2004 Buick Rainier
This 2004 review is representative of model years 2004 to 2007.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Looking for a sport-utility vehicle? Starting in autumn 2003, you can add Buick to the list of automotive brands offering one.
Yes, the 100-year-old brand known over the decades for doctor's cars, sporty Gran Sports and lately, sedans for the elderly has added a truck-based SUV to its lineup. Officials say they're meeting buyers' needs, and with so many Americans turning to SUVs instead of cars these days, well, it was just a matter of time before Buick would get one, too.
I wouldn't exactly call the 2004 Buick Rainier brand new. The Rainier is a more sound-insulated and cushioned-ride version of the midsize SUV that parent company General Motors Corp. has been selling since the 2002 model year as the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada.
Indeed, the Rainier shares the same, rugged, truck-based platform, powerplants and basic dimensions of the off-road-oriented and towing-capable TrailBlazer and Envoy models.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, at introduction was just under $36,000. This was for a two-wheel-drive model and compared with less than $28,000 for a base, two-wheel-drive TrailBlazer and just under $30,000 for a base, two-wheel-drive 2004 Envoy.
An all-wheel-drive Rainier with V8 can easily run into the $40,000s.
Luckily, the Rainier's outer appearance is distinctive enough that it's not immediately recognized as a TrailBlazer or Envoy sibling.
At least one item on the 2004 Rainier—seats that are finished in standard perforated leather—wasn't available on the other 2004 GM SUVs. For $1,500 extra, the five-passenger, '04 Rainier can be powered by a 290-horsepower 5.3-liter V8.
This engine is available on the 2004 TrailBlazer and Envoy only in their longer-wheelbase, seven-passenger models.
You can also look at the Rainier pricing another way: Its starting price was $650 less than the top-of-the-line, 2004 Envoy SLT five-passenger model at the start of the model year and some $4,000 less than a base, two-wheel-drive Lincoln Aviator.
I didn't hear anything from the cars and trucks around me in traffic. I didn't notice wind noise at highway speeds nor much tire noise from the standard, 17-inch Michelins.
The V8's strong power sound did come through readily, however, on sudden acceleration. Frankly, it was quite pleasing and confidence-inspiring.
I didn't readily notice shift points in the Rainier's fine, four-speed automatic transmission, and power came on strongly and steadily. It was enough to push riders' backs into the seats, if I stomped on the gas pedal while the Rainier was at a standstill.
Buick officials said they sought to give passengers a "refined" ride and worked to eliminate unpleasant noise by adding sound insulation here and there to the basic SUV structure used by the TrailBlazer, Envoy and Bravada.
In fact, the Rainier windshield and front door windows are fitted with laminate in the glass in order to reduce noise intrusion. This is something not found in the sister GM SUVs.
Smooth, unfettered ride
I didn't feel jolts or jarring sensations during the test drive. Over bumps, the Rainier seemed to soak up disturbances and keep riders above it all without sharing much vibration.
There was no truck-like bounciness in the test SUV. On many roads, in fact, it wasn't unusual for passengers to feel unfettered and sort of like they were riding in a regular Buick car—except, of course, they sat up higher off the road. Ground clearance under the Rainier is an SUV-like 8 inches and there is just a bit of a climb up to get inside.
There's an independent, double-A arm configuration in the Rainier front suspension and a five-link, solid axle setup in back. The rear also is managed electronically by the air suspension.
The only weird thing came from what appeared to be air being released from the air suspension when I stopped by the side of the road and got out to check on items in the cargo area.
There, by the roadside, I heard a loud noise emanating from the rear suspension, sort of like someone releasing bodily gas. Thank goodness no kids were riding with me. I can only imagine the laughter that would have ensued.
Where are the latest safety items?
For example, the Rainier, along with its GM midsize SUV siblings, aren't available with side-curtain airbags, which offer head protection for multiple rows of passengers during a rollover and are becoming a common safety feature on many other SUVs.
The Rainier comes standard with frontal airbags and offers optional side airbags for the driver and front-seat passenger.
The Rainier also isn't fitted with a standard or optional stability control system, which can help a driver avoid a rollover crash by sensing beforehand when a loss of control is eminent.
Additionally, the Rainier isn't available with a park reverse assistance system, which can help guide a driver when backing up the vehicle.
While auto industry officials refuse to refer to park assistance as a safety item, it can help prevent backover incidents where children or small-stature adults are run over by higher-riding vehicles like SUVs, according to park assistance advocates.
The Rainier also isn't fitted with a tire pressure monitor system that could alert a driver when a tire is getting flat.
Odds and ends
Indeed, a company official noted Buick hasn't had such towing capability since the old Buick Roadmasters were deleted from the product lineup years ago.
The Rainier attempts to provide a luxury, upscale feel. I was disappointed to see a dashboard that has too much of a cheap, plastic look to it and instrument gauges, similar to those in the Rendezvous, that seem out of place because of their cold, machined, gray appearance. Gosh, the Rainier's interior makes the Aviator's use of brushed-silver and soft leather in the passenger compartment look absolutely ritzy.
The Rainier's ceiling material is old-style, fuzzy-looking stuff, not the modern, nicely textured material that's found on even less-expensive vehicles these days.
The advertised "burled walnut woodgrain" here and there is faux, not real, and it doesn't extend to one place you'd expect to find it—the steering wheel. A Buick official said that upgrade is likely to come for the 2005 model year.
Back-seat riders must watch as they exit the Rainier, because the rear door opening is right on top of the back wheelwells.
Note that if you option up for the Rainier's navigation system, you can't play CDs in this SUV while the nav system is in operation. The reason? The CD player in the dashboard is needed for the nav DVD.
Indeed, with the nav option, even if you don't use the navigation system, you can only load one CD into the sound system. There's no capability for a six-CD system in this setup. A Buick official said this, too, is likely to be fixed in a later model year.