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After a lukewarm reception last season, the Pontiac Aztek is back with a revised look and a new model lineup. Even with its latest, better-integrated, monochromatic styling treatment, however, Aztek is still one radical looking beast, and folks who don't instantly love it tend to passionately hate it.
But if you fit in the former category, you just might find the Aztek offers some interesting virtues. It's fully accessorized for active lifestyles. Conceptually, it's a minivan dressed up in North Face gear and flaunting a snowboarder's attitude. Or think of it as a buzz-cut sport-utility with near-minivan utility. (All-wheel-drive is available). It's how Laura Croft would collect the kids from soccer practice. It's how . . . well, either you get it, or you don't.
Pontiac's Aztek does a reasonably good job of charging up mountain grades and handling curves.
Power flows readily from the 3.4-liter V6 engine. It musters up 185 horsepower and strong low-end torque, and quickly propels the nearly two-ton Aztek to speed. At high altitudes it struggles, and the transmission jumps between gears on steep grades searching for power that isn't there.
Traction control reduces slippage from the front wheels during aggressive acceleration on slippery pavement. A computer senses wheelspin and either dials back the throttle, gently applies the brakes, or both. It enhances safety on wet or snow-covered roads.
Anti-lock brakes allow the driver to maintain steering control in an emergency braking situation. Front-drive Azteks get front disc brakes with rear drums, while all-wheel-drive models benefit from four-wheel disc brakes.
A long wheelbase and wide wheel track add up to a broad stance that adds stability.
With all engine torque directed to the front wheels, the Aztek feels more like a minivan than a truck-based sport-utility. Smooth but firm suspension settings add to its car-like ride. Front-drive models are supported by independent struts up front and a twist-beam rear axle.
All-wheel-drive Aztek's ride on an all-independent suspension. The Versatrak system uses a compact clutch pack for each rear wheel. Intelligent electronics detects speed differences between front and rear wheels, then directs power to either or both rear wheels momentarily. This happens before the front wheels actually slip, maintaining steady forward movement.
Pontiac Aztek combines the features of a minivan, hatchback, and sport-utility. It features a comfortable passenger compartment, cargo space designed to accommodate sports equipment, and all kinds of gadgets aimed at making life more convenient. Its wild styling remains controversial.