Consistently ranked one of the ugliest cars in the world, the Pontiac Aztek has a face only a mother could love. Or something like that. In fact, many of its more recognizable design elements—fender-mounted corner lights, garish vents, and textbook Pontiac body cladding—remain polarizing, if not becoming more widely accepted on other models.
As a former Pontiac owner, I can get onboard with the Pontiac hate. My 1988 Grand Prix was a dumpster fire of slipshod construction, lackadaisical quality control, and every other malady resulting from a big, RWD sedan manufacturer begrudgingly offering FWD models. And yet, as a Nissan Juke owner, I can completely understand how someone who actually owns such an almost universally reviled machine can find themselves pissing in the wind when it comes to singing its praises.
On a lark, I found myself browsing Instagram for Pontiak Aztek owners. When I came across Dylan, I knew he was the one. This guy knows what he likes and he’s building quite the collection of interesting, if not generally unloved models. We got to talking about his Aztek.
And I can’t believe I’m putting this in writing, but when it comes to Dylan’s Pontiac Aztek…
It’s an amazing machine!
[tgp] Introductions: My understanding is you’re into FWD GMs and have a relatively rare Pontiac Aztek. Is that correct? Anything else you’d like to mention?
[you] My love for FWD GMs stems from the day I was born. I was brought home in a teal Beretta when I was born. My grandparents had a white Oldsmobile 98, and a dark red 88. My Aunt had a Cutlass Calais.
[tgp] How did you end up in this camp? Why have you stuck around as long as you have?
[you] My love for Azteks didn’t start until I met someone who owned one. This was about two years ago. He would ask me to look out for specific Aztek parts, like the tent, cooler, backpack, and others. I was shocked to hear a vehicle like that existed, so I wanted to find out more about them. I began to like them quite a lot the more I found out about them.
I would take pictures of every one that I saw, and I wanted to find the rarest one. Citrus Green was a 1-year only color, cancelled after 2001. Green in any shade is my favorite color, so Citrus Green sort of became the ultimate Aztek for me. I didn’t see a Green one in person until the day I bought mine.
I drove five-and-a-half hours to get it. That’s how badly I wanted one.
[tgp] The most important automotive opinions are those of real, actual owners. As an Aztek owner, could you share a little unvarnished truth with the rest of us? What do you love about them? What do you not love about them?
[you] Now that I’ve owned it for a year, I can definitely say, this car did not deserve the hate it has received its entire life. It drives beautifully, it’s one of the most spacious cars I’ve ever been in, it never gets lost in the parking lots, and it’s been reliable.
The unique options make this car so much fun to own. It’s the perfect car for a beach, campsite, or snow resort. The cooler in the center console was a brilliant idea, the tent is an iconic part of the car, and the waterproof seat covers are a must have! Aside from routine maintenance the only thing I had fail on me was a window regulator. The transmission is wonky at times but not a cause for concern yet.
I don’t like how hot these tend to run, though. They run very close to the overheating mark, and the cooling fans don’t come on until the last dot before the overheating mark.
[tgp] The Aztek is often considered one of the ugliest cars ever made, and yet—there sure are a lot of new models out there sharing similar design language. Being on the front lines such as you are, how do you feel the Aztek has aged?
[you] I think the Aztek has aged incredibly well, but also stuck in the 90s before it was even released.
The funky colors, 3-spoke wheels, and interior patterns are straight out of the early 90s, but the overall styling (especially the later models with full painted plastic and spoilers) can fit right in with new cars being released today.
I firmly believe if Pontiac was still around today, and they had released the Aztek today, visually unchanged, it would be a huge success. The world just wasn’t ready for a car like this in 2001.
As far as it being “ugly” I don’t think it is. I never thought it was even before I wanted one. People are so quick to judge it without even getting to know them. My Aztek has gotten more compliments, attention, and love in the past year than my other car, a 1987 Acura Integra, has gotten in the four years I’ve had it.
The FWD GM community…
[tgp] How’s the FWD GM community doing these days? Where do y’all hangout, share tech, and whatnot?
[you] The FWD GM community is doing well these days. There’s a group on Facebook just for FWD GM owners with cars made or introduced before 2002, so the Aztek just gets in. Aside from that group, there’s an Aztek-specific group with over 1,000 members that I co-manage.
When the car first came out, there were Aztek Rallies, events held across the country hosted by Pontiac and GM. These events are where the 500 Horsepower LS, 6-speed manual, wide body Aztek was shown off, among others like the white and orange lifted one from Canada.
I found out recently that one of these events was held eight miles away from where I’ve lived my entire life, in 2003. Now of course, I was 3 years old at the time, so I could’ve never known about this, but it’s still awesome to know I was so close.
This gearhead life…
[tgp] When you think about automotive culture in general, what stands out as being the biggest issue we should be working on together? What’s your biggest concern and what should we be doing about it?
[you] The biggest issue I think the automotive community faces is acceptance. So many car folks out there are very judgmental about others’ cars. It’s a problem I’ve faced for years now. We should all be able to like what we like without facing backlash. I had people stop talking to me once I bought my Aztek. I’ve had people tell me to stop posting it places because they think no one wants to see it. It’s difficult out there, especially when loving something so controversial.
[tgp] Who’s made the biggest difference in your life with cars? How so?
[you] My biggest influence would probably be my grandfather. He has been a car person his entire life. He likes going to car shows with me more than anyone else. Aside from him, my friend Jay is responsible for my insane love for Azteks.
Thank you so much for reaching out to me about this. More people need to realize the Aztek is not a bad car!
Can’t we all just get along?
I like how Dylan speaks to acceptance in the car community. Nobody says we all have to love everything everyone else does—but we should respect the hustle. There are annoying hacks in every community, right? From unsafe camber on stanced machines to street racing choads to coal-rolling reprobates and check-writing poseurs, there’s no shortage of things to dislike—but game respect game.
Those who take the time to do things right, to build impeccably clean machines to the best of their abilities, and who can speak to what they love about their vehicles—instead of sinking to base, juvenile levels—deserve respect.
The Aztek may always be viewed as one of the ugliest cars of all time, but not Dylan’s. It’s a clean machine and he’s taking good care of it. It’s a reminder that, when we pause for a minute to listen to what each other have to say, we may just find things aren’t so bad after all.
A good reminder in this day and age.
Would you like to know more?
See more of Dylan’s Aztek (and other interesting machines) on Instagram.