The 2007 Buick Rainier represents the company's sole foray into the luxury SUV market. Based on the same body-on-frame midsize SUV platform shared by the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy, the Rainier incorporates distinctive styling elements such as an ellipsoid grille and unique lighting clusters. To emphasize the intended luxury persona, Buick's "QuietTuning" directive features additional sound insulation in key points (such as the engine compartment) and even an acoustic laminate coating for the windshield and front side windows. But other than the styling tweaks and hushed cabin, the Rainier looks, feels and drives like its GM cousins. Compared to its premium-brand competition, the Buick falls short in the areas of interior materials and build quality.
As expected, the 2007 Rainier's forte is a plush, quiet ride. Power is ample with the standard inline six, and more than enough with the optional V8. Indeed, consumers who go for a spin around the dealer's block may be initially impressed, and the Rainier's truck-based chassis also proves capable off-road. But in the real world of workday commutes, day-care carpools and unpredictable drivers, the Buick Rainier's lack of confident handling at higher speeds hurts it when compared to segment leaders such as the Toyota 4Runner, Mercury Mountaineer and Volkswagen Touareg. Any of those will provide an equally comfortable ride along with a more sure-footed feel during everyday driving and especially during quick transitions, such as when performing an evasive maneuver.
The Buick Rainier comes as a five passenger, four-door SUV in one CXL trim level. Standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, simulated wood accents, power front seats, memory positions for the seats and mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, a CD player and OnStar telematics. Among the options are a sunroof, power adjustable pedals, heated seats, satellite radio, a six-disc CD changer, a navigation system and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
Sadly, the Rainier's cabin furnishings are heavily derivative of GM's lower-line SUVs and fail to provide the authentic luxury ambience required in an upscale vehicle. The leather upholstery on the seating surfaces looks and feels luxurious, but the accompanying vinyl trim used elsewhere on the seats is of low quality. Handsome gauges help, but those are offset by iffy ergonomics that include GM's convoluted three-on-one signal/wiper/cruise stalk and a tiny black nub that's used for power mirror adjustment. The cabin is noticeably quieter when compared to nearly any other SUV in this price range, but seat comfort is only average. With the rear seat folded down, there are 80 cubic feet of cargo space.
Buyers have a choice of two competent engines in the Rainier SUV. Standard is a 4.2-liter inline six shared with other GM SUVs that makes an impressive 291 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. Overall performance with the six is more than adequate, but those who plan on heavy towing should consider the brawny 5.3-liter V8 (300 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque). With the V8, maximum towing capacity is rated at 6,700 pounds. Either way, a four-speed automatic is the sole transmission choice, but this is not a problem as the gearbox furnishes smooth, timely shifts regardless of driving conditions. The Rainier is offered in two-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions.
The inline six doesn't feel particularly strong at lower rpm, though it comes alive once in the midrange. Equipped with the "5300" V8, the Buick Rainier has more than enough power to get around quickly. Highway passing maneuvers are effortless as well, even on steep uphill grades. Handling dynamics are not equal to the Rainier's strong straight-line performance, however. Although truck-based SUVs are still not expected to have the reflexes of cars (or even car-based SUVs), the Buick SUV and its GM stablemates fall well behind peers like the 4Runner, Durango and Mountaineer. When asked to make rapid directional changes during slalom testing, the rear end tends to feel skittish. Standard stability control will keep it on course in most situations, but still, this kind of behavior and seat-of-the-pants feeling does not instill confidence when faced with real-life emergency maneuvers. Likewise, the steering feels sloppy on center and generally disconnected because of slow responses and a lack of road feel.
Stability control, antilock disc brakes and a one-year subscription to OnStar are standard. Optional are full-length head curtain airbags. Although seat-mounted side airbags are not available, a side curtain airbag-equipped 2007 Buick Rainier received five stars (the highest rating possible) in NHTSA's side-impact testing for front- and rear-passenger protection. In NHTSA frontal-impact tests, the Rainier garnered a three-star rating for the driver and four stars for the front passenger. However, in IIHS frontal offset testing, the Buick managed just a "Marginal" rating, the second lowest out of four.
Other than the OnStar system adopting a "turn-by-turn" navigation function and the shuffling of a few colors, the Buick Rainier stands pat for 2007.