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2004 Buick Rainier

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San Francisco: If you’re looking for a really comfortable midsize sport utility vehicle, you can now buy one at your local Buick dealership. Yes, Buick, provider of softly sprung full sized and midsized sedans, has a new team member.

The Rainier isn’t really Buick’s first tall wagon, that honor goes to the Rendezvous, introduced a couple of years ago. The Rendezvous, however, is built on GM’s shared minivan chassis, while the Rainier is a kissing cousin of Chevy’s Trailblazer and GMC’s 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 GM’s faithful 5.3-liter V8 engine, which Buick claims as an exclusive on GM’s 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 car’s handy Driver Information Center.

The standard engine is GM’s 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. Buick’s 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 Buick’s famous oval grille with a vertical texture and the Buick logo floating in the center.

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 too.

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. Isn’t 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 week’s 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. By Steve Schaefer AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name:  Buick has a new team member
Topic:  The 2004 Buick Rainier
Word Count:   837
Photo Caption:  The 2004 Buick Rainier
Photo Credits: Buick Internet Media
Series #:   2004 - 24

Download the Microsoft Word version here:   2004 Buick Rainier

Download the original image file here:  2004 Buick Rainier 39k

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