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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
2004 Buick Rainier

Edmunds Preview of '04 Rainier

First Drive: 2004 Buick Rainier
Your Father's Oldsmobile Replacement
By Alex Law

The gentrification of the SUV continues apace, and the trend is hitting something of an attitudinal apogee, some might say it's approaching royal standing, as Buick's latest entry comes to market.

That would be the Rainier of the five-seat, V8-powered variety, not the Rainiers of the ruling-Monaco-from-a-castle-on-the-Riviera variety.

Connoisseurs of mountains will know that the Rainier name also applies to a noteworthy elevation exaggeration near Seattle, which used to be the tallest mountain in the U.S. until Alaska was given statehood and brought Denali (aka Mount McKinley) with it. In Buick's eyes, this all ties together quite nicely in an enlightening and evocative manner, helping SUV shoppers to understand that the Rainier will offer something unique and worthy of its premium-priced position.

The overall marketing posture would be ''rugged elegance,'' and a test session with a preproduction version of the 2004 Rainier suggests the old ''doctor's car'' division of General Motors is onto something.

Rainier's ability off-road is a given, since it shares the midsize SUV architecture that already carries the GMC Envoy, the Oldsmobile Bravada and the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, which won this continent's most prestigious award in 2001 when it was named North American Truck of the Year by a group of independent automotive journalists.

This is serious street cred, or, in this case, off-street cred. So if you're really inclined to expose your SUV's undercarriage to dirt and rocks and mud and other yucky stuff, go right ahead.

A much likelier scenario is that the only non-pavement time the Rainier will see is when it goes up the gravel drive to the clubhouse at the country club, and this is the sort of experience Buick has crafted the Rainier to excel at.

Buick has always been one of GM's upscale brands (it's most famously known as ''the doctor's car''), but with Cadillac going farther upscale into the fight for world luxury car domination (''Escalade rules, Dawg''), this leaves a lot more room for Buick to offer premium products to a discerning clientele.

Bob Lutz likes to say that Buick is going to become America's Lexus, and the marque's executives smile and nod indulgently at this description because he is GM vice-chairman and product Pooh-Bah. But there's no chance of seeing that as Buick's official tagline, so instead we will be asked to appreciate the value of QuietTuning as an engineering philosophy.

Anyone who's ever been exposed to the more recent Lexus models will immediately see (and not hear) the connection and understand the appropriateness of the term, since Toyota's luxury brand is rightly famous for building the quietest cars in the world. This is a very important attribute in a car with a premium price tag because North American consumers widely believe that a quiet car is critical if a vehicle carries a bigger sticker. Consumers also tend to equate quiet with quality, though this is not always the case. It is in Lexus, however, and GM hopes to make the same claim with Buick.

On the strength of our time in the Rainier, we think Lutz and company may have a shot at it.

As much as we appreciate Rainier's SUV siblings, it's difficult to envision them in the same league with the Buick in terms of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH), at all speeds and in all situations. Bridging this NVH gap involved considerable effort to reduce the noise at its source, and to block it out if that didn't work. So there is considerable use of sound-deadening material, including laminated glass on the windshield and the front side windows.

The overall sense of QuietTuning in the Rainier is that of a more refined and substantial car, and that's a good thing for a premium vehicle to convey. If Buick can replicate this with the next SUV it has coming (joining Rendezvous and Rainier) and the three sedans it wants to build, then it will clearly be onto something good.

It doesn't hurt Rainier that it's the only member of the midsize GM SUV family to get the Vortec 5.3-liter V8 in the short-wheelbase, five-seat configuration. With those other models, you have to go to the longer and heavier seven-seat versions to upgrade from the 4.2-liter inline six.

The 4.2-liter six puts out 275 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 275 pound-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm, and it must be pointed out that 90 percent of that torque is available at virtually all points on the tachometer. Anyone who knows this engine well is a big fan, and that would include us.

But the V8 delivers 290 hp at 5,200 rpm and 325 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, with most of that available across a wide rpm range, and that is simply more power at any given time, which is attractive to a lot of people, also including us.

