- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2001

I am currently reading a fascinating book, "Seabiscuit, An American Legend," by Laura Hillenbrand. Generally, I don't have the time to even contemplate getting engrossed with a book. Yet I became enthralled with the subject, the characters and the intriguing way Miss Hillenbrand was able to weave excitement into her book.

You are probably scratching your head wondering what the heck this has to do with automobiles? I tell you of my recent encounter with pages of this book because it ties into the vehicle I drove this week. Not necessarily this exact vehicle, but its bloodline.

In April 1906 the great earthquake ravaged San Francisco. It was a time when horse and buggy reigned supreme as transportation of people and goods. A young Buick dealer named Charles Howard was struggling to make a go of a business that was strained by the reluctance of the public to accept the automobile. The destruction throughout the city was horrible, and horses were running in fear for their lives as were the residents. Mr. Howard was able to rescue the three lone Buicks that had sat idle in his showroom, void of attention from potential buyers.

Mr. Howard quickly realized he had the only vehicles that could traverse the rubble in the streets. They immediately became makeshift ambulances and set about rescuing the injured. In 1906, Buick in some small way helped rescue a great city so that it could grow strong and be revitalized.

In a way Buick has revitalized the market for its vehicles by introducing a new crossover vehicle, the Rendezvous. This is the first trucklike vehicle Buick has had in its showrooms since the late 1920s. Yet calling the Rendezvous a truck is not being fair to the vehicle. It is more along the lines of a minivan crossed with a sport utility vehicle.

The sleek, angular styling is much more contemporary and acceptable than that of its sister, the Aztek from Pontiac. Frankly, the Rendezvous is what the Aztek should have been.

A modern and bold front end continues the Buick heritage with a large chrome grille surrounded by angular front fenders. The body design is a combination of minivan, sport utility and family sedan. Yet the Rendezvous has the panache of a sport utility by offering General Motors' Versatrac all-wheel-drive system. Though the Rendezvous is available in a front-wheel-drive version, Buick believes most buyers will opt for the Versatrac-equipped model.

All-wheel drive is always on call, moving seamlessly to aid traction. Under normal dry-surface driving the vehicle mainly runs in front-wheel drive, but if the system senses a wheel slip, traction is transferred to the wheels with the most grip.

Good news for families is the third-row seating, and anyone who has traveled with children any distance at all knows that being able to allow the children their own space is worth every bit of the extra cost of the third seat. An additional advantage of Buick's design of this seat is that it folds flat into the floor, opening up a large space for cargo storage.

The ride is much like a passenger car, with a higher line of vision. And, even though the step-in height is much lower than any typical SUV, seated in any position, you still have a very good view of the world around you.

Offering the advantages of minivan, sport utility and family sedan, the new Rendezvous will make a reasonable choice without compromising much. Buick hopes that the Rendezvous will bring younger buyers into the Buick fold and keep them there throughout their buying years. It isn't such an outlandish plan.

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