- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Don’t pass by Buick when looking for a commanding, fun-to-drive sport utility vehicle. The 2004 Rainier is worth looking over.

The Rainier is Buick’s first truck-based SUV and is based on General Motors’ full-frame utility-vehicle architecture. With the introduction of the Rainier, Buick continues its push to be perceived as a desirable, modern brand.

The styling of the Buick shows a familial link to GM’s other popular sport utilities. Viewing the Rainier’s exterior profile and the rear, I saw traces of the Chevy TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy. It was from the front end however, that I saw a distinctive look that marked this SUV as a Buick.

The grille is expressive, with vertical chrome bars and a large Buick badge floating in the center of the grille. The headlamps sparkle with clear crystal lenses and chrome accents. The Rainier has a substantial rugged stance with a sculpted lower body that portends broad shoulders, and wide, flared wheel wells that house 17-inch wheels.

I immediately noticed the sophisticated design of the instrumentation cluster as I sat behind the wheel. It was bright with a pleasing combination of beige, chrome and blue-green needle accents, which translated into easy-to-read gauges. The interior is offered in either an elegant pewter or light cashmere monochromatic design. In the test vehicle, the cashmere setting provided luxury expected of a vehicle costing $38,295. The leather seating, burled walnut wood grain, dual climate controls, Bose audio system with XM Satellite radio and privacy glass were all included in the base price.

Optional features that brought the price to $42,995 included the Vortec V-8, a DVD rear entertainment system, side-impact air bags, chrome assist steps and heated front seats.

The Rainier comes standard equipped with a 4.2-liter, inline six-cylinder engine that provides a healthy amount of torque. Buick engineers say 90 percent of the peak torque is available from 1,600 to 5,600 rpm. Its torque rating is 275 foot-pounds and the horsepower is 275.

GM’s Vortec V-8 engine is offered as an option on the Rainier. The test vehicle had this $1,500 optional powerplant. I’m glad I had the extra power to move this all-wheel-drive SUV in highway passing situations.

The 5.3-liter V-8 engine delivers 290 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 325 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm. While the power is available in these numbers, I didn’t think that the four-speed automatic sufficiently supported this heavy vehicle, which weighs in at more than 4,600 pounds.

I would like to have seen this powerplant supported by a smooth-shifting five-speed automatic transmission. The V-8 uses the same four-speed automatic that is used is GM light trucks and performance sedans.

The Rainier is great to take into the city because it turns corners so easily. Its curb-to-curb turning radius of 36 feet is like that of a sedan.

As I drove around town and turned down city blocks or parked into tight spaces, I didn’t have to struggle with cutting the steering wheel.

The tow rating of the Rainier V-8 is 6,500 pounds, and 5,600 pounds with the six-cylinder. Buick recommends regular unleaded gasoline for the 22-gallon tank. The fuel economy on my V-8 test Buick was 15 miles per gallon in the city and 18 mpg highway.

No longer a milquetoast, Buick is now a premium SUV builder — right alongside GMC — giving buyers more reasons to look at this GM brand for its contemporary appeal.

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