Monday, August 19, 2013

Aztek Rendezvous

The consensus (until a spasm of revisionism takes hold) is that the 2001-05 Pontiac Aztek was one of the worst designs ever.  In a way, that seems strange because in these wonderfully postmodern times, the whole aesthetic is edgy, ugly, transgressive, in-your-face bourgeoisie-shock, isn't it?  Perhaps those are the seeds of future revisionist rehabilitation.

Regardless, the small crossover SUV was derided and as the Wikipedia link above states, sales never came close to expectations, so both critics and the car-buying public seem to have been in agreement.

What isn't generally realized is that the Aztec shared its platform with another compact crossover that had more conventional looks and sold a lot better.  That car was the 2002-07 Buick Rendezvous.  Let's compare them.


Following a period in the 1980s when certain Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick models were badge-engineered to the point that their similarity became an embarrassment to General Motors, the corporation worked much harder to make sure that models shared by different brands were visually distinct.  That is the case with the Aztek and Rendezvous.  If you compare the windshield shapes, wheel housing positions and door cut-lines, you can see that the underlying structure is the same.  But all the exterior sheet metal is different, and the cars even have differing rooflines abaft of the rear side doors.

In terms of general appearance, the Aztek has a flatter look whereas the Rendezvous is more rounded. These differences are physically slight, yet sufficient to affect the way highlights play on the surfaces.  The Aztek has an odd, double-deck version of the (since 1959) Pontiac split-grille.  The Rendezvous' grille is also a bit "off" in that the ensemble features an oval shape sliced horizontally near the top edge by the hood cut line.  Above the cut is a chrome panel with word "Buick" on it.  This geometric composition is at odds with more flowing lines of the rest of the car.

Here is a 2001 Aztek with with cladding slathered over the lower third of the car.  This touch was altered the next model year because it was so unpopular with potential buyers.  The horizontal ridges on the front door cladding are probably intended as a nod to Pontiac's "Silver Streak" chromed stripes, its key identification feature from the mid-1930s until the late 50s.

A side view of the Aztek without the heavy cladding.  Actually, the cladding panels (without those ridges) are still there, but now they have smooth rather than matte surfaces.  What we see here isn't seriously awful, though the rear quarter window glass seems somewhat too large.  The downward roofline break is okay from a styling standpoint, but probably was yet another sales deterrent because it drastically reduced trunk area carrying capacity compared to the Rendezvous and other competing small SUVs.

Comparing rear ends, we get a better look at the odd, dark shape applied to the Rendezvous.  It conceals a small rear quarter window while creating visual camouflage and confusion as to whether it's a sedan with a bustle back or (as it really is) a small station wagon.  The Aztek's rear styling is clean, yet awkward in terms of its back window placement, making the car seem taller than perhaps it should be.

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