Both engines are attached to the same transmission — a four-speed electronic automatic, which has been wired to deliver seamless power in the V8 as well as in the inline six.

You can't go wrong with either powertrain in the Rainier, but the V8 is particularly sweet. When it comes to style, Buick and GM have also done a solid job in elevating the Rainier to a level equal to its QuietTuning ride.

This is most obvious from the front end, where Buick's signature grille works very well with an overall package that will be distinct from GM's other SUVs, turning Rainier into possibly the best-looking truck-based SUV on the market.

Inside you'll find a rear seat that folds down to create 85 cubic feet of storage space. The front seats are heated and equipped with a memory feature, and dual-zone climate control is standard. GM's OnStar service and a DVD-based navigation system come standard as well. Options like a DVD video player and XM Satellite Radio can further heighten the Rainier's premium status. On the whole, there's a rich and expansive feel to Rainier's interior, which fits the tone the company is trying to strike.

This naturally leads to the question of pricing, for which Buick has so far not announced. We can expect it will be more expensive than any of the five-seat models from Chevy, Olds and GMC, however, since Rainier is a genuine premium product.

Thankfully, it isn't just badged as such, but actually feels that way.


763 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
You all know our looks are better but did you know our MO's V6 kills this V8! :cool:

First Look: 2004 Buick Rainier
By Jack Keebler
Motor Trend, August 2002
This September, Buick will finally get the truck it's always wanted.

Built on the same rugged, full-frame GMT360 SUV platform as the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy, the Buick Rainier will take the place of the fading Oldsmobile Bravada as General Motor's premium midsize sport/utility. That means a standard 275-hp Vortec 4200 inline-six, RWD or AWD drivetrains, and standard rear air suspension. For '04, an optional 5.3L/285-hp V-8 will be offered, the same one that does such fine duty in most Chevy and GMC full-size pickups. At present, the V-8 can be had only in long-wheelbase versions of the TrailBlazer and Envoy, so the Buick will be the only short-wheelbase member of this platform to get the V-8.

Up front, there's a tough-looking new Buick-style fascia, big-mouth grille, and quad-headlamps. Out back are new taillamps and a fresh rear hatch, while 17-in. eight-spoke alloys are standard. The inside also gets mildly Buick-ized in the form of a monochromatic treatment set off by chrome accents and dark-walnut woodgrain trim. Unfortunately, the new instrumentation has the same odd, exotic characters as those in the Rendezvous, but they're upsized for improved legibility.

Overall, the morph from Bravada to Rainier appears well executed, and our feet are itching to plant the pedal in what will be Buick's only V-8 powered model.

Price range $39,000 (est)
Vehicle layout Front engine, RWD or AWD, 4-door, 5-pass
Engine 4.2L/275-hp DOHC I-6, 4 valves/cyl (std), 5.3L/285-hp OHV V-8 (opt)
On sale in U.S. September 2003
0-60 mph 8.2 (est)

763 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Test Drive: 2004 Buick Rainier
Story and photos by Greg Wilson

Upscale Buick SUV has impressive six cylinder engine

In 2001, General Motors introduced three new mid-sized sport-utility vehicles: the Chevrolet Trailblazer, the slightly more upscale GMC Envoy, and the top-of-the-line Oldsmobile Bravada. Apart from their unique exterior and interior styling, these three sport utes were, and are the same vehicles with different levels of standard equipment.

At the end of the 2004 model year, the Oldsmobile Bravada will drive off into the sunset as part of the phase-out of the venerable Oldsmobile brand. Its replacement is already here: the 2004 Buick Rainier, a well-equipped, upscale SUV with a price-tag just under $50,000.

For that you get leather seats, driver/passenger temperature control and rear heater/stereo controls, wood trim, power front seats, windows, locks and heated mirrors; AM/FM/CD stereo, cruise control, power adjustable pedals, remote keyless entry, and 17 inch tires and alloy wheels.

Like the Bravada, the Rainier has a full-time "on-demand" four-wheel-drive system rather than the 2WD and AutoTrac 4WD systems offered in the Trailblazer and Envoy (Rainiers are available with 2WD in the U.S. but not in Canada).

