New & Used Pontiac Aztek: In Depth
2001 Pontiac AztekEnlarge Photo
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The Pontiac Aztek is an activity-focused crossover vehicle with front- or all-wheel drive, sold from the 2001 through 2005 model years. As one of the first crossovers, with an outdoorsy emphasis, it could be seen at the time of its original production as a rival to the Subaru Outback, as well as more traditional SUVs like the Nissan Xterra, Ford Explorer, Jeep Cherokee, and Isuzu VehiCross. On the used market, the Honda Element is another alternative.
MORE: See our pages on the 2005 Pontiac Aztek for more information, specs, and pictures.
The idea behind the Aztek is and was great: Start with a roomy, van-like vehicle; add hinged rear doors; and up the utility with features like an extending tailgate, and available extras like a pop-out camper top, portable cooler, and a tailgate audio system.
The Aztek had a design that was intended to be polarizing from the start—although GM probably didn't have a grasp of exactly how polarizing it would prove in the market.
That's because the execution failed, by nearly every account. It's a model for which form followed function, although we wish Pontiac had held true to its original, more attractive Aztek design concept from 1999, the Aztek might have had an entirely different sort of affect on the market. While the concept had been penned with proportions to suit GM's longest front-wheel-drive platform; in order to meet a desired price point, the Aztek design was instead adapted to fit a shortened version of GM's minivan platform at the time.
1999 Pontiac Aztek conceptEnlarge Photo
With an edgy, angular silhouette; weirdly-detailed, dual-dual level front-end styling; a steeply angled rear window; and slab sides adorned with loads of body cladding, the Aztek was soon doomed to be the ugly duckling of its time—even though its concept was ahead of its time.
The Aztek's underpinnings were adequate for the job. The rattly, coarse 3.4-liter pushrod V-6 made 185 horsepower and was paired with a four-speed automatic transmission—altogether moving the Aztek well enough but without any excitement.
Overall, the Aztek is reasonably maneuverable, with capable, reasonably stable handling. Ride quality is pretty good, too, although it could get choppy due to the rather short wheelbase. Front-wheel drive was standard, with a road-oriented Versatrak all-wheel drive system available. A trailer-towing package added an auto-leveling rear suspension as well as heavy-duty cooling and some other upgrades.
The interior layout of the Aztek offered bucket seats in front, with a choice between a 50/50-split removable bench seat or two captain's chairs. Special cargo anchors, side storage recesses, and a very flat cargo floor allowed extra space for move large items, and the vehicle can be driven with the tailgate flipped down—when it can fit full 4x8 sheets of plywood. Mounting racks for bikes and kayaks were also offered.
The options list on the Aztek was extensive, and included things like a head-up display, heated front seats, and rear-seat DVD entertainment. With a Rally Appearance package you could get a lowered front suspension, 17-inch alloys, and a body-colored grille.
Very little changed for the Aztek from the time it was first introduced (for the 2001 model year) until the time it was discontinued in 2005—and replaced by the forgettable Pontiac Torrent. From 2002, Pontiac dropped the dark plastic body cladding in favor of body-color cladding.
GM hoped to sell 60,000 Azteks per year under its original plan, but it never managed to crack half of that annually.
In recent years, the Aztek has been increasingly rare on the used-car market; meanwhile it's earned cult-following status thanks in part to its prominent role as Walter White's vehicle on the hit AMC show Breaking Bad.