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Friday, January 22, 2016

2016 Buick Cascada is the Right Convertible at the Right Time: First Drive


Copyright © 2016 Bold Ride LLC.

25 Years; that’s how long its been since Buick has had a new convertible on the market. At the time, the brand was still strong, but had nowhere near the luster of its heyday in the 1950s and ‘60s. When the Reatta left the market in 1991, Buick was the amidst its descent towards de-facto chariot of the geriatric jet-set. The Buick Cascada, which is Spanish for “waterfall,” marks the latest step in a march back towards youth buyers that seems unprecedented in the timeline of this venerable American automaker.
The Buick Cascada is essentially a rebadged Opel Cascada Convertible, and while other rebadging by General Motors has been met with mixed results, but this case is a perfect application. GM doesn’t even change much about the European Astra in its American guise, and yet the stout-yet-flowing design fits in well with Buick’s current design language.


Return of the Ragtop

The convertible top opens or deploys in just 17 seconds, and you can open/close it at speeds up to 31 mph. Typically, a soft top is not as proficient at keeping out wind noise as a retractible hardtop, but Buick has gone to great lengths to ensure that the top keeps the outside world out when the top is up. It truly feels like a full coupe when the top is up, as production methods have allowed for more noise reduction materials in the soft top.

It is crucial that the soft top works as well as a hard top, because from the looks of things, the retractible hardtop convertible is not as desirable as it once was. Look to vehicles like the Chrysler 200 Convertible and Volkswagen Eos and their respective departures from the market. When applied to a 2+2 layout, the hardtop convertible looks awkward, requires strange engineering that limits packing, and adds all sorts of weight. The Cascada features all the benefits of a hard top, but with more compact packaging, but the soft top gives it a more timeless, elegant look.


The Cascada also comes with a lot of neat features that make a convertible just that more livable for daily driving. The entire taillight clusters are built into the trunk, but lift the trunk and you’ll notice an extra set of tallights! This offers the benefit of not only being able to toss on hazard lights when trying to unload or load the car on a busy streetside, but you can also fold down the 50/50 rear seats, lift up the trunk, and cary larger items legally due to the lights.

Then there is the easy entry rear seating. A typical problem with convertibles is getting the front seat placement right so that there is enough leg room for rear seat passengers. On the Cascada, simply flip the seat forward, let it electronically slide all the way up, hop in, and flip it back. The seat will slowly creep back towards the knees of the rear seat occupant, and when it makes contact, it will slide forward again a couple of inches. This, combined with the extra taillights really show the depth to which Buick has thought through living with the Cascada.


Under the hood of the Buick Cascada is a 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-4. The engine hits its peak 200 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, yet the 207 pound-feet of torque is made at 1,800 rpm. An overboost function (for when you really floor it) kicks torque up to 221 lb-ft at just 1,700 rpm. The result is acceleration that feels like real-world power, and not that “hamster wheel” feel you often get from small displacement engines. Power is sent to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission with tap-shift function.


The Best of Old and New

The Cascada has a rather attractive interior, and is not offensive in any way. The seats are supremely conformable, and the unique stitching and perforation pattern is a big value add. They are great for long trips, and bolster the Cascada through through the surprisingly taught handling. The Cascada features the best attributes of “Old Buick” (soft seating, focus on comfort, daily driving), but also the best of “New Buick” (responsive handling, quick steering, brisk acceleration).

One area of disappointment is the center console, where things are kind of a mess of buttons. Not enough attention has been paid to figuring out the right buttons to keep and which to just let exist within the touch screen infotainment system. That’s the other issue– the Cascada features the dated current iteration of Intelilink, which shows its age in a time when many new cars are coming fitted with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. We expect a mid-cycle refresh will take care of that.


But the nice thing is that infotainment system is standard, along with just about everything else. At $33,990, you get nearly everything. The leather, the stereo system, the 20-inch wheels, the navigation– all standard. Only one other trim is available, for $36,990, and that adds active safety technology like forward collision warning and lane departure warning, as well as other conveniences such as rain-sensing windshield wipers and an rear seat air deflector.


The Verdict

Other automakers might be getting out of the drop-top game, but Buick is there to jump on the opportunity. Not only is a right-priced convertible, it represents the the best execution of the brand’s campaign going forward, leveraging GM’s Opel division to provide American cars with European-level luxury.


Engine: 1.6L 4-Cylinder Turbo
Horsepower: 200
Price: $33,990


Design says good things about future Buicks
As solid and quiet as a coupe with top up
Decent power and handling


 Center console a mess of buttons
Dated infotainment
A de-contented model could probably start under $30K