1 Forgotten Pontiac SUV Was a Popular Chevy in Disguise
When Pontiac’s infamous Aztek was discontinued after 2005 to the surprise of nobody, the brand had a pretty large hole to fill in the burgeoning crossover SUV segment of the market. Rather than develop an all-new vehicle, the path of least resistance was to give the Pontiac treatment to Chevy’s latest SUV at the time, the Equinox.
When Chevy debuted the Equinox for the 2005 model year, one year earlier than Pontiac’s badge-engineered Torrent, it was genuinely praised by the media, who commented on its spacious cabin, car-like ride, available all-wheel drive, and relatively low price.
The Pontiac Torrent was a rebadged Chevy Equinox
Although the Pontiac Torrent and Chevy Equinox were both based on GM’s Theta platform and therefore, extremely similar, Pontiac did take some steps to differentiate the two vehicles.
To begin, the Torrent had a completely unique front and rear fascia. Since Pontiac built its image on being GM’s “sporty” brand, the Torrent’s suspension was tweaked to be firmer and hold the road better. Similarly, the Torrent’s electric power steering system was redesigned to provide less assistance than the Equinox and feel more like a European car.
For the 2008 model year, Pontiac released a hotter version of the Torrent called the GXP to compete with Chevy’s gussied-up Equinox Sport. Besides a larger V6 engine with 264 horsepower, the GXP had a new six-speed automatic transmission and styling flourishes like faux hood scoops and larger diameter chrome-plated wheels. In a road test, a sample GXP scurried from zero to 60 MPH in 6.9 seconds, a respectable accomplishment even by modern standards.
Then, as it is now, the Equinox was a massive sale success for Chevrolet. It regularly outsold its Pontiac twin by a margin of 200-300% but even so, the Torrent was still more popular on the showroom floor than the vehicle it replaced: the Aztek.
When was the Pontiac Aztek SUV discontinued?
When the motoring public got its first glimpse of Pontiac’s Aztek around the turn of the millennium, it was widely panned as one of the ugliest vehicles ever made. In theory, the Aztek should have been a success and its formula of a unibody car-based SUV with taller suspension and available all-wheel drive seemingly describes about half of the new vehicles on the market in 2023.
The Aztek was also prescient in prerunning the whole overlanding movement with a removable center console that doubled as a cooler, a massive slide-out cargo tray, and a camping package that consisted of an integrated tent and bespoke air mattress that filled the cargo area.
Unfortunately, buyers just couldn’t overlook the Aztek’s radical styling and it only lingered for five short years between 2001 and 2005.
Does Pontiac still make cars?
Sadly, General Motors killed the Pontiac brand as part of its bankruptcy process following the bursting of the housing bubble and the “great recession” that followed. Pontiac wasn’t the only casualty either—both Hummer and Saturn also got dropped. Obviously, ending Pontiac also put an end to the Torrent in 2009.
Some folks in the car hobby blame the demise of Pontiac on the lackluster sales of the Aztek and the Torrent. The Aztek has even been called “the car that killed Pontiac” but the reality is that the brand was a victim of mismanagement and in serious financial trouble even before the first Azteks ever hit dealerships.
What is a rebadged or badge-engineered vehicle?
Badge engineering is the practice of one automaker putting its name on the product from another manufacturer without significant changes and selling that vehicle as its own product. The reasons for this practice are numerous, including the speed at which automakers can ramp up selling a product in a particularly hot segment while their own in-house design is developed, like Honda did with its Passport SUV which was really a warmed-over Isuzu Rodeo.
Another reason for rebadging—particularly applicable to General Motors—is to allow franchised dealerships representing different brands to have a full line of vehicle types to sell.
A prime exampe of this would be the classic full-size Chevrolet K5 Blazer—the one with the removable fiberglass roof—being sold at GMC dealerships as the Jimmy. In the case of the Blazer/Jimmy, it was badge engineering in the truest possible sense, because the only difference between the two vehicles were the logos and nameplates.
While the Pontiac Torrent was still technically still badge engineered from the Chevy Equinox, at least a modium of effort was put into differentiating the two vehicles to the degree possible. A similar situation existed in another Pontiac from the Torrent’s era, the sporty Solstice roadster which had a badge engineered compartriot in the Saturn Sky.
Sadly, neither of thosee two roadsters survived the Great Financial Crisis either and that’s a far bigger crime than the loss of the Torrent.