2002 Buick Rendezvous
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by Greg Wilson

All-new for 2002, the Buick Rendezvous has the same platform and V6 powertrain as GM’s mid-size front-wheel-drive minivans, but offers a tall, wagon-like body with optional seven passenger seating, innovative storage areas, availability of Versatrak AWD, and a luxuriously-equipped interior. Prices range from $30,995 to $40,995.

A new direction for Buick

In a market where almost 50% of all new vehicles sold are trucks, SUV’s or minivans, General Motors’ Buick division badly needed a new truck-based vehicle to freshen up their lineup, and attract new customers.

Enter the Rendezvous, a ‘sort-of’ sport-utility vehicle similar to the Pontiac Aztek and based on the GM front-wheel-drive minivan platform. GM says the Rendezvous is like three vehicles in one: an SUV, minivan, and luxury vehicle. Whether consumers will warm up to this multi-vehicle hybrid remains to be seen. While it can be argued that the Rendezvous combines the benefits of all three vehicles, it can also be argued that it compromises the benefits of each.

Tall bodystyle provides interior room

2002 Buick Rendezvous
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Though it offers completely different styling to the Aztek and has a wheelbase that is 10 cm (4 in.) longer, the Rendezvous has similar proportions. It’s a tall, roomy, wagon-like vehicle that’s about 23 cm (9 in.) shorter and 38 cm (15 in.) taller than a Buick Century sedan. Even so, it has room for three rows of seats, and will seat up seven adults.

Rendezvous’ are available with front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive – the latter model has GM’s new Versatrak on-demand four-wheel-drive system that sends power to one or both rear wheels only when needed.

Three trim levels are offered: CX (front-wheel-drive) $30,995, CX AWD (all-wheel-drive) $34,995, and CXL (all-wheel-drive) $40,095.

Attractive styling

In my opinion, the Rendezvous is a much more successful styling exercise than the Aztek, even the new restyled 2002 Aztek. It’s hard to make a big truck-like vehicle look classy, but I think Buick has succeeded. A large trademark oval Buick grille dominates the front, and the unique wrapover headlamps and turn signals blend into the fender design well. The large wraparound taillamps integrate nicely with the horizontal body lines, and the lower bodycladding is painted, unlike the grey body cladding of the 2001 Aztek.

Despite its size, the Rendezvous doesn’t look ungainly, unlike that other vehicle.

185 horsepower 3.4 litre V6

2002 Buick Rendezvous
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The Rendezvous has the same standard 3.4 litre V6 engine and four-speed automatic transmission as the mid-size GM minivans (Venture/Silhouette/Montana) from which it is derived,. This traditional pushrod powerplant generates 185 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 210 lb.-ft of torque at 4000 rpm and offers reasonable fuel consumption for such a heavy vehicle: fuel economy is estimated at 12.3 l/100 km in the city and 8.3 l/100 km on the highway for FWD models; and 12.7 l/100 km and 8.7 l/100 km for AWD models. It uses regular, unleaded gas.

With an optional Trailer Towing Package, the Rendezvous can tow up to 1588 kg (3500 lb.). The towing package includes automatic rear level control suspension, heavy-duty radiator, heavy-duty engine oil cooler and transmission oil cooler, trailer wiring harness, heavy-duty signal flasher, higher output alternator and auxiliary air compressor outlet with an air compressor hose that’s handy for pumping up your tires. It’s available only on CX and CXL models.

Front-wheel-drive CX models come standard with an all-speed traction control system that uses both engine and brake intervention to limit front wheel spin on slippery surfaces. Uplevel CXL and CX AWD models come with Versatrak AWD instead of traction control. Versatrak is a fully-automatic four-wheel-drive system that only intervenes when the front wheels begin to lose traction. A portion of the power is automatically diverted to both or one of the rear wheels to regain traction and stability. The driver does nothing, other than step on the accelerator.

All Rendezvous models come with a fully independent suspension for improved handling and control. (Front-wheel-drive Azteks have a solid beam rear axle). In front are MacPherson struts and at the rear is a long arm/short arm design. Four wheel disc brakes with ABS are standard on all Rendezvous models.

5, 6, or 7 passenger seating

The standard Rendezvous seating arrangement is for five passengers: this includes front bucket seats with manual lumbar adjusters, removable 50/50 flip-and-fold 2nd-row split-bench with seatback recliners, inboard armrests and cupholders.

