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Buick Rendezvous (2002)

SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig


MODEL: 2002 Buick Rendezvous CXL
ENGINE: 3.4-liter V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 185 hp @ 5200 rpm/210 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Four-speed automatic with overdrive
WHEELBASE: 112.2 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 186.5 x 73.6 x 68.9 in.

It's amazing what a little design can do for a vehicle. The Buick Rendezvous is essentially the identical vehicle to the Pontiac Aztek. But what a difference. First of all, the Rendezvous looks like a Buick, with the family oval waterfall grille and smooth flanks. Therefore, you aren't ashamed to be seen in it.

But the Rendezvous has all the great attributes of the Aztek. It just looks better. And, to be fair, it has more of a Buick "ride" than the Aztek's Pontiac-inspired ride.

Rendezvous is powered by a 3.4-liter V-6 that's rated at 185 horsepower. It drives the wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive. It's the overdrive that helped us achieve 17.0 mpg in our test. The Rendezvous is rated at 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway. Our test took the vehicle over an assortment of roads, with our primary focus on Interstates and small roads.

Rendezvous is also equipped with GM's Versatrak all-wheel drive system. With Versatrak, you don't have to worry about switching from front-wheel drive to all-wheel drive, the vehicle does it by itself. As soon as wheel slippage is detected, Versatrak shifts the power to the wheels that have traction and away from those that don't.

The Rendezvous also has a couple of features that impressed me. One is called "rear parking aid." I like to back into my driveway, but I'm always afraid I'm going to misjudge the distance and bump into my garage door (the only time I did hit the door was when I drove in nose first, though). With the rear parking aid, you get a "beep" and warning lights when you're within about five feet of whatever is behind you. When you get daring and move closer, the beep gets more persistent. There are four sensors that detect obstacles ten inches high or taller.

Rendezvous also uses a heads-up display to advise the driver of speed, turn signals, high beams and low fuel. When you drive a car with a heads up display, you miss it when the next car doesn't have it. To me that shows the value of the feature.

We had to use the Rendezvous as a truck. Actually the "assignment" was to move a motorcycle. The entry height with the rear hatch lifted is slightly more than 36 inches. The absolute rear deck can't be removed, but the second bank of seats is removable, as is the bench in the third bank. We opted not to try to put the bike in there, but I think it might have fit without the seats.

Speaking of seats, Rendezvous will carry seven passengers, with two buckets in front and in the second row and a bench in back. This leaves less carrying capacity behind the rear seat (18.1 cubic feet nominal), but it does permit you to carry more people. If you're into cargo carrying instead, you can remove the second row of seats and fold the third row for 108.9 cubic feet. Or, you can fold the third row for 54.5 cubic feet. That, as constant readers might note, is room enough for four golf bags with enough comfortable seating capacity for the foursome.

We found the seats to be comfortable and offer good back support. Since they were power adjustable, we could play with the switches to find an ideal combination of back angle and seat height. With the memory function, each driver could set it the way they wanted, including the mirrors.

Rendezvous will also tow 3500 pounds with the optional trailer towing package.

Base price of the Rendezvous is $27,452. Our tester had the CXL luxury package added, which boosted the sticker price by $5,015. In this package you get six-way power front seats with memory for the driver, dual electric control HVAC system so you don't have to fight with the passenger over the temperature, an overhead console, leather seating surfaces with footrests for the second-row passengers (an admitted luxury), OnStar, rear parking aid, head sup display, AM/FM stereo radio with cassette and CD changer, and a luggage rack. The third row seats cost an additional $750.Destination charges add $575 for a final bottom line of $34,042.

I liked the Aztek when it came out. One advantage to driving that vehicle is that you're inside and don't have to look at it from the outside. With the Rendezvous, that problem is solved. You don't have to sneak up to the vehicle, afraid to admit that it's yours. Rendezvous has all the neat features of Aztek, including the ability to make the rear a tent and sleep in the back if you want.

If Buick insists on joining the SUV or truck market, it couldn't have picked a better design.