit. My comment was what the hell are you thinking!

The Vehicle it's self is a good product for the time but they really did leave a lot on the table with the styling and the fact it would have been better off as something other than a Pontiac.

The Asia's get a pass on styling but not Detroit. I saw a film clip of a Aztec that had a aftermarket nose and it look pretty good. Lutz walked up to it and looked at the GM design people and right in public asked can't we do something like this?

For the most GM had the better package in the Buick Rendezvous version as it sold well and performed well but few people knew about it due to poor marketing and the lack of showroom traffic at Buick dealers.

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What are you talking about? :P

GM, as usual, was ahead of the game by almost a decade, looking at the turds Honda, BMW and Nissan are coming up with, Aztek was their righteous spiritual predecessor. GM was bashed for bringing EV and Aztek, with Leaf and ZDX, it is suddenly Hallelujah.

That happened more than you think, but it has happened. They airbags in 1973, the navigation/radio/climate control screens : the E bodies,night vision and other things. GM creates them instead of capitalizing on them and walks away. There are cars like Aztek on the road now.

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That happened more than you think, but it has happened. They airbags in 1973, the navigation/radio/climate control screens : the E bodies,night vision and other things. GM creates them instead of capitalizing on them and walks away. There are cars like Aztek on the road now.

Don't forget the MacPherson strut. GM had that in house in the late 40's and never used it till 1980.

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Don't forget the MacPherson strut. GM had that in house in the late 40's and never used it till 1980.

This is true. There are host of other features I know off the top of my head they did this with. They had the high mounted stop lights on the 1970's E Bodies and that came back in the 1980's too. Can you think of anymore?

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i was sad to let my aztek go earlier this year. good vehicle. in spite of the styling. extraordinary utility and smart design.

I checked out a used Rendevoux the other day, and it had the same tremendous utility. mainly i went aztek back in 04 vs rdv because of price and i wanted a floor shifter. A RDV without the third row is like a minivan basically that is more manueverable. the cargo capacity in the aztek and rdv is amazing.

i saw a BMW Aztek on the road the other day.

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The Aztek wasn't really the failure that it is often claimed to be. It was one of the first crossovers on the road, and so gave brith to many vehicles that were EXTREMELY PROFITABLE for GM. The Equinox, SRX, the Lambda crossovers. They probably wouldn't have happened were it not for the Aztek/Rendezvous duo.

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The Aztek wasn't really the failure that it is often claimed to be. It was one of the first crossovers on the road, and so gave brith to many vehicles that were EXTREMELY PROFITABLE for GM. The Equinox, SRX, the Lambda crossovers. They probably wouldn't have happened were it not for the Aztek/Rendezvous duo.

One idea leads to many ideas and that leads to other things.

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truth is, the aztek and rdv were packaged the way crossovers should be.

look at the trunk space in a rdv or aztek, and then look at the trunk space in a ZDX....or crosstour........

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I understood the Aztec and RDV were actually surprisingly capable machines on the rough stuff. I remember that GM did a tug of war test between the Aztec and the RAV4 and CR-V (the only crossover competition at the time) and the Aztec yanked the little asian cute utes screaming and kicking backwards.

One of the car rags took the Aztec off road and found it to be pretty good until they punctured a tire on a sharp rock. More an indictment of the tires than of the car.

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i was sad to let my aztek go earlier this year. good vehicle. in spite of the styling. extraordinary utility and smart design.

I checked out a used Rendevoux the other day, and it had the same tremendous utility. mainly i went aztek back in 04 vs rdv because of price and i wanted a floor shifter. A RDV without the third row is like a minivan basically that is more manueverable. the cargo capacity in the aztek and rdv is amazing.

i saw a BMW Aztek on the road the other day.

confused0071.gif BMW?

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The Aztek was good for what it was. GM was hurting for money so it could have even been better with updated engines and trannys.

The sad fact is that even the best car in the world can fail with poor styling.

We looked at one back in 03. We could get one with AWD and all the options for around $16K [$10,000+] off sticker. It drove good and did many things well but we just could not get past the styling even with this large of a discount.

You can make a crappy car that looks good sell but you can give away a good car that looks poor.

Everyone wants the prom queen.

The sad part is the money they spent to style the Aztek could have been used to style a much better vehicle for the same amount.

