I wasn't wearing a pedometer while in Germany covering the Frankfurt Motor Show this year, but it's safe to say I walked more than a few miles between press conferences, shooting cars and trekking back to the media center on the first day alone. For this reason, it didn't take much convincing from General Motors for me to duck out of the Messe a day early and drive some of its latest Opel models. No, this didn't include the all-new Country Tourer, but I was able to drive the Opel Mokka (our Buick Encore), the Opel Adam and the Opel Cascada.
I focused most of my driving time behind the wheel of the Cascada, which went on sale in Europe earlier this year, since rumors are swirling that a Buick version of this convertible "could happen soon." Buick hasn't had a convertible since the Reatta, and GM has been lacking a non-performance, budget-minded convertible since the Pontiac brand – and its G6 – was dropped, so adding the Cascada to Buick showrooms could further help the reemerging brand compete in the near-luxury segment. Although the weather was too chilly (and occasionally rainy) to enjoy the Cascada with its top down for very long, I was able to clock a fair bit of drive time behind the wheel on roads ranging from the autobahn to tight roads in small, quaint villages.
- Leaving Frankfurt, the drive route had us take the Autobahn away from the city where I was able to let the Cascada stretch its legs a little. This model was equipped with GM's new 1.6-liter direct-injected turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine – one of three available engines – producing 170 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. Acceleration isn't one the Cascada's strengths, as it took the 3,820-pound convertible a while to get up to highway speeds (GM states a 0-62 mile per hour time of 9.6 seconds), but it had no problem cruising at around 125 mph, which is just short of the car's stated top speed of 137 mph. A Sport mode helps a little by making the throttle more responsive, but I would hope that if/when this car does come to the US, GM could find it in its heart to fit the US-spec version with the 250-hp turbo engine found under the hood of the platform-sharing Buick Verano Turbo... and while I'm making requests to GM, please leave the six-speed manual gearbox alone with the shifter's sporty throws and spot-on gear ratios.
- Once off the Autobahn, the drive route did a better job of showing off the Cascada's strong points, most notable of which was the lack of cowl shake along the numerous rough, cobblestone streets we encountered, but the winding mountain roads also showcased the convertible's handling maneuvers. Although the brakes look rather small lurking behind the 19-inch wheels, the Cascada stopped effortlessly and its electric power steering also helped make the fun part of the drive even more enjoyable. In all driving conditions, there is no hiding the fact that the Cascada is a heavy, front-wheel-drive convertible, but the level of all-around refinement and chassis tuning makes up for this as well as the car's anemic engine.
- This level of refinement was evident after just a few minutes in the car. Once we got up to our top speed of 124 mph, I was utterly surprised at how quiet the cabin was. The fabric top helped reduce cabin noise to a level that I would expect from a luxurious coupe instead of a relatively affordable soft-top convertible. The top takes 17 seconds to open or close, and it can be raised and lowered at speeds up to 31 mph. Even though its operation is rather slow, it seems far less jerky and clunky than the mechanisms found on the similarly sized Chrysler 200 Convertible equipped with a soft top. Better yet, the Cascada's cargo volume surpasses the 200 as well as the Volkswagen Eos.
- Once inside the Cascada, it's clear Opel isn't positioning this car as a budget droptop. This loaded-up tester came with heated/cooled front seats, heated steering wheel and comfortable seats wrapped in rich UV-protectant Nappa leather with decent side bolsters and adjustable thigh support – the front seats actually felt more Regal GS than Verano. Speaking of the Verano, most of the driver's cockpit looks very similar to what is currently found in Buick's entry-level sedan, but a nicer stitched-leather instrument panel hood adds a little extra pizazz. Other appreciated touches inside the Cascada include the electric "seatbelt presenters" and the aforementioned Sport mode that illuminates a red ring around the gauges red when engaged. Properly positioning the front seats, I was able to fit comfortably in the rear seat of the Cascada, but I'd hate to go on a lengthy road trip from back there.
- In terms of its styling, the Cascada is very well proportioned with an infusion of styling cues borrowed from the Astra and Insignia, and it even has a good profile with the top up. Giving the car an upscale appearance, this car featured a burgundy-on-burgundy color combination and optional 19-inch wheels. One element of the car's design that will be interesting to see after US safety regulations are accounted for is the decklid. Like the Insignia wagon (and the Audi Q7), the Cascada's wraparound decklid means that when the trunk is open, the entirety of the taillights go along with it. As a fix to this, there are supplemental taillights mounted inside the trunk that illuminate to ensure there is some rearward lighting when the trunk is open.
- The Cascada rides on GM's Delta II platform, which underpins the Verano, so it would make sense if this car ends up being named the Verano Convertible. On the other hand, this might be a good time to bring back a classic Buick name like, perhaps, Riviera (though that name was recently used on the Shanghai-shown concept). Not that this would play into the Cascada's pricing in the US, but in Germany, it carries a price of 25,945 euros (around $35,000 USD) with this loaded tester topping out at around 34,000 euros ($45,800) including VAT.
- Though my time with the Cascada was limited, it was enough to realize that this car could be a hit for US buyers. In a worst case scenario – if GM just slaps some Buick badges and fender portholes on the Cascada leaving the powertrain as is – Buick will at least have a competent convertible to rival the Chrysler 200 and Volkswagen Eos, but done right, this car could potentially put some heat on front-drive-based luxury convertibles like the Audi A5.