Pontiac Aztek: Reviled, revered, cult classic

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The Pontiac Aztek is likely the most maligned car in modern history. Like the Ford Pinto, Chevrolet Vega and Yugo it has been described as the ugliest car ever built and the worst car ever made.

Sometimes, the criticism cut deep. One reviewer said of the Aztek, said: “The styling of the car is its best feature.”

The 2001 Aztek was the most picked on model. It looked like a badly designed space vehicle or a tank that had been totaled. It was rough-edged and gaudy.

Still, the Pontiac Aztek had such a rotten reputation, it’s become a cult car.

I’ve spoken with two Aztek owners recently who said they wouldn’t trade their Azteks for a new SUV.

The Pontiac Aztek is often cited as the worst car in history. Its owners disagree.
The Pontiac Aztek is often cited as the worst car in history. Its owners disagree. Images © James Raia/2014

My second encounter with an Aztek owner was on April 28 in East Sacramento. How ironic. I chatted with the owner for a couple of minutes in the parking lot in front of a Dollar Tree location.

The woman allowed me to take images of her car and she spoke of the beast endearingly.

The Pontiac Aztek is now a cult vehicle.
The Pontiac Aztek is now a cult vehicle.

“It was nephew’s car,” said. “It’s a 2001 and it only has 79,000 miles on it. Oh, and it’s been driven across the country.”

When I mentioned to the woman that the Aztek is often cited as the ugliest car ever made, she laughed and said:

“Oh, really. I seen some of the new cars and they’re uglier.”

The Pontiac Aztek, as well as its variant, the Buick Rendezvous, were manufactured by General Motors from 2001-2005.

It was a four-door crossover with a front engine and four-wheel drive. It had four-speed automatic transmission with a V-6.

In addition to its odd design, the Pontiac Aztek had its share of additional oddities. It had a rear center console that doubled as a removable cooler. It had rear stereo controls in the cargo area. It had a sliding cargo floor with grocery compartments.

And it options included a camping package with an attachable tent and an inflatable mattress.

General Motors representatives said annual sales of 30,000 units would be the break-even point for the Aztek. At its peak, the Aztek twice approached nearly 28,000 yearly sales.

And just as it was about to fade into oblivion, the Pontiac Aztek got star billing in the recently concluded Breaking Bad television series. It was driven by the show’s main character, Walter White, and it seemed ideal.


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