Case in point: The 2005 Buick Rendezvous Ultra, a richly appointed, minivan-based crossover utility vehicle that generated more discussion than usual.
We tested a well-equipped front-wheel-drive Rendezvous Ultra priced at $38,135. HE: On the surface, there's a lot to like about the Buick Rendezvous Ultra-especially if you're an empty-nester who doesn't have to worry about kids wiping greasy fingers all over those beautiful leather-and-suede seats. I should add the caveat here (correct me if I'm wrong, and I'm sure you will) that the interior was designed by a woman and clearly intended to appeal to other women, from the exquisite blue-on-gray gauges . . .
SHE: They're taupe, with aqua needles.
HE: . . . to the female-friendly center console, which has plenty of room for a purse and extra storage space underneath. Women will "get" this vehicle, much more so than men, despite the fact that the new Ultra comes with a larger, peppier engine.
SHE: So you're really toning down your argument, now that we're on the record. Before we sat down at to write, all you did was argue in favor of every fabulous foreign competitor- BMW, Mercedes, Lexus-over the Buick. My argument to you was that, yes, the Buick has shortcomings. But it's a good choice for people who don't want to buy a foreign vehicle in this segment.
HE: There you go again. I have two things to say in response: "Made in Mexico," which is where the Rendezvous is built, and "Cadillac SRX," which is a far better vehicle for the same money.
SHE: And I have two responses. Buick is a domestic brand, and the SRX is a far more masculine vehicle than the Rendezvous, in terms of both looks and amenities.
HE: The SRX is also far more modern. And Cadillac also happens to be a domestic brand.
SHE: Granted, the Rendezvous is pricey with that Ultra package, which adds another $10,000 to the bottom line. For the first time, the Ultra version is available in a front-wheel-drive configuration, and you get a long list of good stuff, including a rear parking aid, a tire-pressure monitor and the bigger engine. The Rendezvous is easy to handle and park. It's a cut above a minivan, in terms of styling, and it's really nicely put together. Buick did a good job for the most part. So I gave it four stars.
HE: Let's talk about that engine, which is a fairly sophisticated twin-cam 3.6-liter V-6 that makes 245 horsepower and 232 pounds-feet of torque, and is mated with a four-speed automatic transmission. I have a couple problems with this powertrain combination. The engine itself is OK, although with two or more adults on board, you'll find acceleration is not much better than average. And with the four-speed, fuel economy is pretty mediocre. The Environmental Protection Agency claims you should get 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 27 on the highway, but we managed to average only 16.5 mpg during an extensive test drive. In this case, the vehicle and the engine could really benefit from a more modern five-speed automatic, to get performance and mileage benefits.
SHE: We both had qualms about the lack of what we consider critical safety features, including stability control and side curtain air bags. In fact, there is no side air bag protection of any kind for the second- and third-row passengers. I initially wrote on my evaluation that this vehicle was perfect for empty-nester grandmas. But I crossed that out when I discovered the lack of air-bag protection in the rear. Good for grandma, maybe, but not so good for grandkids.
HE: Gee whiz, talking about grandkids, you make me feel old enough to be a target Buick customer.
SHE: You are a target Buick customer, and so am I. If it's my money, I'd pick the Lexus RX 330 over the Rendezvous. But if I'm stuck on buying American, the Rendezvous may be a good second choice.
HE: I may be old enough to buy a Buick, but if I'm spending this much money, I'm going to be shopping an SRX, a Chrysler Pacifica, a Jeep Grand Cherokee and even a Ford Freestyle before I recommend the Rendezvous. Sorry, Buick - three stars.
Anita and Paul Lienert are partners in Lienert & Lienert, a Detroit-based automotive information services company.