Aztek owners are members of an exclusive club. This is not a vehicle you'll see at every stoplight for reasons that extend beyond its outlandish styling. But according to J.D. Power, Aztek owners rank their vehicle quite high in initial customer satisfaction. What is it about this unusual SUV that has such a firm grip on the hearts of its owners? What is the Aztek experience?
The only way to know is to live with one. Our bright-yellow '01 Aztek GT joined the Truck Trend fleet with Versatrak AWD and four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes as standard equipment and the 1SC package of options: head-up display, sliding rear-cargo tray, power driver seat, leather seating surfaces, alarm, upgraded stereo, four-speed auto trans, OnStar, and security alarm.
Our Aztek was quickly put to work by the staff doing soccer and grocery-getting duties, and some adventures to national forests put the optional camping package to use. The Aztek's OnStar technology was tested in a roadside-assistance story for Motor Trend. Between these special engagements it is a daily driver.
There's no disputing that the Aztek attracts attention wherever it goes. In its high-visibility paint, it's neither subtle nor shy. The yellow shell and contrasting gray cladding leave nothing to the imagination. Most kids find it intriguing, while adult reaction spans the spectrum between love and hate. The most interesting reaction comes from other Aztek owners--it's almost robotic. It starts with big eyes, followed by a wide grin, finishing in an enthusiastic wave as they pass by. It's almost impossible not to wave back.
Inside, the screaming-yellow tone changes completely. Muted, contrasting grays combine with various textured materials for a high-tech yet comfortable enclosure. The bolstered seats are firm and supportive. The climate and radio controls fall easily to hand and are plainly marked (though the harsh red-orange instrument lighting is not so inviting). Second-row seating has its own headphones and jacks, which scores a direct hit with parents and progeny. The large cargo-package tray slides out to allow easier, one-drop tailgate loading of heavy items.
The premium stereo package is very good and an integral part of the Aztek persona, evidenced by sound-system controls on the dash, the steering wheel, the second row, and in the cargo area for use with the camping package. It scores high with staff audiophiles.
Whatever their feelings about the packaging, driving impressions are favorable. The 3.4L SFI V-6 engine is snappy around town and proved powerful enough for extended mountain driving. The four-speed automatic is a nice addition to offering a 0.70 overdrive. The Versatrak AWD shines on slick or sandy road conditions and helps the Aztek as a fair-weather off-roader. Ours tackled the moderate OHV trails of Hungry Valley, California, with the only difficulties stemming from clearance issues.
On the downside, electrical gremlins have been draining our battery despite constant use. After two trips to the dealer, the cause appears to be a faulty connection in the electronic-management system. So far so good.
The only other notable complaint came from employing the Aztek's camping package. Assembling it is an uphill battle pitting man against photocopied sheet of over-simplified instructions and no photographic reference. It tested even the hardiest adventurer. If camping, leave that handy sliding package tray at home, too. You can't use the air mattress while it's installed.
With 9K miles on the clock, the Aztek may not have produced any converts--but it has garnered the respect of naysayers. Not a small triumph.