- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

With the national craving for sport utility vehicles spreading viruslike, the pantheon of SUVs looks like the motor world itself. Just as there are many different types of vehicles for different needs, there now are different SUVs that appeal to a broad cross-section of buyers.
They come in all sizes, from small to compact and midsize to large and ultralarge. They are truck-based, car-based and minivan-based. They have seating for anywhere from four to nine passengers. Some can haul big trailers and loads; others are creampuffs meant for very light duty. Some can tackle any terrain; others are intended mainly for cruising on paved surfaces.
In the midst of this mix is the so-called crossover vehicle, which is neither a car nor a truck nor a minivan. Such a machine is the 2002 Buick Rendezvous, which was designed for the traditional near-luxury buyer who wants to get with the SUV revolution but doesn't want a truck.
Although it was spun off the same chassis as its Aztek sibling over at General Motors' Pontiac division, and shares some of the same components, the Rendezvous finished far better. The Aztek, aimed at young buyers, has been a failure because of its bizarre styling. The Rendezvous, with its pleasant but conservative styling, has far broader appeal.
Though it likely will find favor with current Buick owners at least those who are not permanently wedded to Le Sabres and Park Avenues the Rendezvous also seeks to win over customers looking at the likes of the Lexus RX300, Acura MDX, Oldsmobile Bravada, Mercury Mountaineer and Mercedes-Benz ML320.
In size, it's similar to the Mercedes and, like the Mercedes, offers the option of a third row of seats. But it doesn't come with a low-range transfer case for off-roading.
Like the Aztek, the Rendezvous is based on the General Motors minivan platform, which also provides the underpinnings for the Chevrolet Venture, Pontiac Montana and Oldsmobile Silhouette.
That means it starts out with front-wheel drive and, in fact, can be ordered that way. A base Rendezvous, if you can find one, starts out at about $26,000. But when you add full-time four-wheel drive and all the luxury stuff that comes on the top-of-the-line CXL model, it starts getting pricey.
The tested CXL, which did not have the third-seat option, had a base price of $33,042 and a suggested bottom-line sticker of $33,437. That's a fair amount of bucks, but not outrageous in an era when you can spend thousands more on a Chevy Trail Blazer or Ford Explorer.
What you get with the Rendezvous is a jacked-up luxury car with lots of space for extra cargo or passengers, the foul-weather capabilities of all-wheel drive, and a host of features and options so you should never feel deprived.
Among them: Chrome wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, memory settingsfor the power driver's seat, leather upholstery, footrests for back-seat passengers, a warning system for backing up, a garage-door opener, rear controls for the audio system (with a six-disc CD changer), a luggage rack, side-impact air bags, antilock brakes and traction control, remote locking, automatic-dimming rearview mirrors and GM's OnStar communications system.
With all that, the Rendezvous is a classy package. The tester was done up in a bronze metallic paint job with a beige and light oak interior. Instruments were pale green on silver, which was more attractive than practical because the combination sometimes made them hard to read.
The front bucket seats are flat, without much in the way of lateral support. But they are easy to climb into and comfortable once under way. The back seats are adequate but less comfortable, although the flat floor allows for reasonable accommodation of a third passenger.
Without that third person, you can fold down two armrests, which contain a bit of storage space and plastic fold-out cupholders that rattle when they're empty. Out back, there are shallow storage bins where the optional third seat would be located.
The only really stupid thing on the Rendezvous is the opening mechanism for the rear hatch. It locks every time it is closed and can be released only by the remote control or a dash-mounted button. It's infuriating.
The powerplant is a V-6 of 3.4 liters displacement and a traditional pushrod design. It develops 185 horsepower, which is enough to move the Rendezvous at a fair but not outstanding clip.
However, it feels quick off the line because of quick throttle reaction and low gearing in the first of the automatic transmission's four speeds.
Handling, ride and fuel consumption are more consistent with those of a large sedan rather than an SUV, especially one that is truck based. The tires and the independent suspension system are biased toward a soft ride rather than pinpoint handling.


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