Base Price (MSRP) - $35,945
As Tested (MSRP) - $42,070
Remember the old advertising jingle: Wouldn't you really rather drive a Buick? Many people would. But until the introduction of the 2004 Rainier, GM's near-luxury brand had nothing to offer buyers who seek a mid-size sport-utility vehicle. The Buick Rainier seats five and boasts an engine powerful enough to pull a boat or horse trailer.
The Rainier shares its underpinnings with several other mid-size GM SUVs, but it alone offers a V8 engine in the standard-length wheelbase configuration. The others offer the same V8, but only in their extended vehicles that come with three rows of seats, namely the GMC Yukon XL and Chevy TrailBlazer EXT.
But that V8 engine is just one of several perks that come with the Rainier. It's among the quietest SUVs we've driven. And it rides more smoothly than the other GM models.
With a price range from the mid-30s to the low 40s, the Rainier is an appealing prospect for those who appreciate strong silent types. This is an SUV that can more than pull its own, and a loaded horse trailer to boot.
The Buick Rainier is packed with luxury features. Technically, it comes in only one trim level, the CXL ($35,945), though there is a CXL Plus ($36,995) that comes with a Bose premium audio system, six-CD changer and XM satellite radio.
Rear-wheel drive (2WD) is standard. Four-wheel drive, GM's SmarTrak system, is optional for the the CXL ($36,995) and CXL Plus ($38,945).
Standard on all Rainiers are leather seating surfaces, with eight-way power for the front seats and memory controls on the driver's side, automatic and dual-zone climate controls, with temperature and audio controls on the tilting steering wheel, cruise control, power windows and remote keyless locks. Also a driver-information center that monitors 13 on-board systems, a center console with front and rear cupholders, an overhead console with digital recorder, electrochromic rearview mirror with compass, HomeLink garage-door transmitter and one year of OnStar Safe & Sound service. All Rainiers also come with a Bose CD player and rear-seat audio controls, a cargo storage well and bins, fog lamps, intermittent wipers, and power heated outside mirrors with built-in turn signal indicators.
Standard mechanical equipment includes a four-speed automatic transmission, rack-and-pinion steering, electronically controlled air suspension with automatic load-leveling, locking rear differential, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and dual-stage driver and front passenger airbags. Traction control is standard on 2WD models.
The standard engine is GM's highly regarded Vortec 4200, an inline six-cylinder that provides an impressive 275 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque. Optional is the Vortec 5300 V8 ($1,500) with 290 horsepower and 325 pounds-feet of torque.
Options include a Sun & Satellite package that includes a DVD-based navigation system, power moonroof, XM Radio and audio upgrades. The option package is priced at $3,615 on the CXL and at $2,550 on the CXL Plus, which already is equipped with the Bose system and XM radio. Other options include the power moonroof ($885), a DVD-based entertainment system ($1,435), power adjustable pedals ($150), heated front seats ($275), front-seat side airbags ($350), chrome side steps ($450), luggage rack ($45), cargo storage system ($150) and a smoker package ($30).
However, the option list does not include full-length curtain airbags or vehicle stability control.
Buick Rainier takes its name from the snow-covered mountain southwest of Seattle and from the royal family of Monaco. One of the vehicle's chief designers says Mount Rainier "reflects majesty with ruggedness and independence" while the late Grace Kelly and her husband's family symbolize "quality, sophistication and elegance."
Rainier is based on the GM360 platform, a mid-size, truck-based SUV also marketed as the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy, the outgoing Oldsmobile Bravada, and the Isuzu Ascender, a badge-engineered GM model. It's a solid platform featuring a frame that uses hydroformed steel for incredible strength and rigidity. This gives the Rainier a tow rating of up to 6,300 pounds.
Rainier features unique styling cues, including a distinct grille, hood, front quarter panels and rear hatch door. Its large, oval-shaped grille helps soften the boxy SUV architecture. The upper section of the chrome grilles provides a bold background for the Buick name, with a large Buick tri-shield badge set in the midst of the grille's vertical bars. The Rainier's face also includes wide, three-element headlamps with separate fog lights and side marker lights in the lower front fascia.
