2016 Buick Cascada review

Excellence in the most unlikely place

2016 Buick Cascada front view
2016 Buick Cascada. Photo © Aaron Gold

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First, the Bottom Line

Meet the Cascada, the handsome new four-seat convertible from Buick—yes, that's right, Buick. Whatever you think of this brand, good, bad or indifferent, I urge you to set that aside and take a closer look, because this is one fantastic little convertible.

Pros:

  • Great value-for-money
  • Satisfying to drive
  • Usable back seat

Cons:

  • Limited trunk space, especially with the top down

    Larger photos: Front – rear – top up - interior – all photos

    Expert review: 2016 Buick Cascada

    I used to be convinced that there were no good, authentic, hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants east of the Rockies or north of Texas—until I had an awesome plate of carne asada at a place in Danbury, Connecticut, a distant suburb of New York City.  My point being that you can sometimes find excellence in the most unlikely places.

    Buick's new Cascada convertible is a perfect example. Who would expect a great new convertible from Buick? I'm not saying their cars aren't good, but if General Motors has a backwater, Buick is it. GM has lots of great and innovative products, most of which wear Chevrolet or Cadillac badges. So how the heck did this fantastic little drop-top wind up with a Buick badge?

    The answer originates in Europe, where GM sells cars under the Opel brand, many of which are developed specifically for that market.

    For a while, GM was bringing Opel cars to the US as Saturns; when the Saturn brand folded, that role was taken over by Buick. (The Regal is a thinly-veiled Opel Insignia.)

    The Cascada has been on the market in Europe since 2013, and now The General is bringing it here. Buick tells us that changes have been made to make the Cascada more Buick-like; most involve suspension and steering and are intended to make the car smoother and quieter.

    Certainly they've done little to the styling, and that's a good thing; the Cascada's complex creases and curves make for a very handsome car indeed.

    Cascada's beauty is more than skin deep

    The Cascada isn't just good to look at, it's also very well engineered. Lop the roof off a car and you lose a lot of structural stiffness, which can lead to a bad case of the jitters. GM beefed up the Cascada's side sills (something you'll notice as you have to step over them to get in the car) and the structure between the trunk and the rear seat, as well as adding under-body bracing. The result is a car that holds it shape and doesn't shake like a wet dog on rough pavement.

    Under the hood you'll find a 1.6 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 200 horsepower and 206 lb-ft of torque—about the same as the output of the two-liter engine in the previous-generation Volkswagen GTI. (The engine can "overboost" to 221 lb-ft for short periods of time.) Problem is, the Cascada isn't exactly a lightweight—it tips the scales at just under two tons. As a result, the Cascada isn't terribly quick; GM estimates a 0-60 time of 8.6 seconds. But the engine delivers strong mid-range torque and almost no turbo lag.

    Passing on a two-laner requires a good-sized length of clear pavement, but if you're trying to jet through an intersection or merge into fast-moving traffic, the Cascada won't let you down.

    Inside, ups and downs

    The interior (link goes to photo) has its highs and its lows. I found the leather-lined front seats comfortable and visibility with the top up is decent, small back window notwithstanding. But the controls for the stereo and air conditioning are a clutter of look-alike buttons, and the touch screen is small with a densely-packed display. This is old-school Opel—remember, the Cascada goes back three years—and it would have been nice if Buick had updated the controls to the standards of newer US-market GM cars.

    As with many convertibles, the top folds into the trunk, leaving just 9.8 cubic feet of space with the top down, and the shape of the trunk allows for small suitcases at best.

    But with the roof on, a movable divider opens up a reasonable 13.4 cubic feet of space, and the rear seats can be folded down to accommodate golf clubs. (That said, one would assume that if the weather is nice enough to go golfing, you'd want to drive to the country club with the top down.) The back seat looks small, but it's reasonably comfortable—a real rarity in the convertible world (or at least is has been since Chrysler and Toyota stopped making the Sebring and Solara convertibles).

    The Cascada has lots of thoughtful convertible-specific details. The fabric top operates with a single switch—no  knuckle-busting latches—and it can be raised or lowered at speeds up to 31 MPH. Rollover protection is provided by two posts that pop up from behind the back seats in the event the car is about to go inverted. There are even seat belt presenters that put the shoulder belt within easy reach when the door is closed. The only trick this car misses is lockable interior storage: Neither the glovebox nor the center console can be locked. Common convertible wisdom dictates parking with the top down so that the thieves won't knife through the roof to steal the stereo (though the Cascada's fully-integrated sound system would be nearly impossible to swipe). In the Cascada, parking top down means locking all of your belongings in the trunk.

    German engineering, American value (and Polish build quality?)

    Buick has priced the Cascada aggressively, and simplified the lineup by offering two well-equipped models with no extra-cost options (though paint colors other than white cost $395 extra—for shame, Buick). The base model includes 20" wheels, leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, and navigation; it lists for $33,990. The Premium model adds forward collision and lane departure warning systems, rain-sensing wipers, and front and rear parking sonar, and lists for $36,990. Perhaps (partially) accounting for the low price is the fact that the Cascada is built in Poland. It's hard to say if that'll affect reliability, but it's comforting to know that Buick offers a 4 year/50,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.

    Though the Cascada is missing a few features I'd expect to see (no keyless ignition or blind-spot warning system), there's no question it's a smoking deal—especially when you consider that the Audi A3 Cabriolet starts at $37,525 and the BMW 228i Convertible at $39,645, and both can easily be optioned up to nearly $50,000 (actually quite a bit more in the case of the BMW). And yes, the Buick does deserve comparison with both of these cars; it may not be as exciting to drive, but it's every bit as luxurious (more so than the Audi, actually) and just as well engineered. While you're shopping, by the way, check out the convertible Volkswagen Beetle—it's not as posh as the Buick, but it's still a very nice drop-top.

    Overall, the Buick Cascada is a brilliant addition to the marketplace, a good-looking convertible that offers decent interior room, a satisfying driving experience, and outstanding value-for-money. This is a truly excellent convertible—and it comes from Buick! Who would have thought? – Aaron Gold

    Details and Specs

    • Cascada is a new four-seat convertible originally designed by GM's European division
    • Price range (including destination charge and options): $33,990 - $37,385
    • Price as tested: $37,385
    • Powertrain: 1.6 liter turbocharged four-cylinder/200 hp, six-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel-drive
    • EPA fuel economy estimates: 20 MPG city/27 MPG highway
    • Where built: Poland
    • Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles bumper-to-bumper, 6 years/70,000 miles powertrain
    • Roadside assistance/free maintenance: 6 years/70,000 miles roadside assistance, first two services (up to 2 years or 24,000 miles) free
    • Best rivals: Audi A3, BMW 228i, Volkswagen Beetle Convertible

    Disclosure: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. Travel, accommodations, meals, vehicles and fuel were provided by Buick For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.