The standard engine in the Rainier is the smooth-running and powerful 275 horsepower inline 4.2 litre DOHC 24 valve six cylinder engine that first appeared in 2001. This is a wonderful engine, and in my opinion, there's no need for a V8 in the Rainier. But if you want one, say to pull a really heavy trailer, a 5.3 litre all-aluminum OHV V8 is available as an option. The 5.3 litre V8 is also optional in the GMC Envoy XL, and in the extended length Trailblazer EXT and Envoy XUV, but it's not available in the regular Trailblazer.

From an appearance standpoint, there's no mistaking the Rainier. Its huge, oval chrome-trimmed grille makes it easy to identify, although its generic rear-end styling is less distinctive. I didn't like the exposed spare tire under the cargo floor. From a practical point of view, the Rainier is a well-designed vehicle. The step-up height into the cabin is not too high 457 mm (18 inches) and the four door openings are large. The rear hatch door is large and easy to open, and the cargo area is huge. The tall cabin is roomy and driver visibility is good. And the Rainier is not only comfortable, but very well equipped - as it should be for $49,245.


Aside from a rather "lumpy" dash design, the Rainier has an attractive, well-finished interior. My test vehicle's beige colour scheme, chrome door handles, and dark wood trim on the dash and doors looked very attractive. All the passengers sit upright in chair-like seats, and have plenty of headroom and legroom. The rear bench seat is just wide enough for three adults and has three 3-point seatbelts but only two height-adjustable head restraints.

The driver sits up high with a good view of the road ahead, and the Rainier's large side windows and big rear window make it easy to back up or change lanes. The driver's seat is power height adjustable, the pedals are adjustable, and the steering wheel tilts, so it's easy to find a comfortable driving position. The leather-upholstered front seats have seat warmers too: the seat cushion has three temperature settings and the seatback has one temperature choice. The Rainier's silver-coloured gauges with black numerals and green pointers have a classy appearance, and there are six gauges in all.

Ergonomically speaking, the steering wheel is well-positioned for reach, the controls are simple (with the exception of some navigation system functions), and the floor shift lever is located within easy reach. The handbrake seems out of place just to the right of the transmission lever - I would have expected a foot brake.

The optional DVD navigation system screen in the centre panel also serves to operate the radio, but it's not a touch-screen - the buttons beside the screen are used to operate functions displayed on the screen. I found this system a little confusing - for example, I had trouble operating the Tune function for the radio because it would sometimes select a function that I hadn't intended - I never figured out what I was doing wrong. And if you want to play a CD, you have to take out the DVD for the navigation system, which means that you can't listen to a CD and used the navigation system at the same time.

To operate the navigation system, the driver must alternately use buttons and a small joystick for scrolling. A display tells you which exits to take, the mileage to go before exit, and the route you're on. And a female voice will instruct you where to turn so that you don't have to take your eyes off the road.

Separate driver/passenger temperature settings for the automatic climate control system have only one temperature display reading. However, the display will adjust to whichever dial you turn. Rear passengers in the Rainier can adjust the heater and the radio using controls at the back of the centre console. And rear occupants also have a rear 12 volt powerpoint and two cupholders.

The 70/30 split folding seatbacks are unique. First the seat cushions fold up against the back of the front seats; then the seatbacks fold down flat, and as they do so, the head restraint flips back out of the way - it's not necessary to remove the rear head restraints.

The Rainier's roomy cargo area is accessible by a lift-up hatch door which includes a separately opening rear window with a rear wiper and electric defogger. I liked the easy-to-grip pull handle on the rear hatch, and the protective rubber step on the rear bumper.

The load height for the cargo compartment is a manageable 787 mm (31 inches). The rear opening is four feet (1219 mm) wide, but two protruding door stops reduce the width at the point to 1168 mm (46 inches). With the rear seats up, the length of the cargo area 965 mm (38 inches), and with the rear seats folded down, the cargo floor length is 1753 mm (69 inches). However, the folded rear head restraints which sit up against the front seatbacks, reduce the load length by a few inches (see photo).

