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2003 Buick Rendezvous

Pleasing refinement in a versatile crossover.

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by Denise McCluggage April 2003


The term "crossover" has become part of our automotive lexicon. When introduced, the Buick Rendezvous crossed over all the lines that used to separate sedans, minivans, and sport-utility vehicles. It's a perfect example of the new category of crossover vehicles, a category that defies categorization. Rendezvous combines aspects of SUVs, minivans, and wagons.

For starters, it's versatile, seating five to seven passengers. The styling is nice. It has fine manners on the highway, a benefit of unibody construction normally associated with sedans. Four-wheel-drive is available to cope with gnarly weather and marginal off-highway tracks with dignity.

No matter what you decide to call it, the Buick Rendezvous is priced well and easy to like. There is much to like here in terms of engineering, flexibility, and appearance. The three-row interior compares favorably with the passenger capacity of costlier vehicles. Satellite radio and a rear-seat DVD system are now available as options.

Model Lineup

Buick Rendezvous comes with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. All models come with a 185-horsepower 3.4-liter V6 engine and an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. Rendezvous rides on a four-wheel independent suspension and comes standard with four-wheel disc brakes.

CX FWD ($25,445) is the base front-wheel-drive model and it comes standard with cruise control, remote keyless entry, a theft-deterrent system, AM/FM/CD stereo, and power outlets for all three seating rows. CX AWD ($28,545) adds the all-wheel-drive system plus anti-lock brakes (ABS) and side-impact airbags.

The CX Plus package ($1925) adds OnStar, a driver-information center, overhead console, ultrasonic rear parking assist, a tire-inflation monitor, aluminum wheels and other features, but not ABS and side airbags.

The AWD CXL package ($3530) and FWD CXL package ($4655) include all that plus dual-zone air conditioning, leather upholstery, six-way power seats, premium stereo with cassette and CD capability, rear-seat audio controls and headphone jacks, and unique exterior trim. FWD CXL models also get traction control and ABS.

CXL Plus adds a head-up instrument display, heated seats, memory for seats and mirrors, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, P215/70R16 touring tires (replacing all-season tires on other models), and a luggage rack. Third row seating, optional ($465) on all other models, is standard on CXL Plus. The head-up display projects salient information on the windshield (low enough to be unobtrusive but clearly visible). This allows the driver to read, with a minimum of eye deflection, the car's speed and radio or CD information.

A lot of these features are also available as stand-alone options, so you can pretty much build a Rendezvous to your personal tastes. Two new options for 2003 are XM Satellite Radio ($325) and a DVD Entertainment Center ($1000). XM Satellite Radio features 100 coast-to-coast digital channels, including 71 music channels (more than 30 of them commercial-free) and 29 channels of sports, talk, children's and entertainment programming. The DVD system includes a fold-down seven-inch monitor integrated into the ceiling.

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It is difficult to judge the size of the Rendezvous without the context of another vehicle near it. That's usually a sign that the design team (headed, by the way, by a woman, Liz Wetzel) got the scale right. The spec sheet says that Rendezvous is as tall as an SUV, at 68.9 inches without the roof rack. But with nearly 64 inches between the left and right tires, Buick claims that the Rendezvous has a wider track than an SUV. Rendezvous' strong horizontal design visually suggests stability as well.

The Rendezvous' traditional Buick grille emphasizes a familial resemblance to the Park Avenue, but it somehow looks less formal and more cheery. It's a pleasing countenance.

The Rendezvous shows its kinship to the shorter Pontiac Aztek, but without the Aztek's body-piercing design cues GM had hoped would appeal to a youthful market. The Rendezvous is probably not beautiful to many, but it has an integrity suited to its purpose and is thus attractive. In short, we like its looks.

Interior Features

Buick Rendezvous can seat up to seven passengers or two people with scads of stuff. The seating setup depends on how you order it and then on how you choose to fold and configure. Captain's chairs (an elegant choice for just $350) can be ordered instead of the 50-50 split bench seat in the second row. The optional third row seat ($465) folds flat into the floor.

The flexibility of the seating configurations is an exercise in automotive origami. The seats fold and tuck and fit into an amazing number of arrangements. Even the second-row seat flips and folds, allowing you to have two people up front and a flat floor behind without leaving anything home in the garage. That's truly neat. For maximum capacity, however, the center row can be removed. (The third-row seat tucks flat into the floor, so it doesn't have to come out.) Hiding places and lockable bins are strategically placed here and there.

Even with seven inches of ground clearance and all-wheel drive, getting in and out of the Rendezvous is more like getting in and out of a sedan than an SUV; small children, arthritic knees and tight-skirts can be grateful for that. All seats are easy to access and quite comfortable.

Access to the third row is far simpler than in most vehicles with three rows of seats. Once back there, the third row is pleasantly suitable for two full-size adults. And the third row is no Siberia: Even from way back there the acoustics allow you to participate in conversations with the front-seat passengers.

