2016 Buick Cascada First Drive
Is It Worth Bringing Home From Vacation?
EngineTurbo 1.6L I4
Power200 HP / 206 LB-FT
Curb Weight3,979 LBS
MPG20 City / 27 HWY
As Tested Price$37,385
Best Deal Price$32,330
Florida is full of Buicks. Wonder if anyone bought a Rendezvous Ultra? It's in Florida. The Buick Reatta, the company's last convertible before this? Also there. Buick, however, is eager to get those who better remember Bush vs. Gore than Nixon vs. Kennedy to ask, "That's a Buick?" Which is how we arrive at the Cascada.
The Cascada isn't so much a new Buick as a car that's new to Buick. It's been on sale for about three years as the Opel Cascada in Europe, along with badge-engineered siblings sold by Vauxhall and Holden in other parts of the world. Buick took that time to make several hundred changes to the Cascada for US consumption and then found it without many rivals. The Chrysler 200 convertible, Volkswagen Eos, and Volvo C70 would all be prime targets for the Cascada here, were they not all dead now. Buick's gamble is that these Chrysler, VW, and Volvo (also Saab, for that matter) customers are looking for somewhere to go next.
One thing is certain: the Cascada is eye-catching to Floridians. I had no fewer than six people in Miami and Key West walk up to me and ask what kind of car it was, or even say, "That's that new Buick convertible, right?" Despite being three years old, the Cascada's looks have aged pretty well. And it's been spared many of the tacked-on details, like fake portholes and chrome wheels, that were adhered to the Regal when it made its trip over from Opel-land.
The Cascada isn't so much a new Buick as a car that's new to Buick.
Top up or down, the Cascada is attractive. Unlike the Audi A3 or BMW 2 Series convertibles (the former being the Buick's prime target), there's no abruptness to the design, no sharply ending lines. The Buick looks relaxed in a Palm Beach or Palm Springs way, even on the inside with the convincingly stitched dash top and standard heated leather seats (one of the pieces redesigned for the Buick). That being said, the pattern on the seat material is a misstep, looking like it was inspired by Aunt Flora's 1972 patio furniture.
Then it's surprising that you don't exactly sink into the Cascada. While the seats are mounted low, they're not pillow soft. Exceeding expectations of soft seats and soft controls is a theme here. The steering provides more feel and precision than you might expect, and the response from the engine is as immediate as modern engines come. The 1.6-liter turbo four produces 200 horsepower, up from 168 in the Opel, paired to a six-speed automatic transmission to provide more-than-sufficient performance for both on-ramp and passing maneuvers. But most importantly, it keeps quiet when you want to pose around town – "Parade Mode," if you will. Torque steer is well-masked in this front-wheel-drive car, too.
You might expect the Cascada to feel every bit of its nearly 4,000 pounds during acceleration and braking, but it doesn't. The Cascada is surprisingly athletic in its movements for a car that doesn't have a roof to keep things rigid. That's why Buick is pushing the safety aspect hard, urging the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to test the convertible (something it usually doesn't) so they can see it get a five-star rating.
You can operate the power roof at speeds up to 31 miles per hour.
Buick's people love to point out the fact 20-inch wheels are standard on every Cascada. Each of the two styles on offer look good, but it feels like they just made for more sleepless nights for suspension engineers, who made numerous changes to give the Buick more compliance and quietness than the Opel. The magic they've performed on the ride is admirable, but the thumping over potholes and patchy pavement proves this car would be better with a less aggressive wheel treatment.
I suspect the Cascada is reasonably good in the corners, probably not as sprightly as a rear-drive BMW 228i convertible, but likely on par with a front-drive A3. But I don't know for sure – there are no corners on the drive from Miami to Key West. And Florida is very, very flat. But if Florida suddenly becomes very windy, take comfort in the fact the Cascada's top-down interior is relatively draft-free. The Cascada Premium model includes both a little windblocker between the rear headrests and the one that covers the rear seats when two adults aren't squeezed into them. Of course if the weather turns too sour for open driving, you can operate the power roof at speeds up to 31 miles per hour.
Raise the top and the Cascada's appeal starts to dim. Huge blind spots remind you that blind-spot monitoring isn't available, even though the Cascada Premium has lane departure warning. You notice that the gauges don't get any more visible when there's no direct sunlight to wash them out. The low seating position seems to conflict with the fluted dials that seem to point upwards. And then you realize, behind the garish red lighting, the screen between the dials appears to be pulled straight from a 2010 Chevy Cruze.
The Cascada feels like a car from the early 2010s because it is one.
This happens all before you try to change the radio station or enter a destination and realize the seven-inch navigation touchscreen is overwhelmed by the dozens of little switches and knobs for the various audio, nav, and heating functions. I'm sure if you spent more than a day with the Cascada, you'd figure a workaround between extending your arm an uncomfortable amount to touch the screen or use the voice activation, but it shouldn't be this hard to do simple tasks – and it isn't on newer Buicks. Don't expect Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in this Cascada, either. The Cascada feels like a car from the early 2010s because it is one. But it's 2016.
While base Cascadas will go for $33,990, most cars you see will be the Premium model that's $3,000 more expensive, but comes with features such as forward collision and lane departure warnings and rain-sensing wipers. Buick would like to point out that even at that loaded price it's barely touching where the Audi A3 1.8T Cabriolet starts, and even then the Audi is missing out on nearly $4,000 in features, 30 horsepower, and several cubic inches of space. But then the Audi also gives you a much nicer interior with more up-to-date electronics and fewer control eccentricities. The Cascada is cheaper than an A3, yes, but simply put, it isn't as nice.
The Cascada performs its mission well and deserves better than to just be used on a four-day Walt Disney World Resort trip.
Still, none of these ergonomic anachronisms on the Buick will matter at all once you slow down to start lowering the top. Seventeen seconds later, with just the right amount of wind in your hair, the Buick Cascada does what any convertible should do: allow you to forget for a moment about your problems, or the car's problems.
Badge prestige and tech quibbles aside, the Cascada performs its mission well and deserves better than to just be relegated to rental car duty on four-day Walt Disney World Resort trips. And if the opinion of the Floridians I encountered is anything to go by, Buick may have a winner on its hands.
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