- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The all-new Buick Rainier offers available all-wheel drive, an optional V-8 engine and creature comforts that are tailored to family driving.

Joining the Rendezvous crossover SUV as the new kids in the Buick brood, this midsize sport ute doesn’t promise edgy design, aggressive off-road technologies or a speedster powertrain. What it does offer is a good answer to a simple need for a straightforward, but not boring, midsize SUV.

Rainier is aimed squarely at a demographic slightly younger than the typical Buick buyer. Currently, the average age of the Rendezvous buyer is 51, with 41 percent female purchasers. With its newest SUV, Buick hopes to dig even deeper into the market, capturing soccer moms and dads who might otherwise opt for a Jeep Grand Cherokee or Lincoln Aviator.

Rainier has more curves and class than its angular, sometimes brash GM SUV cousins, such as TrailBlazer and Envoy, whose aesthetic, for many, is just short of macho. The grille is a classic Buick design, with narrow vertical teeth and prominent three-shield badging. Wide oval chrome-trimmed headlamps wrap slightly around the side panels, and the front bumper holds fog lamps.

Wheel wells are rounded and hold standard 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels. The side windows angle slightly toward the rear end, which has a liftgate that has a slight bubble shape.

Two powertrain choices are available. The standard engine is GM’s Vortec 4200 4.2-liter inline six-cylinder, with preliminary ratings of 275 horsepower and 275 foot-pounds of torque. The optional engine is an all-aluminum 5.3-liter V-8, GM’s Vortec 5300. This V-8 delivers 290 horsepower and 325 foot-pounds of torque, with most of the torque available throughout the low end of the range.

Both engines are matched to a four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission, with overdrive. Standard drive is rear-wheel; all-wheel-drive with a locking rear differential is available, and made for ease of use — no serious off-roading here.

Rainier is roomy and comfortable inside, outfitted in a perforated leather trim, with “soft-touch” accent materials in the door panels, and a soothing monochromatic color scheme (gray or ivory). Burl walnut trims the instrument panel, doors and center console, and the steering wheel is wrapped in leather.

The instrument panel and driver information center are easy to read, with a silver background color and green needles. Dual climate-control zones allow for up to 25 degrees difference between driver and passenger seat temperatures, and both front seats have standard memory feature. Heated seats are available.

The sound system is an upscale Bose CD player with AM/FM stereo. XM radio is also available, as is a DVD-based navigation system. Buick claims comfortable seating for five adults in its new SUV, and the seats can be folded down for extra cargo stowage (80.1 cubic feet in all with seats folded).

On the road, Rainier is built mostly for highway performance, and it rides well thanks to independent double A-arm front suspension and five-link solid axle with load-sensitive air suspension in the rear. Best-in-class body stiffness adds to the handling capabilities.

Buick claims Rainier’s ride is 25 percent quieter than that of most competitors, the result, in part, of Buick’s QuietTuning system, which has increased sound absorption in the engine compartment, all four doors and quarter panels. QuietTuning also includes an acoustic laminate in the windshield and front door glass and additional sealing at C- and D-pillars.

Pricing for the new Rainier starts at $35,295 for the inline-six with 2WD, and $38,745 for the V-8 with AWD. A solid choice for the price, this new model offers a balanced combination of power, smoothness and cargo space. It’s a great way for Buick to celebrate its 100th year in 2003.

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