2002 Buick Rendezvous
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An optional six passenger setup includes front bucket seats with manual lumbar adjusters, two 2nd-row captain’s chairs with inboard armrests and cupholders, and a fold-flat, removeable 3rd-row bench seat with cupholders.

The seven passenger setup includes front bucket seats with manual lumbar adjusters, removable 50/50 flip-and-fold 2nd-row split-bench with seatback recliners, inboard armrests and cupholders, and a fold-flat removeable 3rd-row bench seat with cupholders.

All the second row seats have fore/aft adjustment, which means that if the 3rd row seat is unoccupied, second row passengers can push the seat back for more more legroom. If the 3rd row is occupied, the second row seat can be moved forwards to improve legroom for 3rd row passengers.

I sat in all three rows and found that there is plenty of headroom in all three rows, but legroom in the 3rd row is tight if the second row seat is pushed all the way back. To get into the third row seat, the passengers push one lever to tumble the second row seat – there’s plenty of room to squeeze between the seat and the door jamb.

With the third row seatback in the up position, cargo space behind it is limited – good enough for only a few grocery bags. But if no one is sitting in the third row seat, the seatback can be folded down almost flat with the floor, creating 3,084 litres (108.9 cubic feet) of cargo space, about 5 1/2 times the trunk capacity of a Buick Park Avenue. In addition, the second rows seats can be tumbled forwards or removed entirely creating a space big enough for a 4X8 sheet of plywood. My only criticism with the seating arrangements is that a split, third row seat is not available.

Other niceties in the Rendezvous: folding footrests and seat-pockets for second row passengers, second-row door pockets, coathooks and grab handles above second and third row seats, and map lights above the second row seats.

The rear lift-up hatch door can be unlocked with a remote key fob, but it is a bit heavy to lift. The rear window does not open separately from the hatch, but it does offer a rear wiper, washer and defroster. The lift-over height is fairly low, 703 mm (27.6 in.), and under the cargo floor is a handy, hidden storage area for valuables.

Interior has room for purses, laptops and cell phones

2002 Buick Rendezvous
The Rendezvous’ roomy interior includes a large centre console with special storage areas designed for those things typically carried by today’s drivers. At the bottom of the console, there’s an ‘out-of-site’ storage area for a purse of a daytimer; above that is a covered bin for a cell phone which includes a power outlet for charging; and beside the driver is a deep storage bin which will hold a laptop computer and a camera. There’s also two cupholders, a coin holder, and ashtray. A lot of thought went into the design of this console.

Behind the wheel

The Rendezvous’ extra large front and rear doors provide a wide door opening, and the step-in height of 17 inches is not as high as an SUV, but higher than a luxury sedan.

The front seats are large and comfortable, and the driving position is high with good outward visibility. My CXL test vehicle had a leather interior with front seat heaters for cold winter mornings – however there’s only one temperature setting, and I found it a bit hot.

2002 Buick Rendezvous
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The instrument cluster features classy, round gauges that resemble small aluminum plates with red needles. Everything in the centre dash area is large – big buttons and dials that you can’t miss even if you have bifocals. At the top of the centre stack is the AM/FM/CD player and below that is a dual-zone automatic climate control with a bright green LCD display. I didn’t like the fact that the driver can adjust his/her temperature by degrees but the passenger has only a vague bar graph adjustment. The column shift lever for the automatic transmission lever is easy to reach, but in the Drive position, it obscures some of the radio controls.

A two-tone leather-wrapped steering wheel includes radio controls on steering wheel hubs, large metal door handles, easy-to-see power window and power mirror buttons on door, large door grip handle, front door map pockets.

The standard Rendezvous sound system is a Delco AM/FM/CD stereo with seek up/down, scan, Radio Data System, graphic equalizer, TheftLock and 6-speaker sound system. CXL models have a standard AM/FM stereo with cassette and CD player and 8-speaker premium sound system, and rear seat audio controls with two sets of headphones. Optional on all models is an AM/FM stereo with 6-disc in-dash CD changer, speed-compensated volume control and 8-speaker premium sound system.

Like other Buick automobiles, Rendezvous has many features that can be personalized. These include exterior lamp exit delay, interior lighting functions, automatic door lock and unlock operations, delayed locking, and remote door unlock with remote keyless entry.

