By October 20, 2005

Buick Rendezvous Review

My rental car situation out here in California is always an adventure. I’ve been up/downgraded four out of the five times I’ve rented a car here. The worst thus far was a Chevy Cavalier, but it was either that or a minivan. I’ve also rented a current generation Ford Mustang, a Ford F150 truck (that was a fun one to explain to accounting), a Mazda 6, and now the Buick Rendezvous.

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The Rendezvous is a mid-sized SUV that may be built on the Pontiac Aztec platform. This thing is a she-beast, ugly as sin on the outside with a two-tone cream and silver exterior and a bulbous back end only a turtle could love. The interior makes an attempt at luxuriousness, with a matching cream leather interior and simulated wood grain accents on the dash and steering wheel. The Buick makes an attempt at being gadgety, with a reverse sensor on the back of that car that beeps when you’re close to an object (also called a Parking Distance Control, or PDC). It also features a sunroof, remote entry, and remote rear hatch release. There are three climate control zones — driver, front passenger, and rear passengers — and there is an option for automatic air conditioning depending on the interior temperature of the car.

The first problem with the Rendezvous is that it doesn’t show us anything new or novel. Especially after riding in Alexa’s tricked-out Infinity FX35 I guess I’m not impressed by an automatic air conditioner and a PDC. Granted, these things aren’t on any of my (current) vehicles, but they don’t wow me like Elvis, either. Alexa’s FX35 has a pinhole camera mounted in the rear of the vehicle, and when she puts the car in reverse the onboard television shows you what’s behind you. No need for wee little beepin’.

The ergonomics of the driver’s position leave a lot to be desired. I’m not tall by any means, a flat six foot, but with the seat all the way back I feel that my legs are too crammed up against the pedals. I’ve tried the little tricks like reclining the seat back, but then my head is too close to the B pillar and my arms are fully outstretched to reach the steering wheel. The seat is also too high, even cranked down to its lowest position. I wonder if this vehicle was designed for soccer moms and their smaller frames.

The seat itself is acceptable, partially because the leather is rather soft and comfortable. The seat is a little too wide and doesn’t feature any bolsters, so it’s easy for my ass to slide around a little bit while I’m driving. I have a similar problem with my Element, although the bolsters in those seats keep me from having to actually readjust my butt while driving. The seat back is fine, comfort-wise, but I am spoiled by my Element, Cooper S, and WRX and expected a little more support. Again, perhaps the target market had something to say about big flat seating surfaces and formless backrests. Maybe it’s easier to turn around and beat your kids when you don’t have lumbar and lateral support.

If I had to sum up the ride quality of the Rendezvous in three words they would be: City of Compton. The Rendezvous accepts small bumps in the roads poorly, and rocks and rolls like a 64 Impala flexing its air shocks to Boyz N the Hood. Boing, boing, boing I go down the highway at 70mph every time there’s a blemish in the surface. It’s a lot like doing the butterfly stroke in swimming, oscillating up and down with the motions of the poorly-tuned shocks and suspension. I laughed out loud the first day I drove the car, but if this was my actual daily driver I would be pissed. But then again, most of what we’re discussing thus far would have shaken out on the test drive.

Since we’re bounding down the highway like Eazy E, we might as well crank the tunes, right? Wrong. The Rendezvous’s sound system makes even my 1986 Subaru station wagon point and laugh. If Buick can afford to put a sunroof, PDC, and leather interior in this trim model, they can afford to do better than a four speaker system. The Mazda 6, in contrast, features nine speakers. The ergonomics of this car must have been designed by a chimp, because the radio controls are a clusterfuck. First of all, they are positioned above the climate controls, and the volume knob is obstructed by the transmission lever mounted on the steering column. You know, the 3-on-the-tree kind that was all the rage in the 50s. In order to adjust the volume without looking, I have to run my hand to the air conditioning knob and then go up to the volume knob. You can’t reach directly for the volume knob without navigating under the transmission lever. There are stereo controls on the steering wheel, but I hate those. What if I want to (and you’d have to, on this jalopy) change the stock system to an aftermarket receiver? Those steering wheel controls are now useless.

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Note that from a driver’s angle you’d have a hard time reaching the stereo controls, as they are directly across from the steering column and transmission lever.

Speaking of useless, the steering wheel-based controls are poorly implemented. Lady Jaye’s Mazda 3, the Mazda 6 I rented, and my Cooper S all had steering wheel mounted controls, and they implemented the controls correctly — each action (volume up, volume down) has its own distinct button, and every button press has good tactile feedback. You know you pushed volume up, for instance, because you can feel it. The Rendezvous employs rocker switches that work like a teeter totter. Volume up and down share a switch. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is — your thumbs naturally position themselves in the “valley” of the rocker switch, and then smushing upwards might result in a downward motion first, actually lowering the volume before you increase it. The best way to operate these switches is to look down and press the desired control directly with your fingertip, but what’s the point of controls on a steering wheel if you have to look? I guess this is something an actual owner would get used to over time, but it seems like an obvious interface goof. Furthermore, the rockers don’t give much tactile feedback when activated.

I’m a whiny bitch today, aren’t I? Let’s cut to the bullets!

Rollin’ down the street in my six-foh

  • It’s a rental
  • Leather interior is nice
  • Airflow freaks like me will appreciate the sunroof and windows — airflow is pretty good in this car
  • Visibility is good, but required me to sit a little uncomfortably for maximum visibility
  • Fold-down jumpseats in the back provide tertiary seating

Drop it like it’s hot

  • Uninspired exterior
  • Poor driver seat ergonomics
  • Internal controls poorly laid out
  • Steering wheel controls are not as easy to use as they should be
  • Bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy fun fun fun fun fun! suspension problems
  • Sad little stereo

Buick Rendezvous, I hereby shower thee with:
One and a half out of five STFU mugs!

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