If ever a General Motors division needed some help, it's Buick. This GM marque has stayed on the sidelines through much of the SUV boom, having to be satisfied peddling four conservative sedans as the market craved other products.

Buick is finally getting some attention this year with the introduction of the Buick Rendezvous, its version of the unloved and ugly Pontiac Aztek. The Rendezvous competes with other SUV hybrids, such as the Toyota Highlander, Acura MDX, Lexus RX300 and other vehicles with SUV bodyshells riding atop car or minivan platforms. Like those competitors, the Rendezvous is available as a front-wheel-drive base model, dubbed CX, and as an all-wheel-drive model, dubbed CXL. Buick provided a CXL for testing.

Certainly the Buick is more handsome than its Pontiac cousin, especially from the front. A large grille with a dollop of chrome announces its arrival in a bold, tasteful manner. The chiselled turn signals sit atop the fender. But the design gets bulky as you get toward the back end, especially the unwieldy bumper, an area that's equally hideous on both the Aztek and Rendezvous. Still, the silver-colored test vehicle was distinctive enough to turn heads, especially younger ones.

Inside, the styling is distinctive as well. It has an art deco/machine-age look that is unusual. There is an absence of wood trim, but the interior still felt upscale and solidly built. The gauges have a distinctive font, but they're somewhat difficult to read. The test vehicle had an optional "heads up" display, which projected the speed onto the windshield. This helped immensely.

The interior is practical as well as stylish. The large center console is large enough to hold a laptop computer, and has a power point to power it as well. There's a second area that's large enough to hold cell phones, as well as storage for two pair of sunglasses.

The Rendezvous can be had with three rows of seats, although two rows are standard. Front seats are buckets with armrests. They proved to be rather flat. The second row is a split bench, with captain's chairs available as a $250 option. They proved to be just as a flat as the front row and a little low.

Leg room was adequate for adults. The third row seats are a $750 option and are suitable only for children or masochistic adults. With the third seat up, cargo space is limited to grocery bags or briefcases. Cargo is a good deal better with it folded. Hooks and nooks help give cargo-carrying some flexibility. An inexpensive fabric cover is provided to hide cargo.

Overall, the interior is as flexible as any SUV, but not as good as a minivan.

Performance is adequate.

Being a CXL, all-wheel-drive is standard. Dubbed "Versatrak" by GM, it uses front-wheel-drive until conditions merit using the rear wheels as well. It's all automatic and works rather invisibly. Powering the Rendezvous is GM's 3.4-liter pushrod V-6. It pu mps out 185 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque. It's hitched to a smooth-shifting 4-speed automatic transmission. But the Rendezvous weighs just over 4,000 pounds. That means the powertrain is adequate for most situations, but could use more oomph when climbing hills or passing on the highway. Couple this with all-wheel-drive and you'll understand the dismal fuel economy.

City driving returned 15.5 mpg, with highway driving reaching 19 mpg. The EPA rating seems like wishful thinking at 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway.

The interior was extremely quiet in the Buick tradition. The ride wasn't quite Buick-like. The four-wheel independent suspension pounded firmly over bumps, yet there was plenty of body lean and turbulence over bumps. It was especially pronounced in the rear seats. More work is needed here.

Braking was quite good. Four-wheel-discs with anti-lock are standard.

The front-drive CX starts at $25,499, while the all-wheel-drive CX starts at $27,452. Opting for the CXL nets not only all-wheel-drive, but adds a cassette player to the AM/FM/CD audio system as well as electronic dual climate control, leather seats and minor trim differences as well. But the test vehicle had a healthy $6,015 worth of options. Most of that was the CXL Luxury Package which added the luxury features that made this vehicle pleasant, including 6-way power driver and passenger seats with memory, auto-dimming rearview mirror, overhead console, leather seats, with footrests, heated seats, chrome wheels, touring tires, theft deterrent system, rear parking aid, universal garage door opener, OnStar, driver information center heads-up display, rear seat audio controls, cargo mat, luggage mat and premium stereo.

In addition, the captain's seats and third row seating added another $1,000 to the tab, with the sticker bottom-lining at $34,042.

While it doesn't excel at any one thing, it's versatile enough and stylish enough to bring younger buyers into the Buick fold. With a bit more power and better seats, it could be a lot better. Still, its price is more reasonable than Japanese competitors and that could be its biggest attraction.

BUICK RENDEZVOUS CXL AWD
Engine: 3.4-liter OHV V-6
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Tires:P215/70R16
Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
Length: 186.5 inches
Width: 73.6 inches
Weight: 4,024 pounds
Cargo volume: 18.1 cubic feet (third row up), 54.5 cubic feet (third row folded)
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds with towing package
Base price: $27,452
As tested: $34,042
EPA rating: 18 city, 24 highway
Test mileage: 19 mpg
Fuel type: Regular
Built in: Ramos Arizpe, Mexico