Buick Cascada — Open air fun for four

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

If you are looking for an affordable convertible that can carry four adults in a smattering of luxury and a measure of comfort take note. 
While the Chrysler Sebring and Toyota Solaria drop tops served the purpose of offering four-passenger open-air transportation for more than a decade, there's currently a void in that segment.

That's not to say that the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro soft tops aren't immense fun, they are, but their back seats are best left for cargo, children or very small people with very short legs. Likewise, such cool machines as the Volkswagen Beetle and Mini Cooper convertibles are entertaining — but not necessarily four-adult friendly.

The all-new 2016 Buick Cascada, based on the European Opel Cascada, fills the blank space in the very small niche segment. The Cascada, Spanish for "waterfall," is built in Poland and has been in the marketplace for about two years outside North America. It's the first Buick convertible in 25 years and it gives the buyer a stylish, relatively quiet and well outfitted drop top for a starting price of $33,990.

The Cascade is visually striking, exhibiting a flowing sculpted profile, with a fast-raked windshield and sleek headlamps that flow into the front fenders. Taillights are accented by a strip of chrome to enhance the overall premium look.

When it comes to dropping the top, it automatically lowers in 17 seconds at speeds up to 31 mph with the rear deck lid opening rearward to accommodate the folding soft top. The window switch is placed inside the top switch that raises and lowers all the windows simultaneously. In the up position, its multilayer constructed thermal and acoustic insulated top contributes to driving comfort and a perfect, seamless profile. 

The lineup offers two choices — base Cascada and Premium. There are no options other than paint colors. But there's considerable standard equipment even in the base model. Included on all models are heated leather seating with hand stitching in either black or tan, a leather, heated steering wheel, rear vision camera, audio system with navigation, 4G LTE with Wi-Fi hotspot, and rear park assist.

The Premium trim at $36,990 adds forward-collision alert, lane-departure warning, automatic wipers, and new wheel choices. Strangely and disappointedly missing from both the base and Premium trims is a blindspot monitoring system. All new cars in this age of advanced safety technology — and particularly a convertible where blind spots abound — should at least have blindspot monitors available. Also unavailable is a keyless ignition — yes, you will need the key to start the car — and a premium audio upgrade.

However, our biggest letdown with this all-around decent open air machine occurred when we discovered that it came with just one engine — GM's 1.6-liter turbocharged four cylinder making 200 horsepower mated to a six-speed automatic. On paper it seems inadequate for pulling a nearly 4,000 pound car, especially a car that plays in the entry level luxury segment.

But our disappointment was tempered after spending several hundred miles in a Cascada Premium on home turf. While we wished for more horsepower, we found the powertrain adequate in part because Buick engineered an "overboost" mode that ramps up torque from 207 foot-pounds to 221 when a little extra performance was needed for merging into the fast lane or passing on a two-lane highway.

For comparison purposes, the Cascada will climb to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds according to Buick.  And gas mileage is adequate measured at 20 mpg city, 27-highway and 23-overall. And the turbocharged Cascada engine does not require expensive premium gas.

We were pleased with the Cascada's road manners. The ride is pleasant, and the car is surprisingly solid over rough patches with the noticeable absence of cowl shake, something you cannot say about every convertible. The trunk offers 13.4 cubic feet of storage with the top up, and 9.8 cubic feet with the top stored.

The Cascada interior is pleasant. The front seats offer good support and proved comfortable. Rear seating is adequate, but tight. Rear seat access to any convertible has always been problematic, but the Cascada has simplified it. An electronic rear-seat entry system automatically powers the front seats forward by simply pressing the seatback forward. It moves the seats back when the seatback is returned to the upright position.

We found the switchgear generally okay, but the center console controls, which consists of 47 different and many look-alike buttons, can be confusing. We think you will discover it won't take many trips to get used to the myriad of switches and buttons because they are intuitively laid out.

Base price: $33,990; as driven, $37,385
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 200 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 207 foot-pounds @ 1,800 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 106.1 inches
Length: 184.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,975 pounds
Turning circle: 38.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 13.4 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14.3 gallons (premium recommended)
EPA rating: 27 highway, 20 city, 23 combined
0-60: 8.6 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: Audi A3, Lexus IS convertible, Ford Mustang

The Good
• Considerable features for the price
• Quiet interior
• Comfortable ride

The Bad
• Blindspot warning not available

The Ugly
• Underwhelming performance