The Pontiac Aztek, most noted for its unconventional exterior styling, captures the top ranking in the highly competitive entry SUV segment in the J.D. Power and Associates 2001 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study(SM) released Oct. 1. The APEAL study, now it its sixth year, is based on responses from more than 110,000 new-vehicle owners and measures what excites and delights them with their vehicle’s features and design. Owners of the Pontiac Aztek have high praise for the SUV’s powertrain, sound system and interior comfort features — three of the most important APEAL categories — pushing the model’s customer appeal ahead of the pack in the entry SUV market. Yet the model receives lower marks for other exterior styling cues, such as side profile and rear-end styling. “Many auto reviewers have been quick to criticize the Aztek’s unusual exterior, but owners overwhelmingly praise its smooth, quiet ride and sound system,” said Brian Walters, director of product research at J.D. Power and Associates. “Owners spend more time inside the vehicle, not looking at the exterior, so if it has exceptionally comfortable, convenient and unusual features, it can win over customers. Ultimately it’s the interior you’re going to experience most as an owner and a driver, and Aztek owners are appreciating these factors.” The Aztek scores highest or second highest in every APEAL study category except exterior styling. Consumers consider the Aztek’s fuel economy, quietness, smooth ride, seat comfort and stereo sound quality the SUV’s most appealing features. The vehicle, dubbed the first “sport recreational vehicle” by Pontiac, features unique options such as a seat backpack, a bike rack and a novel camper tent that unfolds over the tailgate. “The Aztek’s unique styling elicits a love-it or hate-it response,” said Walters. “Where some new-vehicle owners don’t feel too strongly about their new vehicle, the average Aztek owner is an Aztek fan.” The 2001 APEAL study comprises eight specific areas of vehicle performance and design, including more than 110 attributes that identify what consumers like and dislike about their new vehicles during the first 90 days of ownership. These areas include vehicle exterior styling; engine and transmission; comfort and convenience; ride, handling and braking; seats; heating, ventilation and cooling; cockpit and instrument panel; and sound system. J.D. Power and Associates forecasts sales of approximately 32,000 Azteks in 2001, comprising just over 3 percent of the entry SUV market. About J.D. Power and Associates Headquartered in Agoura Hills, Calif., J.D. Power and Associates is a global marketing information services firm operating in business sectors including market research, forecasting, consulting, training and customer satisfaction. The firm’s quality and satisfaction measurements are based on actual responses from millions of consumers annually. J.D. Power and Associates can be accessed through the Internet at