Buick in the upscale minivan business with Terraza

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Acura and Lexus lack minivans in their luxury lineups. But their parent companies have very desirable vehicles in the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, which when loaded to the fenders with available options have the credentials to wear Acura and Lexus nametags.

Now Buick has entered the upper strata of the minivan segment with the introduction of the Terraza.

The CXL, the top of two models, comes loaded with wood and leather, rear air conditioning, rear parking assist, power rear sliding doors, the OnStar emergency system and a DVD entertainment system as standard equipment for a starting price just north of 30 grand.

It can be outfitted with all-wheel drive for peace-of-mind bad-weather commuting, a remote vehicle starting system, a 3,500-pound tow-rated trailer package, and XM Satellite radio and heated front seats.

The Terraza has a luxurious-looking dashboard with chrome-ringed gauges and touches of wood. It’s by far the best dash package General Motors has put in a minivan since it started building the people movers in the mid-80s. The leather seats feel good and sit well.

The Terraza was also given Buick’s new QuietTuning treatment, which is designed to reduce road and wind noise in the cabin. Once we forced ourselves to turn off our favorite XM Satellite radio channel, we were greeted with a relatively quiet interior. We concluded that Buick has engineered an interior equal to the Toyota Sienna and as quiet as any in the segment.

The Terraza is one of four reworked General Motors minivans and one of two new nameplates for the 2005 model year. Saturn has received a version called the Relay. Chevrolet’s Venture was renamed the Uplander and Pontiac’s Montana adds SV6 to its name. The Silhouette departed last year along with the entire Oldsmobile lineup.

We said reworked above because General Motors — perhaps caught in the web of horrendous medical and pension plan payments and other unavoidable expenses, and not fully committed to the stagnate minivan segment — did not elect to spend the many millions it takes to build an all-new platform. Instead, it decided to go with major upgrades to its existing vehicles.

All four minivans were endowed with a longer front end, the stated objective to make them look less like a minivan and more like a sport utility vehicle. And the Buick received the longest snout in the fleet together with a 3.9-inch increase in height over the previous GM vans.
But the Terraza, which we consider a rather handsome vehicle, still looks more like a minivan than a sport utility. For one thing, General Motors failed to hide the sliding door track, something Chrysler accomplished years ago.

Perhaps the new styling will be enough to win over a few folks who want a more truck-like front end.

But for all the good things the Terraza has going for it, there are almost as many things going against it. For instance, it must make do with a 3.5-liter V-6 generating 200 horsepower. The engine in itself is not so much the problem. It’s adequate. The problem is that when you are selling luxury at more than $30,000 customers expect that luxury to come with more than “adequate.”

The Odyssey, one of its direct competitors, possesses 55 more horses. The Sienna has 230 horsepower. The Nissan Quest, which sells for a few thousand less, has a 240-horsepower V-6. All three are considerably more sprite from 0 to 60 than the Buick and feel more confident when the vehicle is filled to capacity.

Buick has a 242-horsepower version of the 3.6-liter available, found in the 2005 Rendezvous Ultra. That engine would have put the Terraza on more equal footing with the other guys. It would be the logical choice for GM’s top minivan in our opinion.

Other things date the Terraza. For instance, it must make do with GM’s standard 4-speed automatic. Most minivans these days, regardless of price, come with 5-speed shifters. The extra shift point helps fuel economy and performance.

Nearly all vans have fold-in-the-floor rear seats. Chrysler vans even invented fold-in-the-floor second-row chairs for the 2005 models. The Terraza seats must be removed the old fashioned way by muscling all of them out of the vehicle and storing them.

This is not all bad, however, since most people don’t remove the seats. When the Terraza seatbacks are folded down for the occasional visit to the garden center or the hardware store, a flat but elevated load floor is created.

And if all that isn’t enough the Terraza has no side curtain airbags available. That seems a rather serious oversight in a family vehicle.

On the plus side of safety, the Terraza has side impact airbags for the front seat occupants, antilock brakes, stability control and traction control. And Buick says the long nose will aid it in frontal crashes.
The Buick has enough endearing qualities to make it very user friendly for the growing family. Seatback-mounted storage bins will hold everything from the kids’ crayons to your reading glasses.

Center console trays, which can be folded flat up against the seats, will hold a load of fast food and the soft drinks to go with it.

There’s also an overhead rail system, similar to one found in the Ford F-150, with snap-in storage modules that hold a plethora of items.

The standard DVD player is perfect for preventing the “are we there yet?” question from popping up. And, unlike some vans, the system comes with a remote control that can be operated from the driver’s seat to quickly settle arguments arising in the rear quarters.

The Terraza comes in two trim levels, CX and CXL. The CX is well equipped starting at $28,825. It can be ordered with all-wheel drive for a starting price of $31,705. The CXL begins at $31,885. The all-wheel drive model starts at $34,570.

Our CXL two-wheel drive test vehicle had a handful of options bringing the bottom line to $33,330.

Those prices seem a bit excessive when compared to offerings from Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Ford. But figure that the competitive nature of the business will probably bring the price more in line with the competition.

All in all, the Buick is really not a bad vehicle but for the money we sure wish GM had stepped up and given it Cadillac qualities.