Lemon Series: Pontiac Aztek

While there have been bigger failures in the market, the Pontiac Aztek is a vehicle that wasn’t cool and never will be.

The Pontiac Aztek is the biggest lemon in the modern automotive world. We’ve seen extremely unsafe and horrific models from decades ago, but none as bad as this Pontiac that broke through as a production model that began in 2000. Similar to other items that become quickly cool and then phase-out, the ironic attraction of this small SUV only gained a second following when AMC gave us this vehicle in the Breaking Bad series.

It Didn’t Have to Be this Way

The production version and the concept model of the Aztek were utterly different. You can talk to people who worked at the General Motors plants developing this SUV and they will tell you the bean counters ruined this vehicle. The attractive qualities could have been part of this Pontiac but never made it to the production line because the accounting department at General Motors decided it would be too expensive to develop new parts to fit this unique vehicle. The goodness that would have been turned to crap in a heartbeat once this SUV passed the bean counters on the way to the production line.

We Endured for Five Years

Could we blame the Pontiac Aztek for the ultimate demise of this brand? It certainly didn’t help the brand, but other failures added to the mix. Even so, the 2000 Aztek arrived at the Detroit Auto Show and made it look as if the GM representative were trying hard to “polish a turd,” which is as crude as you get with a vehicle. All the fanfare, hoopla, and celebration couldn’t hide that this SUV wasn’t worth bringing to any show or the auto market.

The Aztek had its Fun in the Sun

Once this uncool SUV showed up on the screen as the car drove by Walter White in Breaking Bad, a cult-like following began. Much the way other fads take place, the coolness of the Aztek was short-lived and false. Even though bloggers give this Pontiac some attention, those who bought the decade-old used models quickly regretted doing so. Too many modifications must be made to make this Pontiac cool, making it less of what it is and more like something else entirely.

This Pontiac Was So Bad the Team Took Away the Attention

Not only did the new Aztek arrive at the Detroit Auto Show to be mostly ignored, but it also took a great deal of effort to celebrate this car and get some people excited about it. The way GM is featured seems like a song and dance number from one of the Austin Powers movies. Pontiac created a face mosh pit with participants wearing rainbow wigs and carrying signs. Do you need a sign that reads the horsepower when that number is only 185? The head marketer for the Aztek, Don Butler, jumped in the mosh pit, and the crowd surfed at the end of the demonstration. Yes, these things happened.

What Was the Aztek Supposed to Be?

Consider the current version of the Chevrolet Blazer, and you’ve got an idea of what the Pontiac Aztek should have been. The current Blazer offers to style borrowed from the Camaro in a midsize-SUV body.  The idea of the Aztek was to blend the goodness of a Camaro with that of a Blazer from the time and come up with something cool. This vehicle is supposed to be comprehensive, low, powerful, and off-road capable. The code name for the project was Bear Claw; too bad it never amounted to much of anything.

Instead of getting a sporty off-roader, we got a minivan with a new dress. The tall, narrow structure seems easy to tip over and roll around on its side. Unlike the strangely capable version used for Breaking Bad, The Pontiac Aztek wasn’t a helpful vehicle. We should have had a model with performance features and lots of power, but we got a 3.4-liter V6 that made 185 horsepower. How can you get excited about that?

GM Didn’t Listen to Feedback About the Production Version

The final production design was presented to several focus groups that unanimously hated the Pontiac Aztek. They hated it so much that some were so bold as to tell GM they wouldn’t take it as a gift and disown anyone who would try and pass it on to them. That should have been more than enough for GM to kill the project, but they soldiered on. As ugly and useless as this Pontiac SUV is, there’s no denying that it was a unique design compared to the models GM was offering at the time.

This is One Way to Empty the Parts Bin

Remember those bean counters we blamed for the horror of the Pontiac Aztek; they found a way to empty the extra parts bins at many GM factories. Put all those spare parts in this awful Pontiac and call it a new vehicle. That’s certainly a way to save money, but it doesn’t translate to sales of this vehicle at all. Even with all the warning signs, GM pushed on and gave us the parts bin ugly conglomeration of terribleness that is the Aztek.

Redesigns Didn’t Make Things Better

The Aztek was only around for five years. That’s not even a whole generation in the car world. It didn’t take GM five years to redesign this ugly SUV; it took five months. They had to promise to do this because of how negative the feedback was for this vehicle. Unfortunately, the Aztek only lasted five years, and the redesigns didn’t help. Because of this, GM canceled this vehicle and never wanted to speak of it again. In any world of lemons, the Pontiac Azteks is the modern lemon of the car world today. Forget Breaking Bad, don’t buy this SUV for any reason; it’s not worth the troubles it will bring you.