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what pisses me off about the lambdas.

their styling far exceeds the rdv/aztk twins.

their third row is more comfy.

they have a current v6 and 6 speed auto.

yet, in many ways they are a failure vs. the aztek and rdv.

in the aztek you had decent 2nd row leg room and footspace. the high floor on the lambdas coupled with a tight footspace and low seat bottom in the second row can make it cramped and uncomfy for larger adults.

the lambdas lost the flip and tumble / remove seats that the aztek had. In literally 2 minutes, i could remove all the middle row seats from my aztek for an ikea run.

the lambdas preserved a wide cargo hold, but why is the cargo floor so much higher? the aztek and RDV could swallow much taller items and you could stack a lot more stuff behind the second row before it came above the level of the headrests. aztek and rdv were like minivans as far as cargo. the rear end design of the lambdas are very space inefficient....although GM has been guilty of this before.

lambdas don't have that much more net function or space than the rdv aztek but weigh a lot more and have a much bigger wb.

lambdas don't get better mpg.

that's the thing. in some ways, when space and function are considered, the lambdas are not an improvement, they are even a step back.

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The Nox is proof GM did what people want. Not too big, not too small, not to expemsive, not too little MPG and well accepted good looks.

The Lamdas are nice but way too much as you can buy a Tahoe. Too heavy and too little MPG for a V6.

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Maybe in the future the Aztek will have an oddball collector following, like other homely designs like the Pacer and Gremlin have now..

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which is why i got rid of mine. loved the function, just couldn't live with the looks anymore. Rode it hard and put away wet and hoped no one saw me do it in the process.

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GM's ugliest car ever still has its fans

Are you one of those people who love stray dogs, who search remnant bins at department stores, who eat beets when no one else will? If so, perhaps you should be driving a used Pontiac Aztek.

The Pontiac Aztek remains the poster child for how bad General Motors had become. It is an example of how focus groups, rather than good common sense, can dominate a process. No one inside GM every apparently had the courage to say what they really thought about this disaster until the production decision had been given the go-ahead. Auto writers gasp when it was introduced at an auto show.

Josh Max of AOL Autos drove one when it came out. He writes that it was hated right from the start:

"That thing is butt-ugly!" my neighbor screamed, loud enough for all of Brooklyn to hear when I rolled up my block on a beautiful, sunny Tuesday in 2001, navigating a rain-slicker-yellow Aztek test driver. The comment was only the first of dozens of raspberries and guffaws I absorbed over a week driving the Aztek in and around New York City. The next came from my own brother: "That's the Ernest Borgnine of SUVs." GM might as well have hung a "Kick me!" sign on the Aztek's rear bumper.

I wasn't crazy about the Aztek, either, but my complaints weren't about its looks. "The inside reminds me of an economy hotel," I wrote in the New York Daily News. "Everything is clean but ever-so-cheap; I half expected a mass-produced painting to be bolted to a door."

Max says when the car initially didn't sell, GM changed the crossover's outside gray plastic cladding to body color and added a spoiler to the rear hatch just a year later. It also dropped the price by $1,450. Though GM had projected it would sell 75,000 Azteks each year, it later revised that number to 50,000. The best year for sales saw only 27,793 sold in 2002. The cladding was dropped by 2005, as seen in the phot above, before the model was killed. To this day, it still has its fans:

"I've had my Red 2001 Aztek since '03, and I drive it every single day," says corporate project manager Ken Rhyno, who runs a 1,700-plus member Aztek Fan Club from his home in Port Elgin, Ontario, Canada. "I still get cracks from people, but the car runs great, gets up to 30 miles to the gallon and the amount of stuff you can haul in it is fantastic. People have got to understand it's not a Corvette. Its looks are not the point."

Rhyno loves his Aztek so much that he bought Aztekfanclub.com in 2006. "I was a member of the club and then the original owner turned it over to me," he says. "The last rally we had was in 2008, in Ohio. About 30 Azteks showed up from all over the country. We had people come up from as far away as Texas."

Musician Lenny Lee told AOL Autos, "I've got a 2003 Aztek and can't say a bad thing about it, despite the ridiculous-looking rear end. I bought it from a relative in '03 who liked it but wanted the same vehicle with 4-wheel-drive and a tow package. Rather than taking a beating on a trade-in, he sold it to me with 2,000 miles for fourteen grand. I couldn't turn down the price."

Lee says he hasn't taken his Aztek camping, doesn't own the tent accessory and doesn't pay attention to mileage.

"Let's just say it can get out of its own way," the Dutchess, New York resident says. "It thrives on neglect. The odometer just passed 200,000 and virtually nothing has gone wrong with it. I'd never intended to keep it this long, but it's been so dependable and still runs fine and the stereo system sounds good. I just drive it. I figure I'll let her come in for a smooth landing when she's ready."

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," says Rhyno. "People where I work drive Honda Elements, which I think are pretty ugly." Still, he says, "Nothing draws the fire like the Aztek."

link:

http://content.usatoday.com/communities/driveon/post/2010/08/gms-ugliest-car-ever-still-has-its-fans/1

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