First Drive: 2014 Opel Cascada [Review]

Join us as we take the Buick Verano\'s topless European cousin for a spin.

Generally speaking, executives in the auto industry refuse to comment on speculation and rumors regarding future products. Surprisingly, former General Motors CEO Dan Akerson all but broke that rule last year when he openly admitted he wanted to see the Opel Cascada cross the pond and land in the United States with a Buick emblem on the grille.

The executive's statement fueled wild speculation about what is shaping up to be Buick's first convertible since the two-seater Reatta was axed in 1991 after a very brief production run. Rumors, industry whisperings and spy shots suggest the Cascada will land here in time for the 2016 model year but Buick and Opel have resorted to automotive omertà.

What is it?Introduced in Frankfurt last year to replace the Astra Twin Top, the Cascada has a Spanish name, a German passport and American genes. It rides on a modified version of the Delta II platform that also underpins the Chevrolet Cruze, the Chevrolet Volt and the Buick Verano, among others.

The Cascada is noticeably bigger than its compact predecessor. It stretches 184 inches long, 72 inches wide and 58 inches tall, dimensions that make it about the same size as the Verano. It's rather portly at 3,750 pounds in its lightest configuration - for the sake of comparison the Verano tips the scale at 3,300 pounds.

In Germany, the base Cascada is powered by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that sends 140 horsepower to the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission. Buyers after a more frugal engine can select a 165-horsepower 2.0-liter turbodiesel called CDTI in Opel-speak.

Additional engine options that are available when the range-topping trim level is selected include a twin-turbocharged evolution of the CDTI that produces 195 horsepower and a familiar direct-injected 1.6-liter Ecotec turbo four that makes up to 200 horsepower.

The model tested here is powered by the less expensive 1.6-liter Ecotec mill that generates 170 horsepower at 4,250 rpms and 206 lb-ft. of torque at 1,650 rpms, enough to send the Cascada from zero to 62 mph in a claimed 9.9 seconds. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic controlled by shift paddles.

Life AboardThe center console, the dashboard and the instrument cluster were all carried over from the Golf-fighting Astra hatchback with only minor modifications as far as aesthetics go. However, the Cascada serves as Opel's de facto flagship and the company made a conscious effort to ensure the interior reflects the car's positioning.

Upholstered in Brandy-colored leather (an optional extra), the seats strike an ideal balance between comfortable and supportive. Many of the plastics feel top notch, while soft-touch materials and gloss black trim on the center console and on the dashboard help create a premium ambiance. Astra drivers would feel right at home in the Cascada but they would be surprised by how much nicer everything feels and looks.

Being a fairly large car, the Cascada is roomy enough to carry four average-sized adults in relative comfort, at least when the top is down. It goes without saying that head room is compromised when the top is up but two adults can cram in the back for short trips if needed.

Infotainment is not one of the Cascada's strong points. The IntelliLink system is not particularly user-friendly and it takes a lot of getting used to, especially because the center console seemingly has more buttons than the cockpit in your average trans-Atlantic airliner. Additionally, the display for the rear-view camera is black and white which is a little difficult to accept in a vehicle that is billed as a premium halo car. Frankly, we've seen better infotainment systems in economy cars that cost a fraction of the price of the Cascada.

The Cascada offers 12.4 cubic feet of trunk space with the top up and 9.9 cubic feet with the top down. The rear seats fold down to clear up a fairly generous amount of cargo space, meaning you can make a run to Home Depot with the wind in your hair.

Speaking of wind, the three-layer top is well-sealed and wind noise is reduced to perfectly acceptable levels when the top is up. A button located between the seat opens the top in 17 seconds and closes it in 19.

On the RoadQuiet and smooth on all road surfaces, the Cascada is a refined all-arounder that is one of the best topless daily drivers out there. The transmission shifts with an exceptional smoothness when left in drive and the car is stable enough on the highway to make 80 mph feel like 50.

Sport mode is engaged by pushing a button on the center console. It stiffens the suspension, modifies the throttle response, tells the automatic transmission to hold each gear longer, makes the steering more responsive and adds red lighting around all four analog gauges. Sport mode doesn't completely transform the Cascada, it doesn't become a track car by any means, but it makes it more enjoyable to drive on twisty back roads.

The 1.6-liter turbo four provides instant response thanks to its broad torque curve, and the Cascada feels like it takes a lot less than 9.9 seconds to hit 62 mph when you really put the pedal to the floor. With a light right foot we averaged about 30 mpg in a mixed driving cycle.

All Cascadas regardless of trim level come standard with the HiPerStrut suspension system that is also found in other members of the Opel lineup as well as select Cadillacs and Buicks. The system reduces torque steer but it largely fails to live up to its promise of improving the steering response. While the Cascada is easy to maneuver around town and comfortable to drive at normal speeds, the steering lacks feel once the pace picks up. Granted, it's more of a touring car than a sports car but there is a definite lack of connection between the driver and the road, it's missing that little something that turns a comfortable car into a driver's car.

Leftlane's Bottom Line It's no secret that convertible sales are on the decline but that doesn't mean it's time for automakers to pull stumps and abandon the segment altogether. There are plenty of sun-worshippers out there who want to go topless without spending big bucks or getting a loud engine with a large displacement.

In that regard the Cascada ticks many of the right boxes. It certainly isn't a sports car but it provides a satisfying, wind-in-your-hair driving experience while remaining practical enough to use on a daily basis.

Photos by Ronan Glon.

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