Yet when it comes to mid-size luxury SUVs, it
seems imports get all the glory. Let's see, with such an all-star lineup, you'd think
there would be no room left for another competitor. Yet, like the Helen Keller of
automakers, Buick has bravely, and perhaps naively, entered the mix to produce a car based
luxurious SUV called the Rendezvous.
Unlike the gutsy Miss Keller, Buick could see its hard to beat
competition and knew it would be virtually impossible to whip those stalwarts on their own
turf, so the company decided to offer a lower priced alternative that matches the
competition in most areas. Better yet, while it doesn't have the horsepower of those fancy
imports, it has something even more important: star power from Tiger Woods.
In any event, the Rendezvous turned out to be a nice SUV at a very
nice price when it was introduced as a 2002 model. At a price many people can live with it
offers the best attributes of luxury SUVs, like a smooth ride, comfortable cabin, and
controllable handling. And still with a starting sticker well under $30,000, it holds its
own against competitors that can cost twice as much.
Its strong points are a smooth ride and terrific handling, both
helped by a taut unibody frame similar to those used on modern sedans. The ride is
velvety, soaking up bumps and potholes like homemade bread in Mom's beef stew. Plus, with
good steering, a well-tuned suspension, and grippy tires, the Rendezvous handles more like
a Sport SUV than you would expect.
And no matter what the snooty Europeans and Japanese may think,
there's something to be said for the Rendezvous' All American Style. Sweeping lines,
chrome trim, and vivacious curves give it an air of class rarely seen this side of the new
Ford Thunderbird, yet it's conservative enough to pass as a very modern SUV.
Inside, the cabin is nice and comfortable without being
ostentatious. Materials and colors are above expectations, and the leather seats are
particularly soft and comfortable. The back seat is roomy as well, but no third-row seat
is available. Nice materials and pleasant colors are a surprising find in the Rendezvous.
Attractive new options for 2003 include XM Satellite Radio and a
rear seat DVD player. These two new options will keep gadget lovers very happy. XM
Satellite radio is particularly nice for long road trips, and the DVD player can keep back
seat passengers entertained for hours.
Power comes from a 3.4-liter V6, which makes an acceptable 185
horsepower. It's adequate for climbing hills or accelerating onto highways, but it's far
from the ample horsepower and torque expected in today's luxury SUVs. A little more
horsepower would be greatly appreciated.
Overall though, it's hard to argue with the Rendezvous' near perfect
mix of luxury and economy. It has a roomy, sumptuous cabin and a supple ride that's
difficult, if not impossible, to beat at its entry luxury price.