CARS.COM — The parts of the country that aren’t shivering in winter’s icy grip are drowning in El Nino’s deluge of rain, but that isn’t stopping Buick from introducing a new model destined to appear in markets where sun worshipping is the norm. Meet the new 2016 Buick Cascada, the brand’s first convertible in 25 years, arriving just as the traditional players in the segment all have decided to bow out.
Related: 2016 Buick Cascada Starts at $33,990
Buick sees this as an excellent time to bring over a soft-top convertible from its European Opel division to fill a gap in the market, with the hopes of also drawing in new, younger customers to the Buick brand. The brand has already come a long way in redefining Buick’s image among shoppers — but can a new convertible help push the brand further along in its quest for regaining relevance?
Exterior & Styling
There’s no denying it, the Cascada is a looker. Based on Opel designs that are frequently shared with Buick globally, the Cascada is wide, sleek and designed from the outset to be a convertible.
Underneath, it shares some mechanical bits with the Opel Astra (what we know as the Buick Verano compact sedan), but its sheet metal and structure are unique. This is no sedan with the roof chopped off; the design work that’s gone into making the Cascada look good top-up or top-down is evident. Slim headlamps flank the Buick grille, with sculptured sides ending in wide, wraparound taillamps that are part of the trunk lid. Even in a jaded convertible market like South Florida, where Buick invited the media to drive the new Cascada, the droptop turned heads and invited conversation. Put the top up, and the Cascada turns into an attractive coupe with a roofline not that different from the Cadillac ELR. Buick definitely got the styling right on this one.
How It Drives
Powering the Cascada is just one engine-and-transmission combo for the North American market. It features a 200-horsepower, turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a standard six-speed automatic transmission. It scoots the Cascada away from stoplights with more speed and alacrity than I expected from a nearly 4,000-pound car. There’s a definite turbo whoosh audible when the top is down, but it’s not intrusive and serves to remind you that you’ve got a decently powerful engine on tap. This engine moves the Cascada smartly into traffic or easily past slower vehicles on the highway, and the transmission is well matched to it as well. Never once in nearly 200 miles of driving did I feel like the car was underpowered or in the wrong gear for conditions. It delivers on the Cascada’s styling promise with smooth, refined performance.
The Cascada rides well on smooth pavement, but the standard 20-inch wheels with low-profile, 40-series tires do transmit plenty of rough road bumps and judders to the occupants when you take it over broken pavement. Even on those rough patches, however, the Cascada’s structural rigidity is impressive — there is no looseness to the chassis or interior parts at all. The car’s steering is nicely balanced but not overly communicative, and the overall experience of driving one is unhurried and relaxed. This is not a vehicle you’re going to jump into to get your dose of driving kicks — it’s a touring car, one that you buy to enjoy being seen in and taking in the world around you. It can and will dance if you ask it to, but it would rather waltz than rumba.
Where the Cascada struggles a bit is inside, but not with cabin comfort or materials. Slip into the seats that were redone for North American backsides, and it’s easy to get comfortable up front. The car is wide, providing much more room than an Audi A3 or BMW 2 Series between the doors — I had no problem sitting side-by-side with a passenger, never once coming close to touching. Material quality is good, with leather on the padded dash for a touch of class and a choice of two attractive (if muted) colors. The backseat is cramped but serviceable for adults. Width is not the issue, but legroom is a challenge — the Cascada is not long, so any front-seat occupants will likely need to move their chairs up a bit to accommodate anyone in back.
Driving with the top down is extremely pleasant — there’s little wind buffeting, even with the windows down. At 70 mph on the highway with the windows up, it’s easy to carry on a conversation without raising one’s voice. Wind management in the Cascada is top-notch. If you decide to put the top up (which takes just 17 seconds, and can be done at speeds up to 31 mph), the noise and thermal insulation keep things quiet and serene in the cabin, almost as if it were a hardtop coupe.
Ergonomics & Electronics
The issue I have with the interior is with the controls — namely that this is not the latest generation of Buick interiors. As a result it is saddled with dozens of buttons and controls in the center console, which looks like Buicks did at the start of this decade. I counted 42 buttons on the console alone, controlling the climate functions, audio system, navigation and more, some of which I had no idea as to their purpose. The latest Buick Regal corrected this situation two years ago by reducing the number of buttons to just 25, a vast improvement in usability. But the Cascada is a 3-year-old design, having been introduced in Europe in mid-2013, so it employs the old-think Opel/Buick design. The touch-screen is just a 7-inch unit that’s mounted too far forward, and the secondary display screen between the gauges is a monochrome red LCD. It’s all attractive, it’s all comfortable, but it’s all dated. When the Cascada shows up in showrooms alongside the slick new LaCrosse sedan and Envision SUV later this year, it will immediately look like it needs an interior refresh – which it does.
Being a bit older than some of the new additions to the Buick-GMC showroom, the Cascada doesn’t have some of the safety features that are offered on newer vehicles. It does feature a standard backup camera, forward and rear parking sensors, and available forward collision alert and lane departure warning. But there’s no push-button start, no keyless access, no blind spot warning system available. The Cascada has not been crash-tested, but it has been structurally improved to the point where Buick is petitioning the federal government to do so because, the company is confident that a five-star safety rating is achievable. That would be a first for a convertible, partly because most droptops are simply not tested by the government or other testing agencies.
Value in Its Class
Where the new Cascada truly shines may be in its value. Starting price for the base model convertible is $33,990 including a $925 destination fee. A completely loaded Premium trim model (there are only two trims and no stand-alone options for simplicity’s sake) will cost $36,990 out the door. Add $395 if you want metallic paint. That’s a screaming deal for the content, performance and style of the Cascada, made even more appealing when one realizes that the Cascada really no longer has any direct midsize competitors.
The Toyota Solara, Volvo C60 and Chrysler 200 convertible have all been discontinued, leaving the door open for a car like Cascada to come in and collect all the buyers looking for a premium convertible value. The VW Beetle Cabrio and Eos are available, but they’re not a premium experience. Price-wise, the Audi A3 starts where the Cascada leaves off, and optioning one up to match the Buick’s level of equipment easily pushes the sticker price for the smaller German luxury convertible to thousands of dollars more. Same deal for the BMW 2 Series convertible. The Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro convertibles might be able to compete on price, but not in comfort or passenger-carrying ability.
So for now Buick has this segment largely to itself, unless someone comes along and offers some competition. Buyers seeking an attractive, well-priced, well-equipped convertible are likely to be pleased.