The Gigglemobile

Wednesday, May 23, 2001 at 12:00am

Like the Romans, the Aztecs love to party.

The New York Times, which is nothing if not up-to-the-minute, just broke this news about the Ancient Greeks: They hated to laugh.

Socrates wanted to restrict laughter. Plato thought laughing could "incite violence and disrupt the social order." Pythagoras would not permit his followers to laugh. (As you know, these old boys established government as we know it today, which might explain why people in politics are about as interesting as a sack full of fingernail clippings.)

If the Peloponnesians had invaded Athens in a 2001 Pontiac Aztek, they could have taken Greece without throwing a rock. Wherever the Aztek appears in public, it causes gales of laughter. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle would have been laughing so hard, olive seeds would've come out their noses. Venus de Milo would've laughed her arms off. The Acropolis would have been reduced to rubble.

A couple of thousand years later Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) spent 80 years sitting around thinking about laughter in East Prussia, another dreary mirth-free, no-laughing zone. Manny had this theory: Laughter occurs when perceptions don't conform to logical expectations.

This describes the 2001 Pontiac Aztek, a sport utility vehicle that doesn't come close to conforming to our expectations of what an SUV should look like. Up until now, SUVs all looked pretty similar. The dare-to-look-different Aztek is boxy, to be sure, but not a regular box.

When I pulled up my driveway in the Aztek, neighborhood kids gathered and quickly named it the "Big Ugly." Kids can be so cruel. But ugly is in the eye of the beholder.

The more you get to know Big Ugly, the less offensive its (ha ha) shape becomes. For one thing, you can always find it in the mall parking lot.

Climb in and it feels quite comfortable. Fire up the smooth, quiet 185-horsepower, 3.4-liter V-6, slip the automatic into drive, move out smartly and notice how good it responds. The four-door GT Aztek I was driving had front-wheel drive, but an all-wheel drive model is available. At high speeds on the open road, it's as quiet as an Ancient Greek standup comedian

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