I hate sunroofs.
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Output: 200 horsepower, 207 lb-ft of torque (221 lb-ft with overboost function)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy: 20 miles per gallon city, 27 highway, 23 MPG combined
As-Tested Price: $36,990 including $925 in delivery fees
(Not available in Canada)
They blind me with unwanted glare, heat up a vehicle’s cabin unnecessarily in the summer and detract from handling prowess by putting a whole bunch of mass in the worst possible place.
These glass-covered roof holes certainly get my dander up but I find convertibles even more loathsome; take all the negatives associated with sunroofs and multiply them by a factor of at least 10. Drop-tops are invariably heavier, structurally weaker and less spacious than the coupes and sedans on which they’re based. Why would anyone ever want one of these silly cars?
I’ve tested some interesting convertibles in my day, from the all-American Chevy Camaro to the lusty Aston Martin Vanquish Volante to the obscenely over-the-top Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe, but no matter how fashionable, speedy or lavish these machines are, I still don’t care for them.
Obviously for me at least, this makes the new Buick Cascada a tough sell. But you know something? (of course you do, plenty in fact!) This GM drop-top ain’t half bad. It’s stylish, affordably priced and provides a more than respectable on-road experience. Maybe I should give convertibles another chance.
Granted a stay of execution when GM went through bankruptcy back in 2009, thanks, in part, to its immense popularity in China, the tri-shield marque is now a purveyor of premium vehicles, many of which are rebranded foreign offerings. If anyone sees you in a Cascada and exclaims, “That’s not a Buick!” you can tell them they’re right because in point of fact it’s an Opel.
This is the first convertible Buick has offered American motorists in a quarter-century. They only had to repurpose a German vehicle built in Poland, one with an engine made in Hungary and a Mexican transmission to get a drop-top on U.S. soil again. It’s truly a melting pot of parts!
Given its Teutonic roots, the Cascada’s arch rival is most likely the Audi A3 Cabriolet, though Buick is keen to point out that their offering comes with more standard equipment and a lower price tag. Other competitors might include Volkswagen’s outgoing Eos (whose production run will end after 2016), the Fiat 500C, which is appreciably smaller, or perhaps even an entry-level Mustang drop-top. However, the Ford is sportier and currently far more likely to be found at rental-car lots in sunny parts of the country.
For lovers of sunshine, the Cascada’s main draw is its folding fabric lid, which can fully retract in just 17 seconds at speeds up to 31 miles an hour. This well-insulated roof performs its mechanical ballet in seriously short order, meaning you can go from enclosed to exposed in less time than it takes to negotiate a four-way stop.
For added safety, a duet of pyrotechnically activated rollover bars is mounted behind the back seat. When the airbags deploy these components extend 14 inches above the rear deck to protect occupants in crashes, particularly rollovers.
Power is provided by a small, turbocharged engine. This gasoline-burning four-cylinder displaces just 1.6-liters, but provides a respectable 200 horsepower. Torque measures 207 lb-ft, but thanks to an over-boost function it can deliver up to 221 lb-ft for brief periods when extra performance is required.
A six-speed automatic transmission is the only gearbox offered in the Buick Cascada. Fortunately, it’s smooth and plenty responsive.
Fuel economy with this drivetrain is rather ho-hum. The car stickers at 20 miles per gallon in the city, 27 on highway jaunts and just 23 MPG combined.
Nobody buys a convertible for practicality and this example is no threat to a GMC Savana when it comes to hauling bulky cargo or a passel of parishioners. With its top up, the car provides 13.4 cubic feet of trunk space. Fold the roof down and that figure drops to just 9.8 cubes.
What it lacks in luggage-hauling capacity the Cascada makes up for with its comfortable interior. Surprisingly for such a relatively small car (the wheelbase is a trim 106.1 inches) its rear seats are quite spacious. Legroom is unexpectedly hospitable even if the backrests are nearly bolt upright. Two adults will fit in the rear and be reasonably comfortable for short trips.
Likewise, there’s not much to gripe about regarding the front buckets, though I did find them a bit too firm for my bony rump. An extra touch of plushness would have gone a long way to preventing my backside from going numb after an hour or so in the saddle.
The rest of the Cascada’s interior is stylish and constructed of suitably premium materials. There are plenty of soft plastics and even the graining found on other materials is attractive.
This vehicle’s cabin is, for the most part, a likable place. However, there are two glaring issues worth pointing out.
First, the Cascada’s infotainment system is sluggish to respond and the touchscreen is tough to reach without straining. On top of this, the graphics look like they’re about a decade out of date, which doesn’t make you feel like you’re driving something on the leading edge.
Second, we’ve got to talk about the center stack because it’s a mess. Imagine spilling a bag of identical Skittles on a linoleum floor of the same color. That’s what this area of this Buick’s interior looks like.
There’s a bewildering array of buttons, knobs and switches packed into an area of limited real estate. Changing a radio preset without diving into a navigation menu, upping the fan speed and not inadvertently activating the passenger’s seat-heater is tough to do, especially while driving. This is probably the area that needs the most work in this car.
Underway, the Cascada provides a relaxed driving experience, one that’s in line with its casual overall demeanor. This is a car that’s soothing without putting you into a coma.
Its turbocharged 1.6-liter engine provides ample low-end torque, which helps this nearly two-ton convertible accelerate with unexpected authority.
Given its strong low-RPM grunt it’s not unreasonable to expect this powerplant to run out of steam at higher speeds, and that’s exactly what happens. The party’s over by about 6,000 on the rev-counter; a Honda S2000 it is definitely not.
Despite its folding roof the Cascada’s structure is still plenty stiff. You can thank its reinforced A-pillars, beefed-up rocker panels, underbody supports and other structural enhancements for this overall tightness. Only a slight amount of jiggle from the underpinnings can be felt and then only when rolling over truly battered pavement.
So what, pray tell, does all of this cost? Well, the Summit White example I tested stickered for $36,990, a figure that includes $925 in delivery fees.
Justifying that rather rich figure, our tester featured things like leather, a power driver’s seat, heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate control and stylish 20-inch wheels. Eschew a higher-trim model and you can get one of these cars for about 34 large, a much friendlier if still pricey figure.
The Verdict: 2016 Buick Cascada
The new Cascada is a welcome addition to the Buick family, even if it is just a rebadged Opel. This car’s torque-rich engine, solid structure and speedy, weather-tight roof are welcome assets, although its infotainment system and secondary controls leave much to be desired.
Despite my irrational abhorrence of convertibles, I found the Cascada mostly likable, which for me is probably the highest praise it could ever earn.