How the Horrible Failed Pontiac Aztek Defined Today’s SUVs

Every pattern break has its positive and negative sides. Either you create a trend or you become a laughing stock. Sometimes, though, it was just an idea that arrived before the right time. For example, there were touch screen cell phones before the iPhone, but it was the real success. Even terribly hated, the Pontiac Aztek had everything today’s SUVs have.

The strong term “hated” is his raison d’être for Aztek. Just look up any list of the ugliest cars in history and it will be there. On the list of losers too, because sales were always very poor. It’s all the fault of various design errors, but especially its design.

Irony of fate or not, everything that was pointed out as bizarre, ugly and horrible about the Pontiac Aztek between July 2000 and August 2005, when it was produced, is practically mandatory in the SUV segment. But what went wrong with the model to make it so bad-mouthed?

Pontiac Aztek [divulgação]

troubled start

The Pontiac Aztek project was born like all other SUVs of the time. It was supposed to share a platform with the Chevrolet Blazer, that is, a chassis under the body. As Pontiac had a more sporty vein, it would be intended for use on asphalt and would have a more peppery feel than the S10 SUV.

However, General Motors’ cost center decided to cut the project’s costs and go down a notch. Rather than using the expensive features of true off-road SUVs for a city car, Pontiac switched to GM’s U platform that was used only by the brand’s minivans, including the Lumina MPV that was sold in Brazil.

Pontiac Aztek [divulgação]

That is, it migrated from rear-wheel drive and the possibility of having 4×4 to a front-wheel drive layout and a platform not prepared for off-road use. This made the Aztek lower and minivan-driving. GM even developed an all-wheel drive system, but it failed more than it worked properly.

Controversy yesterday, fashion today

But the Pontiac Azket’s biggest problem was its looks. The tall and bulky body with small wheels made the model’s proportions a little awkward and heavy. These days any of the SUVs similar in size to his own have 18-inch or 19-inch wheels. He got by with a 16-inch set with a closed design.

But look at the profile. The Aztek had a very sloping rear window, like all the coupe SUVs nowadays that are so in vogue. When the Pontiac was released, it was heavily criticized for it. Split glass with central airfoil and integrated taillights is featured on the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, for example.

Two other elements of fashion today that have been heavily criticized at Aztek are at the forefront. The headlights are split, with the arrow above the main block, just as we see the LED daytime running lights above the actual headlights today. The front grille was also divided, but drew attention for being exaggerated and large.

Today, almost all SUVs have a gigantic front grille to help give a feeling of sturdiness. The shape even reminds me of BMW’s double kidney grille and is even smaller than what the German brand is putting on its cars and, especially, on SUVs. In 2000, the public rightly found the Aztek set to be awful.

Aztek’s failure

Thought to be a daring car from the start, the Aztek failed to be anything different that caught the eye. GM had intended to sell 75,000 SUVs a year, but its peak was between 2001 and 2003 when it sold an average of 27,000 units. The first year of sales was weak, while in 2004 and 2005, he was practically out of the deck.

Aztek’s redemption came in 2008 when he became protagonist Walter White’s car in the hit series Braking Bad. The car returned to value in the used market and became a cult object – albeit ugly as hell. Today it remains one of the great failures in GM’s history. But maybe it just arrived long before the time.

Pontiac Aztek [divulgação]
Pontiac Aztek [divulgação]

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