CHICAGO - It's no accident that the 2002 Buick Rendezvous looks more mature than the Pontiac Aztek, its sister vehicle.
The designers of the Rendezvous started their work after the Aztek's styling was nearly completed. That gave them the benefit of the experience gained on the Aztek, General Motors' first attempt to transform its current minivan platform into a sport-utility.
Also, the Buick is aimed at an older, more upscale buyer than the Aztek and is intended to help snare the 25 percent of Buick owners who trade for a sport-utility.
That is why the upper half of the Rendezvous is molded to look like a Buick, says chief designer Liz Wetzel. 'When we were designing the car, we were picturing fine leather shoes with thick rubber soles.'
Rendezvous production is slated to begin in January 2001, eight months after the Aztek. Final assembly will be on a separate line at GM's factory in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico. The Rendezvous was unveiled last week in Chicago; the Aztek debuted at the Los Angeles show last month.
The Buick has several luxury details that are not found on the Aztek. The Rendezvous' wheelbase is four inches longer. That allows for an optional third seat row that folds nearly flat to the floor. A center console has storage bins big enough for a laptop computer, and the front seats have footrests for the middle-row passengers.
The instrument panel of the Rendezvous has fluorescent backlit gauges with chrome pointers and serif-style numerals.
The Aztek's optional independent rear suspension is standard on the Rendezvous, even though the passive, all-wheel-drive system is an option as with the Aztek. The engine is the same: a 3.4-liter pushrod V-6 that makes 185 hp and 210 pounds-feet of torque. Prices were not announced.
After Chicago, the Rendezvous will hit the auto show circuit hard, said brand manager Jack Bowen. 'Our goal this year is to create as much purchase intent as we can.'