The Rainier isnt really Buicks
first tall wagon, that honor goes to the Rendezvous, introduced a couple of years ago. The
Rendezvous, however, is built on GMs shared minivan chassis, while the Rainier is a
kissing cousin of Chevys Trailblazer and GMCs Envoy SUVs. It fulfills an
important role for Buick, bringing in younger, family buyers. It also takes over for the
Oldsmobile Bravada, which has now gone, along with its fellow Oldsmobile Rocket Division
members, to automotive heaven.
Buick is taking on the luxury end of the midsized SUV market. That
means it is aiming not at Ford or Dodge, but at Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. The way GM molds
an everyday Chevrolet into a plush Buick is through a comprehensive sound and vibration
isolation program, a dash or two of upscale design and materials, and something special.
That special something takes the form of GMs faithful
5.3-liter V8 engine, which Buick claims as an exclusive on GMs short-wheelbase SUV
roster. Available as a $1,500 option, the sturdy Vortec 5300 puts out 290 horsepower and a
robust 325 lb.-ft. of torque. That not only means plenty of onroad and offroad
performance, but a towing capacity of up to 6,700 pounds. The EPA rates the Rainier at 15
mpg city and 18 mpg highway, but my mostly freeway driving netted 15.2 mpg, according to
the cars handy Driver Information Center.
The standard engine is GMs Vortec 4200, an unusual (for GM)
inline six-cylinder engine with a respectable 275 horsepower and 275 lb.-ft. of torque. It
gets a slightly better EPA fuel rating, at 16 city, 21 highway.
My black test unit arrived with the V8 engine, ready to roll. It
hauled itself down the freeway with ease, but what was most amazing was the quietness with
which it did it. This is not by accident. Buicks QuietTuning program uses a bounty
of extra insulation in the doors and engine compartment, along with laminated windshield
and side glass. In addition, careful sealing of the window pillars along the side of the
car keeps wind noise down to a whisper.
The Rainier looks like an SUV should, with the tall wagon shape,
subdued wheelwell bulges, and nice big tires on 17-inch brushed aluminum wheels. Of course
these are "quiet tires", not too heavily treaded. The front of the car gets
Buicks famous oval grille with a vertical texture and the Buick logo floating in the
Inside, the changes are obvious but not that far removed from the
Trailblazer. The upper doors get nice big oval door handle assemblies to go with that oval
grille, and nicely crafted oval threshold plates greet you as you enter. The seats wear
perforated leather and the instrument panel is a classy silver metallic with pale green
needles in the gauges. The steering wheel wears a handsome stitched leather cover. Chrome
accents surround artificial walnut.
But some parts are GM basic, like the sticky plastic shift knob and
standard issue audio and heater controls. And that steering wheel looks pretty truckish
beneath its hide wrapper.
The Rainier is actually built on a body-on-frame truck platform, but
it displayed surprising poise and firm control. It was actually a pleasure to drive on
winding mountain roads as well as on pancake flat freeways. The platform is quite stiff,
and an independent front suspension and special rear air suspension keep the car isolated
but still level and controllable. Quality Bilstein shocks and Michelin tires do their part
If you go online to build your Rainier (www.buick.com), the first
choice you make, before you even pick one of eight colors, is between rear-wheel-drive and
all-wheel-drive. All-wheel-drive will set you back $850, but it is a nice on-demand system
that distributes traction automatically with no driver interaction. Isnt that the
posh Buick way?
The overall feeling with this car is that it is more than the sum of
its mostly shared parts. The difference in comfort over a weeks time adds up.
Unfortunately, so does the price, because the starting tab for the Rainier, which is
always well equipped, is $36,230. My tester, with its more powerful V8 engine and an $855
power sunroof, ended up at $40,315 once the destination charges were applied.
If you want to buy an American SUV, and you appreciate the extra
comfort and safety of a premium SUV, the Buick Rainier is ready to take you anywhere you
want to go.