2001 Pontiac Aztek (327)

Overview:

This week I had the opportunity to drive a very different Pontiac – the new Aztek. It’s based on the Montana minivan. Some folks think it’s ugly, others say it’s futuristic. In short, they either love or hate what Pontiac calls a Sport Recreation Vehicle (SRV). It’s a cross between an SUV and a Van and targeted at younger buyers with active lifestyles.

There are a lot of options on this Aztek to suit the buyer’s needs and wants. You can opt for bucket seats in front with a choice of a three-passenger flip/fold 50/50-split seat or dual captain chairs in back. There is a rear cargo tray that can be securely latched in place inside the vehicle, rolled-out over the tailgate for convenient loading and unloading, or completely removed. There is a reconfigurable rear cargo net system, with two side-panel nets that carry up to 35 pounds each. Two larger cross-vehicle nets restrain up to 200 pounds of cargo (100 pounds per net) and in conjunction with the floor mounted anchor hooks, the net system can be reconfigured in 22 different ways.

Handling & Performance:

Aztek is front-wheel drive, but later in the year an all-wheel-drive system is scheduled for release. It’s referred to as Versatrak, but it’s not suited for serious off-road driving. Because the Aztek has wider track than the Jeep Grand Cherokee, for example, its stance means better control and stability.

All Aztek vehicles are powered by a smooth, strong 3.4-liter OHV V6 185 horsepower engine.

Styling:

Personal taste should be all that counts and that is particularly true with this Aztek since opinions varied widely.  The interior is roomy and utility conscious with things like the center console that is a removable 12-can cooler. The seats are a little bizarre with graphic design that is a little much. The cargo area has a pullout tray for easy loading. My test vehicle did not come with the optional camping package that includes a pop-out tent, air mattress and integrated air pump. It fits over the rear half of the Aztek, and allows you to leave the hatch and tailgate open.

All Aztek’s have other cool things like lantern hooks on the liftgate, four 12-volt power outlets, rear tailgate has cupholders and is molded to form two seating areas. You can also have audio controls in the rear that make the Aztek’s tailgate readymade for pregame parties or camping.

When you remove the easy release back seats you have 93.5 cubic feet of cargo space. There are a dozen securely attached cargo anchors and storage compartments built into the side trim and tailgate to control loose gear. Another nifty option for this GT is a pair of utility packs that nest in each front door trim panel, to provide for stowing a cell phone, camera, CD player or other gear. It’s easily removable so it can be carried with you as you leave the vehicle.

The hiking package includes backpacks that attach to the backs of the front seats when not in use. Another package includes a rooftop or interior bike rack that hold two cycles.

I didn’t ask if they come with a Swiss Army Knife.

Fit and Finish:

Not elegant materials, but well assembled.

Cost:

Not bad considering the versatile options that make this a rather unique option.

Recommendation:

If you have a need for a camping vehicle, this is a good option to an SUV. It’s not as low to the ground as a minivan and not as high as an SUV. But the seating is high which gives the great visibility people love in the very popular SUV’s.

The competition:

Audi A4 Avant $27,290-31,990, Chrysler PT Cruiser $15,935 (not true since they go for about $30,000), Ford Escape $17,645-20,820, Honda CR-V $18,750-22800, Kia Sportage $14,395-19,095, Subaru Forester $20,295-22,895, Suzuki Grand Vitara $18,399-22,999, Toyota RAV4 $16,215-17,615.

Good News:

Well-priced, good mileage, comfortable, several configurations to make it perhaps the most versatile recreation vehicle on the market today.

Bad News:

Sways in the wind, arguably the ugliest new release for 2001.

Standard Equipment:

3.4 liter V6 engine, 4 speed auto trans, front wheel drive, dual and side air bags, 4-wheel antilock brakes, remote keyless entry, battery rundown protection, roof rack, bucket seats, air conditioning, power mirrors, windows and locks, AM/FM with cassette and CD, tilt steering, cruise control, removable console/ cooler, information center.

Gas Stats:

19 City and 26 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $25,435.

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