The load-height is low, too, reducing back strain when loading or unloading heavy objects. And remember that old 4x8-foot plywood test? Well, the Rendezvous' rear opening is wide enough to take the proverbial building material lying flat. A red flag affixed at back will deal with the length.

The amazing thing about the low stance and flat floor of the Rendezvous is that four-wheel drive and a low, flat floor are supposed to be mutually exclusive. Well, the Buick engineers found a way to do it. Too bad being unobtrusive is a mark of success because this accomplishment needs to stand up and take applause. It's best appreciated when driving with a full load of people and their stuff on a nasty, sleety, darkening afternoon with a slippery glaze on the street.

But all is not sheer delight inside the Rendezvous. The plastic used for the instrument panel looks dowdy compared with the rest of the interior.

Driving Impressions

Buick Rendezvous has reassuring road manners. Its long wheel base (six inches longer than that of the Grand Cherokee) smoothes surface irregularities like a sedan or a minivan.

In handling the more sinuous highways, again it favors the minivan/sedan end of the scale. Driven in the truly twisty bits the Rendezvous comported itself surprisingly well. Even when pushed rather insistently it was thoroughly honest (more tire would have helped) and never felt incapable of dealing with stringent demands. (Willing as it was, the Rendezvous still seemed to offer a slight admonishment: "I'll do that if you insist, but it's not my specialty.")

On off-highway exploration of some sandy and rocky arroyos, the SUV side of the Rendezvous' personality came to the fore. GM's all-wheel-drive system, called Versatrak, requires no input from the driver. Versatrak drives just the front wheels until sensors agree that some traction assistance from the rear is advisable. Now this is where the Versatrak is really clever: Power is meted out separately and individually to each rear wheel, not just to the rear axle. That is a fineness of traction disbursement not available in most other four-wheel-drive systems. The result is better traction and increased stability, making the Rendezvous more capable in the snow and easier to drive in the slush.

Overall, the road demeanor of the Rendezvous is pleasing. It stopped well, accelerated with reasonable aplomb (can't everything use more power?) and was quiet for an SUV, though a little road-noisy by luxury sedan standards.

Buick Rendezvous deserves a look on the basis of economy alone. In the first place it uses regular unleaded gas, not premium. Its thirst is temperate for its size: 24 miles per gallon on the highway with Versatrak, 26 mpg for the front-wheel-drive models.


Buick Rendezvous is as comfortable as it is practical. It offers a nice ride, reassuring road manners, and a pleasant cabin. It can be configured to haul six adults in comfort or a load of lumber from the home-improvement center.

It also offers an attractive value, with a compelling price and decent fuel economy for its size. Rendezvous is priced significantly below such luxury all-wheel-drive vehicles as the Lexus RX 330 and Acura MDX.

Model Line Overview

Model lineup: CX FWD ($25,445); CX AWD ($28,545)
Engines: 185-hp 3.4-liter OHV V6
Transmissions: 4-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard): dual airbags
Safety equipment (optional): side-impact airbags, ABS, traction control, tire-inflation monitor
Basic warranty: 3 years/36.000 miles
Assembled in: Ramos Arizpe, Mexico

Specifications As Tested

Model tested (MSRP): Buick Rendezvous CXL Plus AWD ($33,075)
Standard equipment: Versatrak all-wheel-drive; power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; reclining front bucket seats; three-passenger second row 50/50 split fold-down bench seat; third-row flip/fold seat; leather seating surfaces; dual heated six-way power seats; memory driver's seat and memory outside mirrors; dual-zone automatic air conditioning; eight-speaker AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo; head-up display; tire inflation monitor; overhead console; driver information center; universal garage door opener; storage system with sliding rear cargo tray; theft-deterrent system; rear park assist; OnStar communications system; cargo mat
Options as tested (MSRP): captain's chairs ($395)
Destination charge: ($650)
Gas guzzler tax: N/A
Price as tested (MSRP): $33,120
Layout: all-wheel drive
Engine: 3.4-liter ohv V6
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 185 @ 5200
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): 210 @ 4000
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: 18/24 mpg
Wheelbase: 112.2 in.
Length/width/height: 186.5/73.6/68.9 in.
Track, f/r: 62.7/63.8 in.
Turning circle: 37.4 ft.
Seating capacity: 7
Head/hip/leg room, f: 40.9/61.1/40.5 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m: 40.1/61.1/39.0 in.
Head/hip/leg room, r: 37.5/48.3/34.6 in.
Trunk volume: 108.9 cu. ft.
Payload: N/A
Towing capacity: 2000 Lbs.
Suspension, f: independent
Suspension, r: independent
Ground clearance: 7.0 in.
Curb weight: 4024 lbs.
Tires: P215/70R16
Brakes, f/r: disc/disc with ABS
Fuel capacity: 18 gal.

Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of January 31, 2002.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: www.Buick.com/Rendezvous

Copyright © 1994-2003 New Car Test Drive, Inc.
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2003 Buick Rendezvous - Autotrader