First drive: 2016 Buick Cascada [Review]

After a 25-year hiatus, Buick is back in the convertible game.

White space. It's the area that usually gets lost in the bigger picture. It either exists because no one has thought of something compelling to fill the void, or because there really isn't a need to plug the gap. With the Cascada, Buick is hoping for the former.

While the market was once flush with affordable convertibles like the Pontiac G6, Chrysler 200 and Volkswagen Eos, the segment has all but dried up in recent years. The pool gets exceedingly smaller if you exclude sport-oriented drop tops like the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro.

Although down, Buick isn't buying that the convertible segment is completely out in the United States. After all, research shows that about 42 percent of convertible buyers return to the open air segment for their next vehicle. That's not a huge pool of potential buyers by any means, but certainly one that warrants consideration.

But more importantly to Buick, the brand views the Cascada as a halo vehicle; one that can get buyers excited about the Buick brand and into showrooms to checkout other vehicles in its lineup. So, is the Cascada up to the task of resuscitating the convertible market while simultaneous elevating the Buick brand? Come with us as we find out.

German descentFirst things first — this Buick has German bones. The Cascada was originally introduced as an Opel in the European market back in 2013. In fact, the Cascada is sold under a few different General Motors nameplates, including Vauxhall in the UK and Holden in Australia and New Zealand. Making its lineage even more murky, the Buick Cascada is built in Poland using an engine made in Hungary and a transmission sourced from Mexico.

But back to those German roots. The Cascada rides on a modified version of GM's front-wheel drive Delta II platform that was engineered by Opel from the onset to serve as the basis for a convertible. That's good in terms of the Cascada's mechanicals (the Germans aren't known to cut corners when it comes to engineering), but bad in terms of overall features. Because it's a European design that dates back a few years, features like adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren't included in Buick Cascada, at least not yet. Ditto for niceties like push-button start and ventilated seats.

Likewise, the Buick Cascada shares the vast majority of its exterior and interior styling with its Opel counterpart. That's not a bad thing, however, as the Cascada is a rather handsome design in any language.

The nose of the Cascada is sleek, with LED-accented headlights giving the car an up-scale look. Steeply-raked A-pillars give the Cascada an added dose of sport, as do standard 20-inch wheels. There are plenty of creases and sculpted surfaces to keep the Cascada's design interesting, including a rear-end with muscular-looking haunches. The Cascada looks good top up or top down, so arriving in style isn't weather dependent.

The interior of the Cascada is befitting of a near-luxury vehicle in terms of materials, but the controls and interfaces have a decidedly last-generation feel. For example, the Cascada's center stack is littered with nearly 50 buttons, making it difficult to find the control you want with a quick glance. And the red LCD screen nestled between the Cascada's main gauges feels more like 2006 than 2016.

But the Cascada is at least well equipped, with standard features including power-adjustable front seats with heat, a heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, 7-inch touchscreen navigation system, rear-view camera, premium audio and dual-zone climate control. Jumping to the Cascada's Premium trim level adds forward collision warning, lane departure warning, front- and rear-parking sensors and automatic wipers for $3,000.

On the roadOur daylong evaluation of the Buick Cascada was conducted along the mostly straight roads between Key West and Miami. Although that route didn't give us much of a chance to evaluate the Cascada's handling, it gave us an accurate representation of how the average Cascada will probably be used.

We were concerned that the Cascada's standard 20-inch wheel might have a negative impact on the convertible's ride, but it was just as comfortable as you'd expect something with the Buick badge to be. Seats were also comfortable, even if we're not completely sold on the Cascada's unique upholstery pattern. We enjoyed the Cascada's heated seats and steering wheel on an unseasonably chilly Florida morning, but we can't help but think not including ventilated seats on a car that will mostly see summer duty was an oversight.

The Cascada's center stack proved frustrating at times, not only for its button-laden design but also for a few key omissions. For example, nowhere amongst the Cascada's 46 buttons is a dedicated control for Satellite radio, so you have to use the source button to scroll through any media device that might be plugged in, AM and FM before you land on SirusXM.

The Cascada's 7-inch touchscreen isn't without fault, either. Though resolution is fine, the screen is tilted at such an angle that glare is often an issue. The wide "shelf” underneath the screen can also block your view and make it difficult to touch icons in the lower portion of the readout.

Gauges are clear and easy enough to read, but the Cascada would really benefit from a more modern LCD screen in its cluster. As it stands, the Cascada's red LCD screen is unable to double as a display for navigation directions.

All Cascada models are powered by a 1.6L turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 200 horsepower and 206 lb-ft of torque. The Cascada also features an over-boost function that can temporarily lift torque to 221 lb-ft. A six-speed automatic is the only transmission on offer.

The Cascada was never destined to be a performance machine, and its 3,979 pound curb weight ensures that. The Cascada feels just fine puttering around normal city traffic, but the little 1.6L can feel strained when you really whip into it. The mill does at least have a pleasing turbo chirp that comes on early in the rev band.

As we mentioned earlier, we didn't get a chance to bomb down any backroads, but on our scenic cruise the Cascada exhibited the kind of steering feel you'd expect in a car of this segment — direct, but without an abundance of weight or feel. And that's just fine for the Cascada and its target audience.

The Cascada also feels as solid as its near 2-ton weight would indicate, with little in the way of cowl shake. However, that old world craftsmanship comes at a price, with the Cascada only able to muster 20mpg in the city and 27mpg on the highway.

The Cascada's double-layered soft top can be raised or lowered in about 17-seconds at speeds up to 31mph. However, the Cascada's large C-pillars and non-existent blind spot monitoring system mean this Buick is best driven with the top stowed.

Leftlane's bottom lineThough it won't set the industry on fire, the 2016 Buick Cascada promises to bring some much needed color to the white space of the convertible segment. Sized like an Audi A5 but priced cheaper than an A3, Buick should be able to find plenty of sun lovers for the Cascada.

2016 Buick Cascada base price, $33,065. As tested, $37,385.Deep sky metallic paint, $395; Destination, $925.

Photos by Drew Johnson.

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