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2002 Pontiac Aztek

Overall rating:  Product Rating: 4.5

Reviewed by 21 users

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Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover

by simplemoney:      May 24, 2002

Product Rating: 5.0 Recommended: Yes 

Pros: Price, versatility, ride
Cons: Ugly, uglier, ugliest
The Bottom Line: This is the best vehicle available. Pontiac styled it in such a way that the world may never know.

The Final Decision
In our on-going quest (my wife and mine) to find a new vehicle for us and our two children, we started out looking at minivans. All of the minivan owners we’ve talked to love their vehicles. We had the following requirements – the vehicle MUST have the following equipment:

* Automatic Transmission
* Air Conditioning
* Power Windows
* Power Locks
* Key-less remote
* Cruise Control

and cost under $25,000 (after haggling, not MSRP). This was a very important point, because the Honda Odyssey could fit this bill for MSRP, but the two Honda dealers in our area wanted an additional $500 over MSRP and Cars Direct wanted $1,000 over MSRP.

We test drove both a Chrysler Town & Country and a Toyota Sienna. Both drove really nicely but the Chrysler definitely had the edge – until we talked to other Chrysler owners. While individual problems don’t mean much to me ( I prefer to look at JD Power), there comes a time when your gut says “Listen to these people”. Two of our neighbors own Jeep Cherokees (a Chrysler product). One is suing Chrysler to get their money back after the vehicle nearly shook apart on the highway. The other leased a Grand Cherokee and turned it in early (losing a few thousand dollars for the early termination fee) because they were sick and tired of it breaking down. Then I spoke to two Town & Country owners and one had the engine replaced (under warranty) the other had the transmission fail (under warranty). I decided that since JD Power doesn’t actually think much of Chrysler either that we wouldn’t buy one. Without getting into too much detail we also eliminated Ford for the same reasons.

Back to what this story is really about – our new car! After reading an article on USA today concerning the extremely high death rate in 3rd row seats, we completely changed our mind about minivans. Here’s the link for those interested:


I would always feel horrible if someone died because I needed the temporary convenience the 3rd row offered. My parents used to put me in the back of the station wagon without any seat when I was growing up because they didn’t know any better. Armed with knowledge they wouldn’t do that today and armed with knowledge I’m not going to put myself or anyone else in a 3rd row seat.

That article, plus the fact that we really seemed to want the third row for grandparents made us think about renting a minivan when we really needed one and we turned our attention to station wagons. We loved the Passat wagon and liked the Subaru Legacy. Both came in under $25,000 – the Legacy under $21,000. We were almost positive we were buying the Passat (though I had some reliability concerns), when the kids, my wife and I were walking through the mall. My wife said “What’s that?” I said that’s the Aztec, its an SUV and we said we wanted a vehicle that got decent gas mileage so we aren’t looking at them. Only the RAV4 and Honda CRV get decent gas mileage, but they have tiny 4 cylinder engines and both lack real cargo space. Plus we didn’t want to get a vehicle that rolled over easily. But she insisted she wanted to look at it. I think her exact words were “I always loved the Volkswagen ‘THING’ and this Aztec reminds me of it.” Yes the VW Think was ugly and the Aztec isn’t about to win any beauty contests. My wife must really be sympathetic to ugly stuff, makes me wonder a bit about myself.

She quickly pointed out to me that the Aztec gets 26 mpg on the highway. Then she pointed out it has a six cylinder engine and it was the best rated SUV in rollovers (not that it should be compared to a station wagon in that category). Then the price, the dealer wanted about $19,000 with all the equipment we mentioned above. We went down to the local dealer and took a different one out for a test drive. I couldn’t believe how quiet the car was, significantly quieter than the Passat or any other vehicle we test drove. Power was good, but a I wouldn’t call it sporty.

Let me run down the list of things that really caught our attention:
* 45 cubic feet cargo space, compared to 33 for the Legacy and 39 for Passat
* Rear seats fold & come out (no station wagon does that)
* Options galore, I’ll get to this later
* Incredibly smooth ride and visibility
* Good gas mileage, though a little short of the station wagons
* Cargo Space (as mentioned above)
* Price (as mentioned above and below)

We started researching this vehicle and found no one we knew, nor anyone our friends knew owned one, so I was limited to Internet searches. Reliability has been average, with no recalls, and it faired well in government crash tests. It did NOT fair well in the IIHS crash test, but it was confusing as to what the problem was since they didn’t speak of any injuries. So I wrote an email and got a response saying the head in the crash test was accelerating at a rate above what they considered safe. I wrote back that unless the safety belt failed, an object in motion will continue to move regardless if it is in an Aztec or a Lexus, so could you please tell me why in your tests do your heads move at different rates. The IIHS went completely silent and after three more emails I gave up asking (even though they were very quick to respond to the first email). I can only conclude that their testing in this one area is flawed because this is basic Physics 101.

