Pontiac Aztek: It's A Little...Different?
|Is the 2001 Pontiac Aztek the world's most versatile automobile?|
Mar 17, 2005 19:41:50|
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|Author||Tara Baukus Mello|
My Mission: To determine if the 2001 Pontiac Aztek is really the world's most versatile automobile on the planet.
Thursday, September 28, On The Ground In Providence, R.I.
Hauling three boxes of camping gear plus our rolling luggage, my husband Jeff and I exited baggage claim and headed for the parking garage at the T.F. Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island. The first objective of our adventure, find the 2001 Pontiac Aztek that had been left for us by General Motors' East Coast division the day before. It wasn't hard to spot the bold and boxy rearend protruding from its parking space. Using the spare keys, we popped open the combination lift gate/tailgate and loaded our gear.
As I opened the driver's door I immediately noticed how easy it was to get behind the wheel. Even with 6.7 inches of ground clearance, my five-foot-six frame slid behind the wheel easily. There was no feeling of â€śhaulingâ€ť myself into the driverâ€™s seat. Moments later, I was surprised to find that backing out of the tight space was a snap; from the exterior the lower portion of the rear liftgate appeared to be opaque at first glance, but it was actually darkly tinted glass which made it difficult to see in, but easy to see out. Because it extended lower than most SUV's and minivans, visibility was terrific.
The 185-horsepower, 3.4-liter V-6 engine came alive as we headed up the on-ramp for Interstate 95. With 210-pound feet of torque at 4000 rpm, the six-cylinder had plenty of pep to power its way up to highway speeds. Within moments, we were cruising comfortably toward Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where we'd spend the next few days visiting family.
Sunday, October 1---Day Trip to Mystic, CT.
Indian Summer had arrived in New England and the weather, which had been brisk and dreary for the past few days, was warm and sunny. Headed for a day trip to Connecticut for small, impromptu family reunion, Jeff and I took my parents in the Aztek for the four-hour, round trip journey. My mom was busy locating the cooler to transport the homemade potato salad, when I remembered that the Aztek had a portable cooler as its center console. Within a heartbeat, the container was stowed in between the front seats with enough room for three small ice packs on top. Despite the relatively short wheelbase (108.3 inches), there was a nice amount of room for four adults, even with two men who were over six-foot tall. With features like child seat tethers, optional rear captain's chairs and the optional rear seat audio system with dual headphones, plug-in jacks, separate volume controls and system mode controls, it was easy to see that kids (even big ones) would be comfortable on a long drive.
Monday, October 2---Not Your Average Grocery-Getter
Camping in the White Mountains region of New Hampshire was the next item on our agenda, but a trip to the grocery store for the perishables was in order before Jeff and I could get underway. Exiting the store, we noted that each passerby seemed to take note Aztek's unique styling as he or she walked by. It was no surprise, for there is little argument that it is one of the most unusual looking vehicle's currently on the market. It has a muscular, oversized appearance, with an expansive rearend and a somewhat aggressive snout. The dark charcoal wide body moldings accentuate its "muscles" while the cat's eye headlights, oversized fog lights and uniquely sculpted hood give it a bit of a robotic look.
The unusual styling seems to leave most people without words, or perhaps they are just too polite to use the ones that come to mind. Asking people what they thought of the car along the way became somewhat of an informal poll. Only one confidently stated that he liked the Aztek's looks, calling it "cool." (Interestingly, he was also the only one who fit the Aztek's product planners' initial target demographic of a married man in his late 20â€™s/early 30â€™s with a young child.) Other replies were either neutral or negative, with the vast majority of people staring at the car and saying, "It's a little..." and struggling for the appropriate descriptor. "Different" was what most settled on. Like it or not, the Aztek was an attention getter---the three-hour trip north to New Hampshire garnered as many looks and finger-pointing from other drivers as when I drive my 1932 Ford street rod.
Tuesday, October 3---Versatility Among New England's Tallest Peaks
Our journey to Northern New England meant driving some of the tallest mountains in New England. Although peaks of 5,000- and 6,000-feet are diminutive compared what I see at home in the Western U.S., the White Mountains of New Hampshire are known for some of the most treacherous roads around. The location of Mount Washington, home of the worldâ€™s worst weather (yes, the National Weather Service actually charts this) in addition to a large population of moose (who are known for standing fearlessly in front of oncoming traffic), driving New Hampshireâ€™s White Mountains can be a dangerous experience.
Both the front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive Azteks are well prepared to handle such encounters. Both vehicles have all-wheel anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution as standard equipment, while the all-speed traction system is standard on GT versions and optional on base models. The front-wheel drive version features a twist beam rear axle with an integrated anti-roll bar that offers excellent lateral support, while the all-wheel drive version features a short and long arm independent rear suspension that has been designed exclusively for the Aztek. While in New Hampshire, we tested the suspension thoroughly on some of the bumpiest roads I've ever seen and discovered that it eats up the potholes as if they were bite-sized donut holes.
Wednesday, October 4---Leaf Peeping In the White Mountains, N.H.
Known for the most beautiful foliage in the United States, the White Mountains were at their peak color one day after we arrived. There were plenty of tent sites at the Lost River Valley Campground in North Woodstock, where we camped in the Aztek at a right next to the river. The tent package (a $195 option) came with a tent that fits on the rear portion of the vehicle and an air mattress custom-fit for the interior cargo space. Installing the tent was snap and, with the rear seats simply flipped forward, sleeping for two was relatively comfortable. Although Pontiac says that removing the rear seats for camping is optional, I would highly recommend it, particularly for tall adults, as those extra inches mean sleeping on a nearly flat surface versus placing your head on the slightly tipped tailgate.
We spent our days in the region doing mainly outdoor activities. Purely by chance, we selected the warmest, sunniest day of our trip to go on an all-day hike where we reached the summits of three mountains. It was also the day where the sniffles I had picked up on the red-eye flight developed into a full-blown head cold. Although I knew New Hampshire was known as the â€śGranite State,â€ť I did not expect the majority of our hike to be on and over large granite boulders, which were, at times, so tall, I literally had to hoist myself onto them. This, combined with a 3,700-foot elevation gain in two miles and congested sinuses, made for a trip that was a bit more than I had bargained for. My pace was slower than usual and the steepness of the rocky trail made my knees ache.
Toward the end of our journey, the sun had ducked behind the nearby mountains and the temperature began to drop as dusk set in. With each step, our shadows grew longer until we arrived at the parking lot in near-darkness. Exhausted, I sat on the Aztekâ€™s tailgate, loosening my hiking boots and removing my gear.
â€śYou know, youâ€™re a real trooper,â€ť my husband said as I searched for a tissue to blow my running nose.
I thought of the long, difficult trail I had just accomplished and the many different aspects of my personality.
â€śIâ€™d rather be called an Aztek,â€ť I said.
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