A sliding privacy cover, carpeted floor and mat, five cargo hooks for securing cargo, and a shallow storage bin underneath the cargo floor are also included.

Driving Impressions

Driving around town or on the highway, the Rainier is an easy vehicle to drive and the cabin is quiet with minimal wind noise, despite the Rainier's extensive frontal area and tall cabin. The 4.2 litre straight six with twin overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and variable exhaust valve timing puts out a healthy 275 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and a respectable 275 lb-ft of torque at @ 3600 rpm. Though it's a heavy vehicle, the Rainier can zip from 0 to 100 km/h in under 9 seconds. Whether it's from a standing start or when passing on the highway, the Rainier is a surprising performer. As I said, you don't really need the V8 engine.

At freeway speeds, the inline six engine revs very low and is barely audible. At 100 km/h in fourth gear, for example, it does just 1,900 rpm. The standard heavy-duty four-speed automatic transmission is also very smooth.

Fuel consumption is respectable for a mid-size SUV: 15.5 l/100 km (18 mpg) city/10.5 l/100 km (27 mpg) highway.

As a tall, heavy vehicle with a body-on-frame design and a solid rear axle, the Rainier's handling is competent but it shows some lean in the corners and it feels heavy. With its fairly wide stance however, the Rainier is resistant to cross-winds, and tracks well on the freeway. Its standard Michelin Cross Terrain P255/60R-17 inch all-season tires mounted on alloy wheels offer plenty of grip, the ride is very pleasant, and the body feels tight.

The Rainier's on-demand all-wheel-drive system operates in rear-wheel-drive until the system senses some wheel slippage, and then sends some power to the front wheels. This system is virtually undetectable in dry conditions, but improves traction and stability automatically in wet or icy conditions. The driver does not have to engage the AWD system.

A standard rear air spring suspension which automatically keeps the vehicle level provides extra stability and is a useful feature when towing. Equipped with the 4.2 litre I6, the Rainier can tow up to 2767 kg (6100 lb.). With the optional 290 horsepower 5.3 litre V8 engine, the towing capacity increases to 2948 kg (6500 lb.).

The Rainier's power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering has a light feel at slow speeds, and the turning circle of just 11.1 metres (36.4 feet) is very tight. Rainiers come with standard four wheel disc brakes and 4-wheel ABS - good brakes are a good idea on a big vehicle like this.

Overall, I liked the Rainier's quick acceleration, smooth engine, comfortable ride, maneuverability, responsive braking, and quiet cabin, but I thought it felt big and heavy in the corners. Still, it is a mid-sized SUV.


Though the Rainier has a six cylinder engine, its performance is comparable with other competitor's V8 engines, so buyer's should not discount the standard Rainier because it has a six. Other major differences: the Rainier has seating for five while the Explorer and Pilot have seven passenger seating. The Explorer, 4Runner, MDX, and Pilot offer five-speed automatic transmissions rather than a four-speed automatic transmission. And the Rainier's import competitors offer a 5 or 6 year powertrain warranty while the Rainier does not.


As mid-size luxury SUVs go, the Buick Rainier is a powerful, comfortable, well-equipped SUV with the advantage of relatively fuel-efficient inline six cylinder engine. But competition is tough in this segment, and there are many attractive alternatives.

763 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
2004 Buick Rainier
Badge engineering is alive — and well.
by TCC Team (2004-01-12)

Badge engineering is alive and well. It was just a few years ago that the automakers, especially General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, all were talking about really doing away with the practice, which basically amounts to slapping a different badge and grille on a vehicle already sold by one of the company's divisions. Mercury was supposed to get unique cars. Chrysler euthanized Plymouth in part because it had no unique vehicles to sell. And GM whacked Oldsmobile so it could focus its product development resources on giving every division unique vehicles. Great plan, eh?

Forget it. Enter the Buick Rainier. This sport-ute isn't too much more than a Chevy TrailBlazer or GMC Envoy with Buick's signature falling-water grille. I'm sure that Buick styling is indispensable for the division's die-hards, however many there are. But in reality, the Rainier exists because, with the death of Oldsmobile and its Bravada SUV, GM needed to maximize production at its mid-size SUV plants and do so without forcing more inventory on Chevy and GMC dealers. GM workers are now turning out Rainiers instead of Bravadas. Also, Buick dealers need something more to sell.

