Aztek: Pontiacs Combination Shot
By Jim Bray
Pontiac has built what may be the ultimate vehicle for homeless yuppies.
Its 2001 Aztek is a kind of hybrid, but not the gas/electric type of hybrid Honda and
Toyota are pushing. Rather, its a hybrid minivan/SUV, taking highlights
from both types of vehicle and creating something truly unique.
Its truly ugly, too, but you dont see that from behind the steering
wheel and that makes it a lot easier to take until you get out again.
I spent about a week with the Aztek GT and, while it isnt the type of
vehicle I would buy, it seems safe to say that those of the young at
heart and outdoorsy persuasion may find it a nice blend that fits well
into their lifestyles.
After all, where else besides the Volkswagen bus (sorry, EuroVan)
can you find a vehicle in which you can camp?
No kidding. Aztek is available with three different packages: a
Biking package, a Hiking package, and a Camping package. The latter, which
is the one I tested (probably a cruel joke from a GM exec who knew of my sedentary
lifestyle), includes an air mattress and a tent. You can erect the tent over
the Azteks rear end and sleep right in the back of the vehicle. (see
Not only that, but Pontiac has mounted a second set of stereo controls in
the rear compartment with which you can annoy your campground neighbors with
I didnt actually take the tent out of its package to try it. I know
better. For me, getting a tent folded back up into those little bags is even
worse than folding up a road map, and I was supposed to return the Aztek GT
in the same condition in which I received it.
A recent review of the Aztek in Car and Driver magazine, however,
claims you can do the deed in about ten minutes, and I have no reason to doubt
Pontiac includes other handy little camping accessories designed
to make life with the Aztec as pleasant as possible. For example, theres
a little cooler mounted between the front bucket seats, and you can use its
handle to take it out at the campground. Its a pretty small cooler, suitable
only for a few cans of pop or other beverage (I wonder if Pontiac thought about
the drinking and driving potential here), and if you dont want to keep
your potables portable the cooler also doubles as a cassette/compact disc holder so
you can keep your cool tunes even cooler.
There are also multiple power outlets and a selection of cup holders.
The front drive Aztek GT is powered by a 3.4 liter fuel injected V6 engine
that puts out 185 horsepower and 210 lb-ft. of torque. The transmission is
a four speed electronic automatic, and the combination moves the Aztek along
quite well, though not spectacularly. I also thought its shifts could have
been a little less obtrusive at times.
One thing you dont get, yet, is four wheel drive, but that's supposedly
on the horizon.
The interior is comfortable, though one of my sons complained about a lack
of rear seat legroom. Driving position is very flexible, thanks to a tilt steering
wheel and a power-assisted drivers seat that does everything except lift
you into the vehicle and deposit you gently back on the ground again.
That drivers seat felt as if it would spill me out of it when I took
a right hand turn quickly, though; it didnt, but it felt a tad tippy.
Driving safety features include anti-lock brakes, traction control, and dual
air bags up front.
The cabin is very quiet, unless you use the excellent AM/FM/CD stereo to rattle
the rear hatch with wild abandon. This is not a criticism of the rear hatch;
rather, it's a statement of awe regarding the stereo.
That hatch, by the way, is sharply angled on top, and its nearly perpendicular
rear panel section is made of glass, which really improves the drivers
There arent a lot of creature comforts missing. Besides the hot stereo,
you can have heated seats, rear captains chairs, a keyless entry system,
variable intermittent wipers, cruise control, an automatic headlight setting,
power windows, etc.
Aztek GT is EPA rated at 19 city and 26 highway gas mileage.
Whether Azteks bizarre exterior will frighten off potential buyers remains
to be seen, but you have to give Pontiac credit for breaking out of the box.