The creased hood lends an elegant strength to the Rainier's appearance. Its stance is enhanced by Buick-exclusive, eight-spoke, cast-aluminum wheels that wear special Michelin tires designed to provide a quiet ride. Just as the front grille alerts you to the fact that this SUV is a Buick, the rear view includes a prominent chrome eyebrow bearing the Buick name as part of the license plate holder.
The rear liftgate features a separate glass hatch to offer quick access to the cargo area. Lifting the rear hatch requires some initial effort.
Rainier gets some unique interior features, but we wish Buick had taken it a step farther. The instrument panel features platinum-colored gauges with turquoise-colored pointer needles that almost appear to light up against the metallic background. Not only are they very attractive, but we found them easy to read, even through polarized sunglasses, which is certainly not the case with the electroluminescent gauge clusters on many other so-called luxury vehicles.
Neither the interior design nor the materials look or feel luxurious, however. Faux wood trim attempts to add a luxurious ambiance to the interior, but wood-grain plastic lacks elegance. Chrome interior door handles add some flash. A Buick marketing official promises there will be real wood trim and other interior upgrades by the time the 2005 Rainier rolls into dealerships.
The leather seats feature perforated leather in the center back and lower cushion areas, but it almost looks more like vinyl than leather. Also, the seats could use more side support. However, we do like the feature that incorporates the shoulder belt into the seat back rather than having it mounted way up on the vehicle's B pillar.
We also liked the large dot matrix on the windshield that helps block the glare of direct sunlight above the rear view mirror and between the sun visors. We were disappointed, however, that the Rainier had only single sun visors on either side instead of dual visors so you can block the sun both ahead and along the top of the front door windows.
While the GMC Envoy has very attractive and metallic colored heating and cooling ducts, those in the up market Rainier are plainer in their appearance. Nor were the cupholders the jumbo-sized ones found in competitive vehicles. On the other hand, there are two power outlets up front, so both driver and passenger can recharge cell phones.
The rear seats, the second row, offer decent legroom but not quite to luxurious proportions.
There's plenty of cargo room behind the back seats. An optional cargo organizer is available and appears an excellent way to keep your stuff from sliding around.
The optional navigation system features an amazingly clear screen that seems almost immune to sunlight glare, which often renders them invisible. The screen seems smaller than in competitive vehicles, however, and the system's control buttons were very small, with symbols we had to decipher instead of easy-to-understand word labels. The main control button, the one you use while inputting a destination, seemed overly sensitive, to the point that we often depressed it while simply trying to add a letter to a location, forcing us to go back and start the sequence all over again. Also, with the nav system, you have a choice of using the system or playing an audio CD (a situation Buick says will be remedied on the 2005 model).
Whether you share our opinion of the Rainier's interior features, there's no debate about how quiet it is in there. This very likely is the quietest body-on-frame SUV we've ever driven. In fact, it may be among the quietest vehicles of any construction that we've ever driven.
Buick says the Rainier comes with perks, or PRQS, which stands for power, ride, quiet and style. In the Rainier, the emphasis on quiet includes double-pane and laminated glass for the windshield and front doors as well as the liberal use of an acoustical foam sound-deadening material in all the usual internal body cavities, such as those in doors and pillars. The Michelin tires were designed to provide an especially quiet ride.
Buick used the Lexus LX 470 as the benchmark for the Rainier, but we think the Rainier will be the new industry benchmark when it comes to a quiet cabin.
The standard Vortec 4200 six-cylinder that comes standard on the Rainier is a wonderful engine. It's an inline-6, a design with inherent balance and an impressively wide power band. This 4.2-liter engine delivers plenty of power, as we've seen in the GMC Envoy and Chevy TrailBlazer.
The optional V8, however, delivers much better acceleration performance. The Vortec 5300 V8 delivers 290 horsepower and 325 pounds-feet of torque, that force that you need to pull around a trailer. We found the V8 to be extremely quiet in the Rainier.
