One of the few new vehicles to look like it’s been in a bad accident even before it left the factory, the Pontiac Aztek will be remembered alongside the Edsel as evidence that advanced degrees in engineering and automotive design are not necessarily indicators of intelligence—and that not even millions of dollars in public relations can work a Rophynol-like stupor on the masses powerful enough to make them think that grotesquely deformed is the same thing as “cool.”

What’s truly remarkable about the Aztek, however, is not the fact of its revolting appearance. Rather, it is that it was built by General Motors—an enormous automotive combine in which no decision about a new vehicle is made without it first having been pored over by a small army of middle managers and product planners before ultimately getting the go-ahead from senior executives. There are many people to blame for this case of automotive food poisoning, not just a “lone nut,” as could be said of AMC.

Sales of the Aztek have been aided somewhat by near-giveaway pricing. In 2001, its first year of production, Aztek’s MSRP ranged from the base model’s $21,445 to the top-of-the-line model’s $26,915. But by the 2004 model year, the price of a new Aztek had been slashed to just $20,995 for the basic model and $23,895 for the loaded version with all-wheel-drive.

But a good deal on a new Aztek is a lot like half off the price of hamburger beyond the “use before” date.

How much is automotive E. coli worth to you?

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