2001 Pontiac Aztek Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Sue Mead Sue Mead Editor
April 24, 2000

Pontiac calls its 2001 Aztek the world’s first "sport-recreational vehicle." A catchy niche, maybe, for an all-new vehicle that joins nearly four dozen SUV models on the highways of America. Other automakers have tried to make a distinction for their new crossover offerings with category-straddling names such as "sport-activity vehicle", "sport-utility wagon" and "sport-utility truck," so Pontiac is not alone in seeking its own place in the off-road sun.

What is new, by General Motors’ assessment, is that the Aztek has been designed by out-of-the-box thinkers. Like the host of other whatever-utes, the Aztek is aimed at on-road drivers who want the handling of a sports sedan, the functionality of a minivan, and the ruggedness of an SUV. But with the Aztek, it’s all about personalization, and tailor-made adventure fittings.

What is truly unique about the Aztek is obvious. Its aggressively edgy, polarizing styling cuts a new silhouette that The General hopes will transform Pontiac’s image from "we build excitement" to "we build for lifestyles." The prominent front end is scored with an array of vents, gashes and excessive grille work, while lower body cladding is encased in thermoplastic gray moldings, a carryover trademark from other Pontiac models, designed to prevent dings and dents. A sporty, lowered beltline stretches toward a distinctly snipped and lifted back end. Those features, plus Aztek’s angular windows and cast aluminum wheels, give it a look that we’ve catalogued as both "hideous" and "catchy."

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Regardless of Aztek’s appeal, this new cross-dresser will spawn at least three other GM variants from this platform in the near future. You’ve already seen the Buick Rendezvous that looks as if it got all the pretty DNA from the gene pool; in the future, expect Saab and Saturn or Chevrolet variants from this basic blueprint.

2001 Pontiac Aztek

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Wild-looking and wide-trackin’

Now to the basics. The Aztek’s wide-track chassis (front track width of 62.7 inches, with a rear track stance that is 1.1 inches wider than the front) is broader than the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee, designed to improve stability and handling.

Under the hood is a 3.4-liter V-6, which delivers 185 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque, mated to a smooth-shifting four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission. Despite its old-fashioned pushrod design, Aztek’s powerplant features two valves per cylinder and hydraulic lifters, as well as cast aluminum cylinder heads.

Offered in both front- and all-wheel-drive versions (Pontiac’s Versatrak system eliminates a center differential by using two clutch packs, one for each rear wheel, and provides the traction benefits of a variable locking rear differential), Aztek comes with optional traction control on the front-drive model and a 3500-lb towing package that includes a load-leveling rear suspension and a compressor outlet.

2001 Pontiac Aztek interior

2001 Pontiac Aztek interior

Aztek also comes with power-assist rack-and-pinion steering, along with electronically regulated four-channel ABS. Front-wheel-drive versions feature a front disc/rear drum brake combination, while the all-wheel-drive Versatrak models come with four-wheel disc brakes.

Interior styling cues come from outdoors wear and climbing, running and diving gear — for example, the texture and appearance of the instrument panel are borrowed from scuba gear and a diver’s watch. The cabin is filled with surprise and delight features and geared for stowage, and it sports tactile, highly functional design. The rear tailgate opening accommodates a 4x8 sheet of plywood to please the Home Depot crowd, and the cargo area provides 93.5 cubic feet of cargo space — more than a Dodge Durango — when easy-release rear seats are removed.

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2001 Pontiac Aztek

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Of note are the dual-action insulated console/cooler that latches between the front seats to hold CDs, cassettes and maps, or a 12-pack of drinks; a tailgate with seat and cupholder moldings along with rear audio system controls and speakers; twelve cargo anchors, a rear convenience net and storage compartments built into the side trim and tailgate; and a pair of utility packs that nest in the front door trim panels for added stowage of traveling essentials, such as laptop computer and cell phone. Optional is a rear cargo area pull-out tray for storage with a pop-up netting unit to hold and separate goods and hidden storage underneath the cargo tray.

2001 Pontiac Aztek backpacks

2001 Pontiac Aztek backpacks

Lifestyle accessory packages include a Camping Package (a custom tent that fits securely over the rear half of the Aztek while the liftgate and tailgate are open, along with a custom-sized air mattress); a Biking Package (bike carrier and seat covers); and a Hiking Package (custom backpacks that hook over the front seats). Aztek starts at a base price of approximately $22,000, while up-level GT models start at $25,00.

We’re reserving judgment on the Aztek’s on- and off-road behavior until we can spend some more time behind the wheel. For now, know that the Aztek goes on sale in June, and we’ll be back before then with a full assessment.



Base Price:
Engine: 3.4-liter V-6, 185 hp
Transmission: four-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 108.3 in
Length: 182.1 in
Width: 73.7 in
Height: 66.7 in
Weight: N.A.
Fuel economy: N.A.

Major standard features:
Anti-lock brakes
Dual airbags
50/50 split bench seats
Rear audio system

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