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2004 Buick Rainier Road Test

By Tom Strongman
Photos by Charles Ofria

Category: $35,000 - $40,000 Mid Sized SUV
Who should buy this car: A family looking for an SUV with a cloud-soft Buick personality
Comparable models in this class: Acura MDX, Infiniti FX35, Lexus RX 330, Mercedes-Benz ML350, Mercury Mountaineer, Volkswagen Touareg, Volvo XC90

With the addition of the Rainier, Buick now has two trucks in its lineup. The Rendezvous, which is a cross between a minivan and an SUV, and Rainier are key players in bringing younger buyers into Buick showrooms.

The Buick Rainier is based on GMs midsize SUV platform that also underpins the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy and the departing Oldsmobile Bravada. A new face, dominated by the round grille that is becoming a Buick signature, has been grafted to the front of the vehicle. Various creature comforts have been added, too.

There are two engines, a 4.2-liter, inline six-cylinder and a 5.3-liter V-8. Rainier prices start at $35,295 for a two-wheel-drive six-cylinder and $38,745 for an all-wheel-drive V-8. Freight adds $650. Standard equipment includes perforated leather seats, OnStar, locking rear differential, fog lamps and an electronic rear air suspension with load-leveling.

The test car was an all-wheel-drive V-8, and I think this is the model most buyers will prefer. The six-cylinder engine has 275 horsepower, which is adequate. The 5300 V-8, on the other hand, is more fitting for this vehicle. It has 290 horsepower, but considerably more torque. The added torque lets the vehicle move away from a stop with more energy and gives it a towing capacity of 6,700 pounds.

All Rainiers have four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock. Two-wheel-drive models have traction control.

To give the Rainier the soft ride and quiet interior that it needs to compete with many imported SUVs, General Motors tuned the suspension for comfort and packed in a more peaceful ride with the addition of sound absorption material throughout the vehicle and laminated glass in the windshield and front doors. The electronic rear air suspension is handy for towing, but I thought the ride was too soft. At highway speeds over rough pavement, the Rainier was not as composed as I would like, despite 17-inch wheels and Bilstein shock absorbers.

Befitting its upscale status, the Rainier is offered with standard all-wheel drive. This on-demand system is fully automatic and does not require input from the driver to select four-wheel drive. A standard locking rear differential enhances traction as well.

The Rainiers interior is well-equipped and comfortable. Comfortably shaped front seats are pleasant, and the interior color scheme is understated and subtle. Our silver test vehicle had a light-gray, monotone interior. Dark, burled walnut woodgrain trim surrounds the navigation/audio/climate control unit in the center of the instrument panel.

The gauges silver faces and light-green numbers have a watchlike quality that is most pleasant.

The navigation/audio system has a number of small buttons, and programming the nav unit can be frustrating. The audio systems sound quality was good.

The console has dual power plugs to accommodate various accessories.

Cargo space is expanded with a split-folding rear seat. An optional cargo system, made of skid-resistant thermal plastic, is available for the back. It has adjustable dividers and is designed to protect the interior from spills.

For folks who want to keep Fido away from the kids, Buick offers a pet divider net that hooks behind the rear seat.

The rear liftgate is rather heavy, but the glass opens separately for slipping small items into the back.

The Rainier is a new kind of Buick, one that is a considerable departure from the Roadmasters of the past. New, younger buyers are sure to find that appealing.

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Specifications 

  6-Cyl. V-8
Engine Type 4.2-liter, double overhead cam (DOHC) Inline 6 Vortec 5300 5.3L V8
Horsepower 275 @ 6,000 RPM 290 @ 5,200 RPM
Torque 275 @ 3,600 RPM 325 @ 4,000 RPM
Fuel Recommended Regular Unleaded.  
Transmission 4-Speed Automatic
Tires - Standard All-season steel belted radial P245/65R17 tires.
Overall Length 193.4"
Wheelbase 113"
Width 75.4"
Turning Diameter 36.4 ft Curb to Curb
Curb Weight 4,442 lbs.   (4,626 lbs. w. AWD)
Fuel Tank 22 Gallons
Miles Per Gallon 2WD
Miles Per Gallon AWD
EPA city 16, hwy 21
EPA city 15, hwy 21
EPA city 16, hwy 19
EPA city 15, hwy 18
Base Sticker Price $35,395 plus $685 Destination Charge

2004 Buick Rainier

Standard Equipment

  • 5 person total seating capacity
  • Leather upholstery
  • 8-way power driver and front passenger seats
  • Memory seat for 2 drivers
  • Front and rear ventilated disc brakes
  • 4-wheel ABS
  • Traction control
  • Automatic headlamps with auto delay off
  • Cornering lights
  • Dual zone climate control
  • AM/FM cassette in-dash single CD player with 6 speakers
  • OnStar service
  • Remote transmitter for garage door opener

Major Available Options

  • Vortec 5300 V-8 Engine
  • All-wheel drive
  • GPS navigation system
  • Rear Seat DVD Entertainment System
  • Power Glass Sunroof
  • Bose Premium Sound System
  • Side-Impact Airbags for Front Seats
  • XM Satellite Radio
  • Heated Front Seats
  • Adjustable Pedals
  • P255/60R17 All-Season Tires

For more information on the Rainier, visit Buick.com

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