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Expert Reviews 2 of 13
By Warren Brown
December 2, 2001
Americans don't want sport-utility vehicles. They want station wagons. They've always wanted station wagons, which is why they started buying sport-utility vehicles in the first place. SUVs are rolling symbols of federal energy policy gone awry.
Lawmakers, afraid to take the political weight for conserving gasoline through higher fuel taxes, shifted the burden to automakers. The lawmakers told the car companies to make more fuel-efficient vehicles or suffer financial penalties. The
car companies complied by downsizing their new-vehicle fleets, which meant the virtual elimination of big station wagons. That put big American families in a bind. They turned to trucks -- vans, minivans, pickups and SUVs. Trucks had way more room
than downsized cars. They also had lower fuel-economy requirements than automobiles. But the lawmakers didn't seem to mind that; nor did the buying public. Trucks now make up 50 percent of the new-vehicle market in the United States. To some, that
might seem a repudiation of the theory that Americans really prefer station wagons. It's not. The proof is in the 2002 Buick Rendezvous CXL, the latest in a series of station wagons designed to look like trucks. The Rendezvous
possesses all of the station-wagon characteristics Americans love, including a spacious interior for people and cargo and a smooth ride. It has none of the truckiness that consumers have come to hate in SUVs -- no dicey handling or bumpety-bump
road manners. Though it shares the same body structure with the abysmally styled Pontiac Aztek, the Rendezvous, by comparison, is an appealing work of art. The look is chic suburban, or what General Motors Corp., the vehicle's maker, calls
"refined ruggedness." That means the Rendezvous looks as if it can go off-road, as long as "off-road" means the gravel parking lot of a country club, or the grassy expanse behind the fence of a steeplechase race. That same limited
"off-road" ability holds true for the Rendezvous equipped with GM's optional all-wheel-drive Versatrak system. It'll get you through snow and shallow mud but nothing more challenging. But surely, no one with common sense would deliberately put the
Rendezvous in proximity of anything that could scratch its surface or muddy its interior. Step inside the tested Rendezvous CXL to see why. There are two-tone leather-faced seats, brushed metallic accents in the door and instrument panel,
deep-pile carpeting front to rear, and an optional "new generation" head-up display that projects speed and data on other vehicle functions on the bottom of the windshield. Ah, there's also an optional audio entertainment system with rear-seat controls
and headphones. This one is going into the deepest, darkest forest? Hardly! The Rendezvous can be equipped to haul a trailer weighing 3,500 pounds, as cou
ld any large station wagon of yore. The auto industry has been going through great pains to call Rendezvous-like vehicles anything but station wagons. Their fear is that station wagons are passé and off-putting to young and restless
families who are psychologically opposed to "uncool" family transportation, such as minivans. Auto marketers say those families want something sporty, hip, versatile. They want a vehicle that supports an "active outdoors life," marketers say.
Baloney. Young American families today want what American families have always wanted: a vehicle big enough to carry their people and things. Covered wagons once served that purpose. Station wagons eventually followed. Trucks began arriving in
force in the mid-1980s. Now, station wagons, albeit in new form, are back. It's about time.