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Buick Rendezvous CXL (2002)

SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide

by Carey Russ

The Rendezvous is the first Buick truck since 1923. Buick truck? Technically, yes. Sport-utility vehicles are still immensely popular, especially new-wave "crossover" vehicles that combine the best traits of two or more vehicular genres to make something new, unique, and useful. Something that's not quite a traditional truck, but not quite a car, either. And the Rendezvous is definitely a crossover, combining elements of a car, minivan, and sport-utility. It is built on a car-like unibody chassis platform and combines the look of a sport-utility with the ride comfort of a car and the seating and cargo versatility of a minivan.

Two trim levels are offered, the CX and CXL. Calling the CX the "base model" is misleading, as it is very well-equipped. The CXL adds the "Versatrak" all-wheel drive system, optional on the CX, leather seating, and a host of comfort and convenience features. A 3.4-liter, 185-horsepower V6 engine and four-wheel antilock disc brakes are used by both Rendezvous models.

I've been driving a Rendezvous CXL for the past week during which time I had occasion to make several trips to my favorite assemble-it-yourself furniture store. The Rendezvous was the perfect vehicle for the job. Fold down the third row, flip up the second, and stuff stuff in. No problem. Despite its large capacity, the Rendezvous is small enough outside to be easily parkable - the word "dock" doesn't apply. The engine had plenty of power for everyday use, and gas mileage was very reasonable for its size and class. Although it will be overwhelmingly used as an urban/suburban family vehicle, Buick has enough faith in the Rendezvous' ability to currently be running one in the "Inca Trail" rally in South America's Andes Mountains.

APPEARANCE: Buick's cars are known for conservative styling. Recognizably a Buick, the Rendezvous is not a Buick car, and it is anything but conservative. Although it has the standard two-box SUV shape, the unique treatment of the C-pillar and darkened rear windows de-emphasizes the boxy rear of the vehicle, especially in light colors, and gives the Rendezvous a rakish sedan-like look. The definably Buick oval grille utilizes a dark painted "waterfall" section in the front panel and a massive chromed crossbar at the leading edge of the hood. Textured trim, bright headlights, and unique signature three-dimensional wraparound turn signals complete the front. Angles and curves are blended homogenously in the body styling. Contrast-colored lower cladding is found on the sides. A venerable Buick styling fixture, a full-width taillight appliqué, surrounds an oval license plate holder at the rear.

COMFORT: Like the exterior, the Rendezvous' interior styling is much more radical than expected from Buick. The geometrically- interesting instrument panel could come from a spaceship, or at least an auto show car. The instruments are of a contemporary black-on-silver design, with metal-look trim in several textures featured throughout the interior. It's flashy, but not at the expense of function. A successful design goal was minivan-like interior configurability. Minivan heritage also shows in the low, flat floor, a plus. With the available third-row seat, you can get seven passengers in three rows, 2+3+2. Flip either side of the second row up for access to the third, and there is surprisingly reasonable space back there especially considering the size of the Rendezvous. The third-row seat disappears into the rear floor when cargo carrying is necessary, and the second row seats fold flat or flip forward. The second row is even roomier than the third, and passengers have first-class accommodation, with three A/C vents, a power point, and auxiliary audio controls on the end of the console, and plenty of storage space and cupholders. Up front are two comfy power buckets. A steering column-mounted shift lever leaves plenty of space in center console, and it's well used, with a cell phone sized covered storage with 2 power points, ashtray, and 2 cupholders above a huge open storage space, and a gigantic, deep compartmented console box.

SAFETY: Dual front and front side airbags, side-guard door beams, child safety locks, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, and daytime running lights are standard safety equipment.

ROADABILITY: A rigid unibody structure and fully independent suspension ensure that the Rendezvous has the supple, quiet, and comfortable ride associated with Buick. No surprise, it feels and handles more like a tall car or minivan than a traditional truck. Even with the CXL's "VersaTrak" all-wheel drive system, the Rendezvous operates in front-drive mode in normal conditions, with power sent seamlessly to the rear wheels when needed.

PERFORMANCE: The Rendezvous uses General Motors' well- developed 3.4-liter V6 engine, matched to a four-speed automatic transmission. With maximum horsepower of 185 at 5200 rpm and 210 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm, it moves the two-ton vehicle reasonably quickly and efficiently. In mostly city driving, I averaged 18 mpg. That went up to 22 or better on the highway. Standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes stop quickly and efficiently.

CONCLUSIONS: The Rendezvous combines Buick comfort with space and versatility.

2002 Buick Rendezvous CXL

Base Price              $ 27,452
Price As Tested         $ 32,977
Engine Type             pushrod overhead valve 12-valve V6
Engine Size             3.4 liters / 204 cu. in.
Horsepower              185 @ 5200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)          210 @ 4000rpm
Transmission            4-speed electronically-controlled 
Wheelbase / Length      112.2 in. / 186.5 in.
Curb Weight             4024 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower   21.8
Fuel Capacity           18.0 gal.
Fuel Requirement        87 octane unleaded regular
Tires                   P215/70  SR16 Uniroyal Tiger Paw
Brakes, front/rear      vented disc / solid disc, antilock 
Suspension, front/rear  independent strut /
                          independent short-and-long arm with
                          coil springs
Drivetrain              front engine, all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      18 / 24 / 18
0 to 60 mph            10.0  sec
Towing capacity        2000 lbs standard,
                       3500 with towing package

CXL Versatility Package - includes:
  CXL ornamentation, 6-way power front seats,
  third row seats with storage system, dual-zone
  filtration climate control, light-sensitive rear-view
  mirrors, overhead console, leather seating surfaces
  with 2nd row footrests, theft deterrent system,
  rear parking aid, OnStar, universal garage door
 opener, driver information center, 8-speaker
 AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo, rear seat audio controls,
 luggage rack                                    $ 4,030
Upgraded stereo with 6-CD changer
 (replaces package unit)                         $   395
Heated front seats                               $   225
Memory for front seats and mirrors               $   225
P215/70R16 touring tires (replace standard)      $    75