During my GM visit in Detroit for the introduction of the 2001 models, I finally could drive that Pontiac Division’s new creature, the famous Aztek. The Aztek is some sort of a multi purpose hybrid vehicle, a crossbred between the minivan, the sport ute and the family wagon. The recipe was relatively simple, as the GM designers used a Pontiac Montana minivan to which they fitted a hatchback type rear section. Its ground clearance is higher in the all wheel drive version.
A multi-usage, young and dynamic concept
The Aztek identified by Pontiac as SRV (Sport Recreational Vehicle) differs from the Montana, as it features four doors of the same type as a sedan. Faithful to the Pontiac image, the designers of that weird hybrid emphasized a flamboyant style by cladding the lower part of the body with large side undulated mouldings mated to quite decorative fender contours. The yellow and black colors leave no one indifferent. Impressive wrap around bumpers, a typical Pontiac twin kidney grille and fog lights complete the overall picture. The GT model also has a roof rack. That sport oriented “pseudo-hatchback” features a two sections tailgate: the upper part lifts up and has a window while the lower panel can be folded downwards. The passenger compartment, with its Grand Am styling, emphasized by daring and even futuristic lines, is remarkably versatile. The dashboard houses easy to reach controls and comprehensible indicators, all in a rounded look. The Aztek, offered in four or five passenger models provides several storage areas and removable compartments. The four passenger model features four bucket seats, the rear seats being foldable removable and easy to handle. The five-passenger version is fitted with a complete split folding rear seat for three persons. The rear section with the seat folded can easily take a 4X8-plywood sheet. A double configuration trunk allows the use of holding nets adjustable in 22 different ways. Besides, a convenient removable multi section drawer type-sliding compartment with a floor-integrated lid is fitted in the cargo area. When removed from the vehicle, it can be hauled around on wheels. The unique Aztek removable console can be turned into a convenient cooler for picnics or camping activities. There are also several other convenient storage compartments. The Aztek thus stands as a unique and functional transportation tool, likely to attract all kinds of customers, especially outdoor life fans or adventure seeking families. Moreover, it is pleasant to drive and easy to live with.
Lively and pleasant handling
With a GM engineer, I had the opportunity to drive the Aztek over several kilometers on highways, country roads and city streets. It must be reminded that the Aztek, based on the 108.3-inch wheelbase Montana platform, benefits from a more solid reinforced architecture. The platform has also been designed for either front wheel drive or all wheel drive. As for the Montana, the rear suspension is mounted over a torsion rigid axle while the AWD features a four-wheel independent suspension. An optional automatic load sensing level system is available. The Aztek, providing more driving enjoyment than a traditional minivan, shows a more rigorous road handling. I also noted that its suspension is firmer than the Montana, which results in a more stable vehicle around corners. The vehicle somewhat feels like a sport sedan. Only on rough surfaces one notices firmer reaction than the Montana. The steering system seemed to transmit road sensations better. The front wheel powertrain is identical to the Montana and uses the sturdy 185-hp 3.4 litre V6 powerplant. While riding with my only passenger I noticed adequate accelerations and a well-proportioned response. The power is transmitted to the front wheels through a four speed automatic transmission. The gearshifts are well adapted, precise and smooth. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to test the VersaTrak AWD version, which was not available for the tests. Let’s add that traction control is standard on the GT version and optional on the entry model. The standard power disc / drum system with ABS proved to be better than adequate under normal driving. A four disc package, undoubtedly more efficient, is also offered. I expect to test an AWD version within the next weeks. But I have to say that my first driving impressions were positive because of its more rigorous than minivan road handling with, as a bonus, more driving pleasure.