For more than 500 miles, I'd watched heads snap around as if they'd spotted Heidi Klum doing the Lady Godiva bit on the back of a pink elephant. Drivers jammed on their brakes to get a better look. Passengers pointed in curious puzzlement. Food and gas stops became spontaneous Q&A sessions. And even pulling alongside the road to check my map was met with a tap on the window from someone wanting to know "just what the hell" I was driving.
The Pontiac Aztek was designed with a vision. Some get it, some don't. Some think it's the coolest thing for the outdoor enthusiast since Gore-Tex; some think it's an oozing blemish on the fine art of automotive design. But whether you get it or not, it still makes you look. And Pontiac/GMC is hoping at least 60,000 buyers a year will share this vision.
There's nothing subtle about the Aztek; its in-your-face styling generates strong love-it-or-hate-it passions. The exterior exhibits a showcar gaudiness perceived as either edgy or over the top. The interior is a cross between typically bold Pontiac styling and a window display at the local scuba shop. A diving watch, for instance, provided the inspiration for the circular instrument panel bezel with molded-in Allen-head bolts. The textured, rubberized door pulls, meanwhile, were patterned after the handle of a diving knife. The look and feel of the great active outdoors permeates the vehicle.
Yet, as much attention as the Aztek's looks get, the real story is inside. Taking a cue from the Nissan Xterra's versatile range of accessories, the Aztek team has raised the bar several notches by incorporating some of the most innovative features this side of a Swiss Army Knife. The center console between the front two seats, for instance, has a removeable tray, CD-case holder, and plenty of room for maps and such. So, what's the news? Pull up the side handle, and it lifts out as a small insulated cooler, capable of holding a six-pack of beverages. Like to tailgate party? The tailgate is molded to form two sitting areas with cupholders. When you need to change the tunes, you can easily adjust the audio system using optional controls mounted near the rear hatch. Plus, the rear speakers are tilted rearward to make sure the music gets outside where all the action is.
There are water-resistant, washable seat covers, a roof-mounted bike rack, and an integrated air compressor. And, if you're not the motel type, Pontiac's Camping Lifestyle Package turns the Aztek into a mobile campsite. It includes a two-person air mattress-with built-in air pump-that spreads out on the Aztek's flat cargo floor. And to let the night air in but keep the mosquitoes out, a custom-fit tent-with zip-up screened door-fits over the rear end of the vehicle when the rear door and tailgate are open.