Safety features

The Rendezvous features standard dual-stage, frontal air bags and side air bags for front-seat passengers, height-adjustable head restraints (but not for the centre second row passenger), and four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock brakes. An optional rear parking assist system that uses four ultrasonic sensors to warn the driver of obstacles in the blind spot immediately behind the rear bumper when reversing is available. I found it very useful on my test car when backing into parking spots. As the front of the car behind you is usually not visibile, the parking assist system will tell you when you’re about 10 inches away.

Driving impressions

2002 Buick Rendezvous
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Though it’s a different type of vehicle to other Buicks, in many respects the Rendezvous fits the Buick image. It’s big and roomy, has a smooth, responsive powertrain, a comfortable ride, a quiet cabin, and a generous cargo area.

Despite its size and weight (1890 kg (4167 lb.), the Rendezvous is not a cumbersome vehicle. I found it easy to drive in the city and on the highway – the driver sits high and outward visibility is very good. Steering effort is low, brake pedal modulation is easy, and the 4-speed automatic transmission slides smoothly between gears. The turning diameter of 11.4 m (37.4 ft.) is not as good as I expected for a vehicle with a 112 inch wheelbase.

I found the 3.4 litre V6 engine fairly quiet, and even during hard acceleration, it emits a low-pitched roar. Acceleration is responsive at lower revs, say when pulling away from a stoplight, or when accelerating on to the freeway. Under hard acceleration, the transmission lags a bit when changing from 1st to 2nd and engine speed drops from 5500 to 3000 rpm, before it starts to rise again. It’s not a quick vehicle, but neither does it feel slow – mostly because of its responsive, torquey V6 engine. On the freeway, the engine speed is relaxed – at 100 km/h it does just 1900 rpm, and at 120 km/h it’s only 2300 rpm.

When cornering at highway speeds, there was less lean than I expected for such a tall vehicle, and I found handling fairly neutral up to a point. But there’s nothing sporty about the Rendezvous – it’s not nimble or quick in its responsiveness, and it feels like a big, luxury vehicle that wants to isolate the outside world from its comfortable interior environment.

One feature I liked were the extra-large power mirrors that can be folded in with the press of a button – it’s such a wide vehicle that the mirrors need to be folded in carwashes and narrow garages.

GM says the Rendezvous will compete with a variety of luxury SUV’s, minivans and sedans such as the Lexus RX300, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Explorer and Chrysler Town & Country, and Honda Odyssey minivans. I would guess that the Rendezvous will compete more with luxury cars and minivans than SUV’s, as the Rendezvous is not really an off-road vehicle.

Prices and options

Here are the manufacturer’s suggested retail prices for the Rendezvous with different option packages: FWD models – CX (Value) $30,995; CX (Security) $32,995; CX (Versatility) $33,695; CX (Luxury) $35,295. AWD models: CX (Value) $34,995; CX (Security) $36,995; CXL (Security) $40,095; CXL (Versatility) $40,495; CXL (Luxury) $40,995.

Individual option prices include: 6-passenger seating $1,325 – $1,865 depending on model. 7-passenger $995 – $1,535 depending on model; AM/FM Stereo with 6-disc CD changer, speed compensated volume control and 8-speaker premium sound system $525 – $990 depending on model. Adventure Cargo Carrier Package $970; Cycling/Nature Package $910; Sunroof $920; Trailer Towing Package $420.

The Rendezvous is manufactured in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.

For more information, see GM Canada’s web-site at www.gmcanada.com

Technical Data:

2002 Buick Rendezvous CXL
Base price $30,995
Price as tested $40,095
Freight $850
Type 4-door, 7 passenger van/wagon
Layout transverse front engine/all-wheel-drive
Engine 3.4 litre OHV V6
Horsepower 185 @ 5200 rpm
Torque 210 ft-lb. @ 4000 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Tires P215/70R16 touring
Curb weight 1890 kg (4167 lb.)
Wheelbase 2851 mm (112.2 in.)
Length 4734 mm (186.4 in.)
Width 1871 mm (73.6 in.)
Height 1827 mm (71.9 in.)
Cargo capacity
  behind 3rd seats:
281 litres (9.9 cu. ft)
  3rd seats folded 1880 litres (66.4 cu. ft.)
  2nd and 3rd rows removed: 2919 litres (103.1 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 12.7 l/100 km (22 mpg)
  Hwy: 8.7 l/100 km (32 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km

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