What's New for 2006
Stability control is now standard, and a locking rear differential is newly optional.
Introduced in 2004, the Buick Rainier is a luxury-oriented midsize SUV. It's built on GM's body-on-frame midsize SUV platform also used for the TrailBlazer and Envoy. To help distinguish it from its GM siblings, the Rainier has an elliptical Buick grille and unique headlights and taillights.
More importantly, the Rainier benefits from an initiative called "QuietTuning," whereby additional sound-deadening material has been applied in various trouble spots (engine compartment, doors, quarter panels). Further, the windshield and front side windows are coated in acoustic laminate, while the C- and D-pillars have reinforced seals. Aside from this upgrade and some extra wood trim in the cabin, the Buick Rainier looks, feels and drives like any TrailBlazer or Envoy. Interior materials and fit and finish are subpar compared to that of other premium-brand SUVs, while accommodations for the Rainier's five passengers offer mediocre levels of comfort and space.
Out on the road, this Buick SUV is as quiet as they come but lacks the handling composure expected of a luxury vehicle. Ride quality at least is smooth, and power is more than adequate with either engine choice. Problem is, building a good luxury SUV isn't just about making it quiet and smooth-riding. It should also handle with confidence out on the road. If you're mainly interested in a GM midsize SUV, choosing the Rainier for its extra refinement could make sense. But compared with SUVs like the 4Runner or Touareg, the 2006 Buick Rainier is simply outclassed.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The five-passenger Buick Rainier comes well equipped in one trim, CXL. Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, leather upholstery, wood accents in the cabin, power seats, memory for the seats and mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, a CD player and OnStar telematics. Various options include adjustable pedals, seat heaters, a DVD-based navigation system, a rear DVD entertainment system and a sunroof.
Powertrains and Performance
Two engines are available in the Buick Rainier. The standard power plant is GM's 4.2-liter inline six that makes 291 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. For added towing power, an optional 5.3-liter V8 offers 300 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque. Both engines use the same transmission, a four-speed electronically controlled automatic that delivers seamless, well-timed shifts in almost all situations. Both two-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions are available. Equipped with the V8, the Rainier can tow up to 6,700 pounds.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes and stability control are standard. Full-length head curtain airbags are optional, but seat-mounted side airbags (for front occupants) are not available. The Buick Rainier earned five stars for both front- and rear-passenger side-impact protection when equipped with the optional airbags. Frontal impacts resulted in a three-star rating for the driver and four stars for the front passenger. The IIHS rated the Rainier's mechanical twin, the Chevy TrailBlazer, as "Marginal" (the second lowest score on a four-point scale) after conducting its frontal offset crash test.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside, the Buick Rainier looks similar to its GM cousins but offers sporty gauges similar to those found in the Rendezvous, along with real wood trim. The Buick's cabin is certainly quiet compared to a its cousins or any other SUV for that matter, as it includes extra sound-deadening material and laminated glass. There's adequate room for five passengers, but you're out of luck if you need a third-row seat. Seat comfort is average front and rear. With the rear seat folded down, there's 80 cubic feet of cargo space.
The Rainier's standard inline six is smooth and powerful, and should be adequate for most shoppers. Those who wish for a little more grunt will be pleased with the Rainier's optional V8. With 300 hp available across a wide-rpm range, you'll rarely find yourself wishing for more. With its tough truck-based underpinnings, the 2006 Buick Rainier has a fair amount of real off-road capability. For the majority of buyers who won't be off-roading in their Buick SUV, it offers a smooth, comfortable ride. Handling is not what it should be, however, as the Rainier's poorly tuned rear suspension gives it a skittish feel when taking turns at higher speeds. Placed in similar situations, competitors feel much more confident.