Smooth ride in a Rendezvous

Friday, May 23, 2003

Buick's SUV is upscale and versatile with features that please both driver and passenger

Upscale, good looking and comfortable, that's always been my impression of a Buick. I'll never forget that long, graceful hood on the new generation of front-wheel-drive Riviera that appeared in the late 1970s. That was one gorgeous, powerful automobile with all the latest bells and whistles, including a big 350 cubic-inch V-8 driving the front wheels. I just couldn't live without one. So, I couldn't wait to test drive Buick's latest invention: the all-wheel-drive Rendezvous SUV.

Impressive features

Van Matre Buick on South Kingshighway in Cape Girardeau provided the black beauty I tested and photographed for this report -- the CXL, powered by a 3.4 liter, 185 horsepower V-6 engine driving all four wheels. Upscale? You bet. This baby was loaded up with not two, but four leather-clad bucket seats, and a bench seat in the rear, giving it ultra-comfortable seating for six. Put a standard bench seat in the middle, and you can carry seven folks in style. The four buckets have separate armrests, and all recline, making taking a nap a snap. I know ... I slept in one of the second row buckets from Perryville, Mo., to Cape Girardeau as we cruised down the interstate in luxurious silence and comfort.

Another great feature on this test vehicle was the dual-zone climate control, giving each front seat passenger his or her own temperature control. Still another nifty feature, which the driver will appreciate, is borrowed straight from our military's fighting machines: a heads-up information display that projects the speed and other key information on the windshield right in front of the driver. No more looking away from the road to tune the radio or check your speed. Just use the handy buttons on the steering wheel, and watch the frequency change right in front of your eyes. All cars should have that safety feature. Of course, the kids in back may not care for the tunes you've tuned in. That's why Buick has thoughtfully included a rear seat audio system that let's the passengers listen to a music source different from the front seaters. If that's not enough, consider the available DVD player with a color monitor that flips down from the ceiling.

While the kids in back are enjoying the movie, your view of the traffic will be terrific, thanks to the Rendezvous' tall seating position. And, when backing up, there's a nifty ultra-sonic warning system that alerts you with beeps and warning lights when you get close to an object. I tested it while backing into my parking spot at work, and it works great! All cars should have this safety gadget, too.

Driving impression

To wear the Buick badge, a vehicle should be quiet, comfortable and classy. The Rendezvous does not disappoint! Some other SUVs in its class, such as the Mercury Mountaineer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot, may have more ground clearance or more horsepower, but I've not been in one that delivers a better ride or has more comfortable seats. And, this is a very quiet automobile. Missing is the typical SUV's roar of truck tires on pavement. Missing is the typical SUV stiff ride. The Rendezvous' suspension is tuned to the softer side, and that famous Buick ride is achieved by independently suspending all four wheels on a long 112-inch wheelbase. I liked the way it rode and handled.

All Rendezvous come with a silky four-speed automatic transmission mated to a smooth running V-6 engine, producing EPA mileage estimates of 19 city and 26 highway. In my 150 miles of test driving on interstate, two-lane highways and around town, the on-board trip computer indicated an average of 18 mpg. The Rendezvous comes standard equipped as a front-wheel drive vehicle. Electronic traction control in included in the upscale CXL model. Optional all-wheel-drive is achieved through GM's "Versatrack," an automatic, button-less system that senses wheel slippage and sends power to the wheels with the best traction. There are no levers to throw or buttons to push. This feature also includes ABS brakes. I tested the Versatrack on a steep gravel driveway that usually gives my front -wheel-drive sedan a difficult time. The Rendezvous didn't even hesitate.

Pulling power

This Buick can be equipped with a trailer towing package with a 3,500 pound capacity, giving it even more appeal to the typical family-oriented adventure seeker who may own a camper, boat, ATV or motorcycle. There is an accessory catalog listing everything from a dealer-installed roof rack to a hitch-mounted bike rack. Buick says most buyers will be between the age of 35 and 49 years, and will be seeking a vehicle that is functional, yet sporty, nimble and upscale. If you want a Rendezvous with all the bells and whistles this one has, plan on spending in the low to mid 30s. With 7 inches of ground clearance, excellent turning and cornering specifications, a $3,000 rebate and a $500 dealer incentive, this respected American manufacturer is betting you really would rather have a Buick.

Steve Robertson of Cape Girardeau is a car enthusiast and a former photographer for the Southeast Missourian.

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