We went ahead and ordered one – the color combination we wanted just wasn’t available on any dealer lot in the Northeast (since these aren’t selling that well they don’t stock that many). The very ugliness of the Aztec is why this is such a good deal. Pontiac has a factory dedicated to making 70,000 of these a year but they only sold 30,000 last year. Because of complicated union contracts they can’t lay workers off without paying them 90% of their salary, so they have lowered the price significantly (and made a minor restyling change whereby the now mono-color the vehicle instead of the previous grey plastic that used to cover the bottom 1/3 of the vehicle last year).

We ordered the luxury package, which gives us all of the following:
* Automatic Transmission
* 165 hp 6 cylinder engine
* Dual ZoneAir Conditioning
* Power Windows
* Power Locks
* Key-less remote
* Cruise Control
* ABS Brakes
* Driver/Passenger Front & Side air bags
* Leather Heated Seats (passenger and driver)
* AM/FM CD/Cassette 100 watt Pioneer radio w/steering wheel controls and controls in the rear when used for tailgating (which we do often)
* Heads up display – shows speed, radio & turn signal information on windshield
* Compass
* Driver information system (miles left before running out of fuel, outside temperature)
* On-Star (notifies emergency response if air bags deploy via cellular satellites, plus can be used as a cell phone, can unlock your doors if you forget your keys inside)
* Cooler in console (big enough to hold a six pack)
* Rear seats are removeable (not an option on the station wagons)
* 93 cubic feet of storage with rear seats removed
* Four outlet jacks
* Lots of cupholders
* Pull out cargo tray w/ rollers
* Plus a whole lot more little things (ie: change holders, garage opener, etc.)
* Stability Control System
* 2 Wheel Drive (not 4 wheel which would cost another $3,000)

The whole package, after the $2,000 GM Rebate cost us only $22,200.

We picked up the Aztec about three weeks ago and quickly found out that the test drive did not do the Aztec justice. It handles bumpy roads with ease, has so many little nooks and nets to hold items that you may want to live in the vehicle if it had a bed (the air mattress was an option we didn’t get).

All of the seatbelts are adjustable and there is a seatbelt harness for the middle occupant of the rear seats conveniently placed out of the way in the ceiling.

The sound system ROCKS! I’m a big fan of high end audio so I won’t dare compare a car stereo to a home stereo, but for a factory installed system I am impressed. Every creature comfort is well placed. Radio controls are large and the heads up display can be dimmed or brightened to suit your preference.

The doors won’t lock if the key is in the ignition so locking your keys inside shouldn’t be a big issue, and we have OnStar to take care of that problem if it ever occurs.

Maintenance is just oil changes for the first 100,000 miles and those are only recommended every 7,500 miles. There is enough road clearance underneath to do your own oil changes without a jack.

It will take some getting used to the bar in the rear view window. The benefit is that you can see very low to the road, so if a toddler is behind the vehicle (or any object) you will see it. This takes about two days of driving to get used to it and then you don’t even notice it any more.

There is a small blind spot caused by the rear door pillar. It is very small and much less problematic than any of the over three dozen vehicles I’ve driven or tested in my lifetime.

There are downsides to ownership, the car is ugly to most people. When the neighbors see it they say “I see you got a new car.” When I bought the Grand Am they said “Nice new car”.

Defects on Arrival
There was one minor defect on arrival. A paint scrape was barely noticeable on the front fascia. My wife can see a spec of dust across a room so it is no wonder she caught this defect. Was it from the factory, the dealer or when they unloaded the vehicle off the truck I don’t know, but it was quickly fixed and looks perfect now.

For the price paid and the options we received, the Passat would have cost well over $27,000 and the Subaru over $25,000. Minivans would have been in the $30,000 range. We got much more cargo space than the station wagons and as much as a minivan, though we gave up the 3rd row seating. We could have gotten the Buick Rendezvous with the 3rd row, but after reading that USA Today article (link given earlier in review) that’s a choice I wouldn’t make.

Even if you hate the look of this vehicle, drive it. You may find it is so comfortable, convenient and economical that the looks will fade (and in the case of the Aztec fading is a good thing).


Amount Paid (US$): 22,200
Condition: New
Model Year: 2002
Model and Options: Luxury Package
Product Rating: 5.0
Recommended: Yes 
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Handling And Control:  
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