Buick worked hard to ensure a smooth ride quality. The Rainier is equipped with a double-A arm independent front suspension, Bilstein shocks, and an electronically controlled rear air suspension with automatic leveling technology. Basically, this is the optional suspension for the GMC and Chevy models. Combined with the quiet Michelin tires and extra sound dampening equipment, the Rainier provides a smooth, comfortable and quiet ride. But it isn't a cushy ride. We found that the Rainier was sure-footed even when being hustled along narrow, winding hill country byways.
The rack-and-pinion steering was nicely weighted. The big disc brakes responded immediately to inputs to the pedal and slowed the Rainier in a nicely composed and orderly fashion.
For many generations, buying a Buick has been a way of saying you've arrived at a certain station in life, an elevated socio-economic plateau. The old Chevy served you well, and while you might still aspire someday to own a Cadillac, you've at least reached the place where you can enjoy some of the finer things, things such as the quiet comfort of a Buick.
For one generation, the Buick was the Roadmaster, a car with an image that actually lived up to its name. For another generation, it was the Riviera, a boat-tailed coupe that was part car, part sculpture. Even Regal and Reatta buyers were letting their neighbors and co-workers know that they had stepped up and out of the ordinary.
When it was introduced in 2002, the Rendezvous brought a new buyer to Buick dealerships. Two-thirds of Rendezvous buyers are new to the Buick badge, and one-third of Rendezvous buyers are making their first purchase of any General Motors brand. Rendezvous buyers also are much younger than the traditional Buick customer.
And now comes Rainier, a truck-based Buick SUV for those who have active lifestyles, perhaps a boat or horse trailer to tow, but who want the perks that only come from Buick.
|Model Line Overview|
|Base Price (MSRP)||$35,945|
|As Tested (MSRP)||$42,070|
|Model lineup:||CXL ($35,945); CXL Plus ($36,995)|
|Engines:||5.3-liter sohc V8|
|Safety equipment (Standard):||dual front airbags, antilock brakes, traction control (with 2WD)|
|Safety equipment (Optional):||driver and front-seat side air bags|
|Basic warranty:||3 years/60,000 kilometers|
|Assembled in:||Moraine, Ohio|
|Specifications As Tested|
|Model tested (MSRP):||Buick Rainier CXL Plus 4x4 ($38,295)|
|Standard equipment:||automatic dual-zone climate controls, auxiliary power outlets, cargo storage well and bins, center console with front and rear cupholders, overhead console with travel note digital recorder, cruise control, driver information center, electrochromic rearview mirror with compass, HomeLink universal transmitter, illuminated visor mirrors, leather seating surfaces, driver-seat memory, OnStar with one-year Safe & Sound Plan, PASS-Key III theft-deterrent system with alarm, power windows and programmable power locks, eight-position power driver and front passenger seats with power lumbar, 60/40 split-folding rear seat, rear-seat audio controls, leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel with controls for audio and HVAC, daytime running lamps, fog lamps, intermittent wipers, luggage rack side rails, power heated outside mirrors with turn signals, rear liftgate with independent liftglass, remote keyless entry, solar-ray tinted windows, heavy duty battery, premium smooth ride air suspension, seven-lead trailer wire harness, AM/FM/CD, locking rear differential|
|Options as tested:||Vortec 5300 V8 ($1,500), rear-seat DVD entertainment system ($1,435), front seat side airbags ($350), heated front seats ($275), cargo management system ($165), adjustable pedals ($150)|
|Gas Guzzler Tax:||N/A|
|Engine (Optional):||275-hp, 4.2-liter dohc 24-valve inline-6; 290-hp 5.3-liter sohc 16-valve V8|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):||290 @ 5200|
|Torque(lb.-ft. @ rpm):||325 @ 4000|
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:||14/18 mpg|
|Transmission (Optional):||4-speed automatic|
|Track, f/r:||63.1/62.1 in.|
|Turning circle:||36.4 ft.|
|Head/hip/leg room, f:||40.2/55.5/44.6 in.|
|Head/hip/leg room, r:||39.6/58.1/37.1 in.|
|Cargo volume:||80.1 cu. ft.|
|Suspension R:||independent w air suspension|
|Ground Clearance:||8 in.|
|Curb weight:||4628 Lbs.|
|Fuel capacity:||22 gal.|
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
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