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On January 10, 2000, General Motors brand manager Don Butler helped introduce what Pontiac called “the first sport recreational vehicle.” The car scene ripped apart the Aztek at first glance. The staged crowd control at the Detroit Auto Show unveiling didn’t help.

Complete with fake security and mega-show signs displaying key model highlights, an exuberant gang gathered around the Aztek. Then, Butler literally crowd-surfs the hired locals. OK, yes. Cringe. But I happen to adore the Aztek and consider it an underdog of cool and quirky cars.

A yellow Pontiac Aztek is shown with fake security guards and a hired crowd at the 2000 Detroit Auto Show
Pontiac Aztek reveal | Bill Pugliano via Getty Images

GM produced the Pontiac Aztek for five years, starting with the 2001 model. Time Magazine calls the Aztek one of the 50 worst cars of all time. GM’s public product testing saw similar attitudes. Some folks said they’d never buy the Aztek or even accept one as a gift. The automaker ended production in 2005. In 2010, Time even labeled it one of the 50 worst inventions. In my opinion, this was totally unreasonable. The SUV was overall very functional according to many of today’s consumer interests. So, why was it so deeply hated by the industry? Pure looks.

Industry response toward the Pontiac Aztek’s looks is no longer relevant

Insider knowledge of the design process jaded it from the jump. The Aztek was meant to combine GM sports car performance with off-road capability. However, after several rounds of editing, it ended up using more minivan specs and features than either of the former. Hilariously, most folks these days, even truck fans, prefer some version of minivan comfort or styling.

In 2017, Car and Driver feared the Aztek was becoming cool. Chatter simmered about the model’s positive traits. The idea that its look wasn’t as abhorrent as its production year reception ruffled feathers. So, the industry beatings continued. In response, C&D launched a scathing mouthful on its design.

“The Aztek, a blatant minivan-in-drag monstrosity, sat on stage looking like a sad, fat man who’d had his nose cut off. It’s so powerfully ugly that a blobfish wouldn’t be seen next to it. If you saw something that looked like the Aztek scurry out from behind your fridge, you might have difficulty deciding whether to kill it or kill yourself. After all, if you kill it, you’ll still have to live with the knowledge that it existed in the first place. If the infant Aztek were abandoned on a mountainside, it would eventually come crawling back to civilization because even the vultures and ants wouldn’t touch it.”

Daaang! Is this not an emotionally unregulated response to a product that was, well, just…fine?

From a post-pandemic standpoint, the Aztek story deserves revising. Its rear tent and inflatable bed option, plus the removable center console that doubles as a cooler, make the Aztek pretty neat. Its overall compactness is practical. Folks looking for something city-worthy but capable in a weekend camping situation would find the drivetrain – a 3.4L V6 paired with optional all-wheel drive – a good fit.

Fans of the older Honda CR-Vs touting foldable picnic tables in the trunk as a standard might also appreciate the Aztek’s quirky design.

These days, you can nab a used Pontiac Aztek for $5k-$10k, depending on mileage, features, and condition. I found an original tent on Facebook Marketplace for $150 coming out of Florida, sale pending. Point is, models and accessories are floating around if you feel inspired to look.

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