By David Colman
Hypes: Stunning Good Looks, Fun in the Sun
Gripes: Dated Dash, Underpowered
My neighbor down the street, who has never had a thing to say about any of the 50 or so vehicles that rotate through my driveway each year, made it a point to stop and discuss the styling of the new Buick Cascada. “That’s one of the best looking cars I’ve ever seen!” he exclaimed from the driver’s seat of his Nissan Leaf. I hesitated to mention the fact that pretty much anything would look good when you’re driving a Leaf. But I have to agree, the Cascada is without question a stunning looker of a car – not only when the top is stowed, but also when it’s erect. This Buick is a beauty from any angle. The curvaceous side sculpting enhances the predatory pounce of the body, which looks set to gobble up pavement in very short order.
Unfortunately, the Cascada’s looks over-promise from a performance standpoint. Because its curb weight is close to two tons, the small displacement (1.6 liter) inline 4, despite being turbocharged, is hard pressed to generate enough horsepower (200hp) to move the Cascada with the alacrity you’d expect from its scintillating looks. In fact, you need to be ever vigilant in using the 6-speed automatic transmission’s manual gate so as to spin the motor hard enough to generate acceptable acceleration. Even on its best day, the turbo 4 barely cracks 9 seconds in the run to 60mph from a standing start, and tops out at just 82mph in 16.7 seconds in the quarter mile run. In other words, this Buick is no Roadmaster in the speed department.
But if you can set aside that deficiency the Cascada has a lot to offer in a slimly populated market segment (sub $40K family convertibles) recently vacated by VW’s discontinued Eon and Chrysler’s 200 drop top. Really, at a base price of $36,065, the Cascada looks like rather a bargain. We particularly liked the up-market appearance of the interior seating, which sported a diamond perforation pattern on the 8-way power adjustable front sport bucket seats. These handsome perches also come with standard 3-stage heating and cooling controls. The heat source warms not only the cushion section but also the lower backrest area. A standard steering wheel rim heater completes the toasty luxury effect when the top is down and the weather is chilled. The top is a beautifully contrived unit which can be activated up to 31mph. Although the small back window features a defroster, rear vision is never very good with the top erect. However, a standard rear vision camera displays what you can’t see from the driver’s seat, and front and rear parking assists also help you steer clear of obstructions.
The Cascada is based on an Opel platform which is built in Poland. This unit started life more than 7 years ago as an Opel Astra J, and continues in production today as the Opel and Buick Cascada. Because of its longevity, the controls are showing their age. You’ll still need to insert a key in a slot to start this Buick, and the Cascada also lacks the handy proximity locking and unlocking common to newer designs. The center stack of the dashboard is rather complicated, with dozens of tiny buttons. It took me way too long to figure out how to program the HD Radio for favorite presets because the system is simply not intuitive. At one point I inadvertently managed to select Station 53 (“Chill”) on XM Radio on all 6 presets! On the plus side, however, this Buick features 4G LTE Wi-Fi, so you’re a virtual mobile hot spot, with a free limited data trial to enjoy before pay renewal with OnStar is required. While Buick touts the Cascade as a “Premium” effort, certain cheap touches dilute that impression. For example, the cruise control thumb wheel affixed to the left steering wheel spoke feels imprecise and flimsy.
Buick has fitted a surprisingly stout suspension system to this convertible. With standard 20 inch alloys carrying Bridgestone Potenza RE76 tires (245/45R20) at each corner, the Cascada has all the moves you’d expect of a sporting ride. The car corners flat and true, with the front suspension’s “HiPer Strut” carefully tuned to eliminate torque steer under heavy load. The downside of the 20 inch wheel application is the very wide turning circle you must deal with on every U-Turn. But when the top is stowed, the sun is out and the wind is playing with your senses, the Cascada has few peers as an enjoyable and affordable bargain convertible.
2016 Buick Cascada Premium
- Engine: 1.6 liter inline 4, turbocharged with SIDI, DOHC and VVT
- Horsepower: 200hp
- Torque: 206lb.-ft.
- Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
- Price as Tested: $37,385
- Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars