by Greg Wilson
Buick’s new Rendezvous is a luxury ‘crossover’ vehicle that mixes the attributes of a minivan, SUV and luxury car. Starting at $30,995 for the front-wheel-drive CX and $40,995 for the all-wheel-drive CXL, the Rendezvous comes with six or seven passenger seating, a fully independent suspension, four wheel disc brakes, and a 185 horsepower 3.4 litre V6 engine. But though it has SUV pretensions, the Rendezvous’ performance and design lean more towards the luxury minivan category.
What is the Buick Rendezvous?
On sale this month, the new 2002 Buick Rendezvous is a stylish, well-equipped, seven passenger ‘crossover’ vehicle – the first light truck that Buick has offered. But what exactly is the Rendezvous? an SUV? a minivan? Buick calls it an SUV, but it uses GM’s mid-size minivan platform and has all the features of a luxury car. Some clue may be found in the Rendezvous’ targetted competitors – Buick is aiming the Rendezvous at owners of SUV’s like the Toyota Highlander, Acura MDX, Ford Explorer, and Lexus RX300 – but they’re also hoping to attract buyers of the Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Town & Country minivans, as well as owners of mid-size luxury cars like the Chrysler 300M and Concorde.
Whatever it is, the Rendezvous is certainly more stylish than its cousin, the Pontiac Aztek – and it has a four inch longer wheelbase which creates enough room to add a third row seat which will accomodate adults up to about 6′ 2″ tall. The Rendezvous’ third row seat folds flat into the floor and the second row 50/50 split folding seats fold flat, tumble forwards, or remove completely – creating a cavernous cargo area that will take a 4X8 sheet of plywood. The Rendezvous is also offered with second row captain’s chairs. Buick claims the Rendezvous has more cargo area (103 cu. ft.) behind the first row seats than the 2002 Ford Explorer, Dodge Durango, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Lexus RX300. However, with the third row seat up, there is just 9.9 cu. ft. of cargo area behind the third seat.
Under the hood is the same overhead valve 3.4 litre V6 engine offered in GM’s minivans – it offers 185 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 210 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. A four-speed automatic transmission with a column shifter is the only transmission offered. Rendezvous’ also have standard disc brakes at all four wheels with ABS, a four-wheel independent suspension, and available Versatrak all-wheel-drive system (optional on CX, standard on CXL).
There are a few differences between Canadian-spec Rendezvous’ and American-spec vehicles: in Canada, CX models have standard traction control, roof rack and a block heater – in the U.S., they don’t.
On the road with the Rendezvous
I drove the Rendezvous CX and CXL for a four hour period – enough to get a general feel for performance, comfort, and ergonomics. The Rendezvous is bigger than it looks in a photograph – its about the same length as a Chevy Venture minivan but is 1.5 inches wider and 5 inches taller, mainly due to its higher (7.5 in.) ground clearance.
The doors are big, and the step-in height is low (17.1 in.), so getting in and out is no problem. First and second row seats have a high hip point and there’s plenty of legroom and headroom. Getting into the third row seat requires flipping and tumbling the second row seat which gets easier each time you do it. There is adequate headroom and legroom in the third row seat if the second row seats are not all the way back. And as the second row seats are removeable, it is possible to take them out leaving the third row with limousine-like legroom. The third row seat is optional by the way, but Buick expects 70% of the buyers to order it.
The cargo area is accessed by a large rear hatch door which goes down to bumper level, and provides a large rear opening for loading cargo – however, the hatch doesn’t have a handle and I caught my fingers twice in the small lip provided for raising it.
The Rendezvous’ interior is very attractive and upscale in appearance. Its saucer-like titanium nickel round gauges look cool, and the metallic trim and soft contours add up to an eye-pleasing experience. There are some really useful interior features such as a covered cell phone holder, a console storage bin that will fit a purse or a laptop computer, and fold-down rear footrests for second row passengers. The front seats have inboard armrests and the rear seats have a folding centre armrest with cupholder. CXL models have a driver info centre with outside temperature, compass, trip computer and low tire pressure readouts. The Rendezvous is also offered with Head Up Display which includes speed, turn signals, sound system details – in English or French. Also offered is an ultrasonic rear parking assist which give audible chimes and visual LED warnings of obstacles behind the vehicle, and the OnStar system for emergency roadside assistance and travel services.
Standard safety features include dual-stage front airbags, and front seat side airbags, three-point seatbelts for all seven passengers, and adjustable head restraints for six passengers.
The Rendezvous’ 185 horsepower V6 engine has generous torque which provides responsive acceleration at speeds up to about 70 km/h. However, it’s 0 to 100 km/h time of approximately 12.5 seconds (by my stopwatch) is rather slow due to a really lazy 1st to 2nd gear change. The engine revs up to 5500 rpm in 1st, then drops back to 3000 rpm before it picks up again in second gear. Part of the problem is the Rendezvous’ substantial curb weight: 1792 kg (3951 lb.) for FWD models, and 1890 kg (4167 lb.) for AWD models. On the freeway however, the Rendezvous glides along comfortably and quietly with the engine doing just 1800 rpm in fourth gear at 100 km/h. Fuel consumption is relatively good when compared with mid-sized SUV’s like the MDX and RX300 – the AWD Rendezvous gets 12.7 l/100 km (22 mpg) in the city and 8.7 l/100 km (32 mpg) on the highway – the FWD Rendezvous is slightly better.
On the highway, I found the Rendezvous’ cabin very quiet, steering was effortless, and the ride was very comfortable thanks in part to its fully independent suspension – however, the Rendezvous feels heavy and big, which it is. If you like luxury, but not necessarily performance, the Rendezvous will please you.
The Rendezvous is available with a towing package which allows it to tow up to 1588 kg (3500 lb) and includes a rear air suspension with automatic level control, but I really don’t think this vehicle has enough power to make it a pleasurable towing experience.
The Versatrak AWD system runs in front wheel drive most of the time, and transfers torque to either or both of the rear wheels when the front wheels start to slip. The system is completely automatic – no driver input is needed. As I mentioned, front-wheel-drive Rendezvous models in Canada come with an all-speed traction control system which reduces throttle and applies the brakes when the front wheels begin to spin in slippery conditions.
MSRPs for the Rendezvous are CX $30,995, CX with AWD $34,995, and CXL $40,995. Some optional outdoor packages such as bike racks, ski racks and cargo carriers are available as Buick accessories. The Rendezvous is built in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.