Not bad, considering

1999 Pontiac Aztek concept logoWhen Pontiac introduced the production Aztek to the buying public for 2001, it was like Edsel all over again. Well, almost.

As panned as it was for its styling, Aztek was incredibly versatile and, despite the hostility towards it, the little utility vehicle developed a small but almost cultic following.

However, this article isn’t about the production Aztek but rather the concept vehicle that inspired it.

Venturing into uncharted waters
1999 Pontiac Aztek concept profile rightThe 1999 Pontiac Aztek concept was revealed to the public at the North American International Auto Show. At that time, SUVs were the go-to choice for buyers with demanding transportation needs that had a phobia of station wagons and minivans. Only a few years prior, a new and yet to be named segment had taken root. We now refer to the segment as CUV, which is an acronym for cross-over utility vehicle.

Unlike SUVs (sport utility vehicles) which are typically body-on-frame and truck-based, CUVs are typically unibody and passenger car-based. Subsequently, they are typically rear-wheel- and front-wheel-biased, respectively. Thus, CUVs are generally considered soft-roaders, intended for light-duty recreation, in addition to the everyday grind.

1999 Pontiac Aztek concept front leftBy the late 1990s, the CUV market was airy with only a few, but quite popular, models. For example, Toyota’s compact Corolla-based RAV4 had been introduced in 1996, Honda’s Civic-derived CR-V showed up for 1997, and the compact Lexus RX bowed for 1998 (since, having grown to a midsize). There were other, smaller players (such as the four-door Geo Tracker, introduced for 1996) but the aforementioned import branded CUVs sort of set the stage.

1999 Pontiac Aztek concept front rightIn the case of the Aztek concept, it’s a minivan-based CUV, but hey, it’s still a Pontiac. So they wanted it to stand out, and it certainly did.

The foundation for the concept (and its production progenitor) is the Montana that had been introduced for 1997. One criticized aspect of the Montana and its cousins, the Chevy Venture and Oldsmobile Silhouette, was the narrow design, a result of European influence.

For the Aztek concept, the front track was widened from 61.5 inches, to 65.0 and the rear went to 67.0.

(On a side note, some people have stated that part of the production Aztek’s visual problem had to do with a narrow track width. At 62.7 and 63.8 inches front and rear, respectively, that’s not too bad. Incidentally, that’s wider than Ford Explorers and Dodge Durangos of the same period. So, in raw numbers, it isn’t all that narrow, but relative to the overall body shape, that, of course, is a matter of opinion.)

Since most auto enthusiasts are familiar with the production Aztek, this concept no doubt looks quite familiar.

1999 Pontiac Aztek concept front right


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