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Monday, March 14, 2016

2016 Buick Cascada first drive: Convertible shines in Chicago
Twitter @DufferRobert

Copyright © 2016, Orlando Sentinel

Buick used the weather to show off its all-new convertible, the 2016 Cascada, on Friday at the Chicago Automobile Trade Association headquarters in Oakbrook Terrace.
"We were either going to be showing off the 17 seconds it takes to drop the top or the heated front seats," said Buick spokesman Stuart Fowle, a onetime Chicagoan who acknowledged the luck that goes into planning an outdoor event here in spring.

Buick has been riding a wave of good timing in recent years. It launched the Buick Encore in 2013 before there even was a subcompact crossover class, which is now the hottest segment and has helped Buick break sales records since 2013.
The 2016 Cascada arrives at a time when there are few other direct competitors in the compact convertible sedan space, which does not include the unclassifiable Range Rover Evoque SUV convertible.

The Audi A3 convertible may be the only direct competitor, but Buick makes sure to say the four-person Cascada is more the size of the Audi A5 convertible.

The 2+2 seating configuration certainly fits four adults, even those who have yet to shed those winter layers of warmth. Power seats come standard and make for easy rear entrance and exit in the two-door, with pressure sensors that stop the seat from hitting the rear passengers' knees as front riders get in.

That heft is felt behind the wheel. The lone engine offering, a direct injection 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder paired to a six-speed automatic transmission, generates 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque (221 pound-feet in overboost mode) somewhere in there. The Cascada is in a hurry to nowhere and mashing the pedal made me wonder if there was a block wedged between pedal and floor, but no, it's just slow.

Ride and handling feels solid enough to take turns harder than you'll take another car off the line, thanks in part to a HiPer Strut front suspension that delivers improved road feel.

As a touring convertible, it doesn't need to be fast. A Mustang or Camaro convertible can handle that demand. Buick's DiSalle says the Cascada fits into Buick's portfolio of "beautiful, quiet and comfortable cars with spirited, efficient performance."
The Cascada is more about flow than flash.

Buick ignores the harsh angularity that is supposed to pass as edgy on the ends of competing premium brands and uses smooth, flowing curves down the body. The long windshield bends only slightly up from the hood, and the relatively long wheelbase and short overhangs give it a sporty profile. Standard 20-inch wheels bolster the simple, athletic look. It's a simple, good-looking car without pretension.

The tasteful simplicity continues to the two trim levels, base and premium. Interior is covered in soft materials in a nice contrast between dark and light in the tan, ventilated seats of our tester. The center stack has more buttons than we could count in our brief drive, and has a temperature dial ticked with degrees, which was a nice alternative to touch-screen climate systems. Operating the top is as simple as it comes. It takes 17 seconds at speeds of no more than 31 mph to fold the power top down into the hard tonneau cover, and 19 seconds to pop it back out. There are no latches or buckles; the driver needs only to press a button in the center console.

Fold-down 50/50 split seats help stow long gear, which is doable with the 13.4 cubic feet with the top up. Top down cuts 3.6 cubic feet to 9.8 cubic feet.

The base model is $33,990 and comes with all of GM's connected car gadgetry; for $3,000 more, the premium trim adds advanced safety features such as lane departure warning, forward collision alert, park assist and more.

There isn't a big market for compact convertibles, and the market may be even smaller in northern Midwest cities of Detroit and Chicago where Buick is strongest.

The price is right, however, and the lack of competition means Buick will continue to draw plenty of attention. In February, its first month of sales, Buick moved about 500 Cascadas, nearly doubling expectations.

The outlook remains sunny in Chicago.

The first two units delivered to a Chicagoland dealer sold within 24 hours, Fowle said. In cold, gray February.