Badge engineering is alive and well. It was just a few years ago that the automakers, especially General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, all were talking about really doing away with the practice, which basically amounts to slapping a different badge and grille on a vehicle already sold by one of the company’s divisions. Mercury was supposed to get unique cars. Chrysler euthanized Plymouth in part because it had no unique vehicles to sell. And GM whacked Oldsmobile so it could focus its product development resources on giving every division unique vehicles. Great plan, eh?
Forget it. Enter the Buick Rainier. This sport-ute isn’t too much more than a Chevy TrailBlazer or GMC Envoy with Buick’s signature falling-water grille. I’m sure that Buick styling is indispensable for the division’s die-hards, however many there are. But in reality, the Rainier exists because, with the death of Oldsmobile and its Bravada SUV, GM needed to maximize production at its mid-size SUV plants and do so without forcing more inventory on Chevy and GMC dealers. GM workers are now turning out Rainiers instead of Bravadas. Also, Buick dealers need something more to sell.
GM is reviving its moribund brands in sequence. Cadillac was first, now Pontiac is up. Buick is next and, if it survives, Saturn will get new product later in the decade. So consider the Rainier one of the stop-gap measures to help Buick dealers prop up sales until GM can give the division some real funding.
That’s not to say that there isn’t any reason to buy the Rainier. GM did its best to differentiate the vehicle from its existing mid-size SUVs. There’s an optional V-8, instead of the standard in-line six-cylinder engine that powers the Envoy and TrailBlazer. The interior has been spruced up. And on the outside, there are some subtle styling changes, besides that grille, that make it a bit different. And some added sound deadening makes the Rainier the quiet, big boulevard cruiser one would expect from Buick.