- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2000

If you are over the age of 25 and don't quite get the looks of Pontiac's soon to arrive Aztek, don't sweat it. You're not supposed to get it. It's aimed at X-geners or Net-geners or whatever they are calling young adults in their mid-twenties or younger. Think of it in terms of your children's music that you probably don't understand either.

Pontiac believes it has hit on the styling formula to attract this age group to the tune of about 70,000 sales annually. Pontiac calls Aztek a SRV, or sport recreational vehicle. Not quite a minivan and not quite a sport utility vehicle, it is somewhere in between. They say Aztek is intended to be different. I'd say they have succeeded.

Once you get past the rather unique exterior styling, however, the versatility of the interior may just win you over no matter what your age.

Getting a first taste of the Aztek involved taking a turn around Lake Tahoe a few weeks ago. Here the road ribbons over hills and through greenery as it ambles around the lake. The Azteks provided for this quiet tour were front-wheel drive. By January, the Pontiac folks say, a new all-wheel-drive system called Versatrak will be available as well.

This is a passive AWD system requiring no input from the driver. Two pumps automatically sense when the front and rear wheels are turning at different speeds due to front wheel spin. The pumps then engage multiplate clutches that begin turning either one or both rear wheels. Forward motion will continue even if only one wheel has traction.

Versatrak is so compact, it fits neatly under Aztek's flat rear floor. It will show up as an option on General Motors minivans next year as well.

Aztek comes in two flavors: a vanilla SE and the more flavorful GT. In addition to the $3,000 difference in base price, the primary enhancements on the GT are keyless remote entry, 16-inch aluminum wheels, dual-zone manual climate control, leather wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls, overhead console, roof rack, cruise control and driver information center. There are a couple of more items we'll get to later. My test drive was with the GT.

Aztek shares most of its mechanicals with the Montana minivan. In fact, the distinctive exterior shape of Aztek can be directly attributed to the need to stretch its sheet metal over Montana's substructure. The engine is the same 3.4-liter 3400 V-6 found in Montana. It offers 185 horsepower and a healthy 210 foot-pounds of torque. Montana's four-speed automatic transmission ushers engine output to the front wheels.

Fairly smooth, this V-6 is a veteran of GM's stable of engines. Combined with the automatic transmission, it reaches 60 mph from a standstill in about 10 seconds. Aztek's fuel economy matches Montana's with a rating of 19 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway.

Aztek's handling characteristics are about what you might expect. It tracks neutrally in a straight line. Cornering produces some body roll. The steering is responsive, if a bit light. Anti-lock brakes are standard as is traction control on GT versions.

Aztec can seat either four or five depending on whether it has twin captain's chairs or a three-person bench seat in the rear. The rear seat(s) can be folded forward or removed to reveal a huge flat cargo surface and 93 cubic feet of room. The rear lift gate and tailgate open separately. With an eye on tailgate parties, cup holders and seating indentations are molded into the tailgate, and one of the optional audio packages comes with cargo area audio controls. Two auxiliary power points are also located in the cargo area.

Pontiac looked at a lot of active-type hardware in choosing materials for Aztek's interior. Each surface reflects its ready-for-action attitude. A right angle can't be found in its interior. The instrument cluster is a cross between that of a jet fighter and a submarine. There are grab handles, cup holders and storage cubby holes galore. Removable utility packs suitable for carrying cameras, cellular phones and other take-along stuff are located in pockets built into the front door trim.

The GT comes with an insulated console cooler large enough to hold 12 cans of your beverage of choice that can also be removed and carried by its handle. Another GT standard feature is a cargo net system that can be configured 22 different ways for separating gear. An optional tray capable of holding 400 pounds of cargo will pull out over the tailgate for ease of loading/ unloading. It can be removed completely when not needed.

Pontiac has also developed several appearance packages for activities such as hiking, biking and camping. These will come with appropriate accessories for whatever activity is chosen. Aztek will first be rolled out in California and then into other areas.

Base price of the Aztek GT is $24,445. Standard features not already mentioned: daytime running lamps, fog lamps, dual front air bags, dual frontal side-impact air bags, air conditioning, rear window defogger, programmable power door locks, carpeted floor mats, power remote lift gate release, power windows, six-speaker AM/FM stereo/CD player, height-adjustable front shoulder belts and tilt steering wheel.

The GT tested also had upgraded audio system ($425) with 10 speakers and rear cargo audio controls, and an equipment group ($720) with sliding cargo tray, six-way power driver's seat, windshield projected head-up display and anti-theft alarm system. Adding the $550 destination charge brought the total as tested to $26,140.

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