GM is reviving its moribund brands in sequence. Cadillac was first, now Pontiac is up. Buick is next and, if it survives, Saturn will get new product later in the decade. So consider the Rainier one of the stop-gap measures to help Buick dealers prop up sales until GM can give the division some real funding.

Reasoned approach

That's not to say that there isn't any reason to buy the Rainier. GM did its best to differentiate the vehicle from its existing mid-size SUVs. There's an optional V-8, instead of the standard in-line six-cylinder engine that powers the Envoy and TrailBlazer. The interior has been spruced up. And on the outside, there are some subtle styling changes, besides that grille, that make it a bit different. And some added sound deadening makes the Rainier the quiet, big boulevard cruiser one would expect from Buick.

One big reason to buy the Rainier is to get the optional V-8 engine. GM's in-line six is a marvelous engine. Its 270 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque beat the Ford Explorer's V-8, which kicks 240 hp, and the GM motor gets better fuel economy. But the 5.3-liter Vortec in my test model gets 290 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque. That's better for towing and low-end acceleration. The Rainier can tow up to 6700 pounds with the V-8, and 6100 pounds with the in-line six.

Give GM its due when it comes to powertrain, though. The company's engineers know how to deliver smooth acceleration. The Vortec V-8 is married up to a Hydra-Matic 4L60-E four-speed transmission. It shifts smoothly and seamlessly between gears. You can get the Rainier with either full-time all-wheel drive or standard two-wheel drive.

The Rainier's undercarriage has some hardware to make the ride pretty smooth, too. But it doesn't have anything the lower-priced Envoy doesn't offer. Both SUVs have an independent front suspension and a five-link air suspension in the rear. It's not quite as smooth-riding as an independent rear suspension, but GM's mid-size utes pretty comfy rough roads even without it. I drove the Rainier on some of Detroit's pockmarked highways, which is most of them, and it floated over the potholes, seams, and bumps like a big ole Buick should.

Upscale touches

Inside, the Rainier is a baby step in GM's efforts to spruce up its cabins. The dashboard is certainly an upgrade from the TrailBlazer, but the switches, knobs, and buttons are very familiar. The gauges are better. GM put in silver gauges with green needles that look pretty nice. It's not quite a Lexus, but it's clearly the most luxurious of GM's mid-size utilities. The addition of dark, burled walnut woodgrain gives the Rainier at least a faux luxury look. But you can't get a longer Rainier with the optional third row of seats like you can with the TrailBlazer. You need to buy the minivan-based Rendezvous to get a seven-passenger Buick SUV.

One bonus: GM put additional sound deadening in the Rainier. There is additional sealing for sound in the engine compartment, all four doors, the windshield, front window glass and near the rear windows. It all adds up to a pretty quiet ride. GM boasts sound levels that are 25 percent lower than the average competing SUV. I found wind and engine noise to be minimal.

Is this a nice SUV? Sure. But it's not all that much better than a TrailBlazer or Envoy. Buick wants $35,945 for the two-wheel-drive in-line six model and $39,395 for the V-8 base model. A well-equipped two-wheel drive TrailBlazer with the six starts at $33,245. If you must have the V-8, or just like the quieter ride, the Rainier is fine. Otherwise, a nicely equipped TrailBlazer will give you just as much SUV, but for a few thousand bucks less.

2004 Buick Rainier
Base price: $35,945 (in-line six); $39,395 (V-8)
Engine: 4.2-liter in-line six, 270 hp; 5.3-liter V-8, 290 hp
Transmission: Four-speed automatic, rear- or all-wheel-drive
Length x width x height: 193.4 x 75.4 x 71.9 in
Wheelbase: 113 in
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 16/21 (2WD six), 15/21 (AWD six); 15/19 (2WD V-8), 14/18 (AWD V-8)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, available side airbags for front seat, auto-dim rear mirror, anti-lock brakes, optional all-wheel drive
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles
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