2016 Buick Cascada Review - Best-Before Date
After years of covering the automotive industry, I’m still amused by the enormous gulf between auto enthusiasts and “real people.” (I’m talking to you, B&B!) We get excited when Honda decides to offer a manual transmission in the V6 Accord, despite the tens of buyers who will come running for it, or General Motors’ confidence to sell the Chevrolet SS here at all. “Real people” like it when there’s a less expensive way to get into a BMW M product, as well as the ability to go into a showroom and walk out the same day with the same nameplate they know and trust.
A great example of this chasm/schism is the Buick Cascada. Here’s how we imagine the reaction of each affinity group:
Auto enthusiasts/press: “Buick’s decided to rebadge an aging Opel and try to pass it off in the United States as The New Thing in the segment abandoned by the Volkswagen Eos and Chrysler 200 convertible?”
Real people: “There’s a convertible Buick now?”
In fact, the Cascada has been on sale in Europe since 2013 as an Opel/Vauxhall pair, but it feels substantially older than a vehicle ready for a mid-cycle refresh. That’s partly because of the enormous leap in quality and feature content at General Motors vehicles in the last couple of years.
Can the Cascada’s relatively gorgeous looks save an otherwise mediocre product?
Immediately after picking up the Cascada, I was scheduled to give a talk to journalism students at my high school alma mater about having a life and career as an automotive journalist. The takeaway? If you think millennials aren’t plugged in to what’s going on with cars today, just spend a couple of hours with high school students and ask them about the Volkswagen scandal, what Tesla might be up to, and if the Mercedes-Maybach S600 is worth considering. (According to one student, it so is.)
When the lecture was over, I asked the keen students to join me outside to offer first impressions of the Cascada. As a group, the kids were impressed by remote engine start and the slick operation of the top. One budding auto journo went as far as to compare the side profile of the Cascada to that of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe. Another admitted some confusion about the Cascada’s American badge, German ancestry, and Polish origins. A third liked the leather seats but abhorred the height of the beltline.
With these impressions gleaned astutely from a non-driving audience far off from the automaker’s anticipated target, it was time to get to work.
Let’s start with the good news. The Cascada is prettier than any recent Buick has the right to be. Parked at the beach with the top lowered, the chrome-tinted strip surrounding the Cascada’s passenger compartment amplifies its long body and downplays its puffed-up proportions. Compare the Cascada to the departed Chrysler 200 and Toyota Solara all you like, but neither of those convertibles had the buxom gravitas to elevate a rental car-spec personality.
With the top up, the Cascada has a rounded, hatchback-like roofline — and it still looks pretty good.
The situation shifts from “pretty good” to “really?” when dissecting the Cascada’s German bones.
Despite the Cascada’s good looks, there are some significant downsides to actually driving it. In some regards, the Cascada acts and feels more German than it does American. Ride quality is stiffer than you might expect or want from a Buick convertible, a feeling amplified by larger-than-necessary 20-inch wheels. With every bump, an unsettling did we hit a pothole and bend a wheel or blow a tire? ka-thunk is likely to follow. There’s a dummy set of taillights located within the trunk compartment, so that lights are visible even if the trunk lid is up, conforming to European regulation and sensibilities. The cupholders are too small to accommodate anything Venti, let alone a water bottle or a smartphone. The heated seats warm up fast enough as to be prepared for a wintry morning climb through the Alps — although it’s unlikely that any fortunate renters in Orlando will ever take advantage of their strength.
No heated seats are enough to make up for the flawed experience of driving a Cascada, however. There have been enormous improvements in GM’s four-cylinder turbos in the last several years. The Cascada features few of them. Its 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder offers little joy while exploiting the engine’s power. Curb weight is a meaty 3,979 pounds; with four average Americans aboard, it’s tantamount to an unladen Enclave. The Volkswagen GTI has just about the same horsepower and feels entirely more agile and lively. Some of this has to do with the tuning of the standard six-speed automatic, which unevenly straddles fuel efficiency and performance. Recent GM small cars, from the Trax to the Cruze, have proven fuel efficient beyond their specifications. The 1.6-liter turbo should be capable of better than 20 mpg in the city — but according to the EPA (and our casual observations), it isn’t. On the highway, efforts to hit the 30 mpg mark were thwarted.
Interior quality isn’t up to the tight, impressive GM standards of late, either. Cowl shake and rattling are evident, as is significant noise, even when the top is up. This does not please passengers in either row. There’s no use turning up the radio to try to compensate for the noise let in by the poorly insulated soft top, either. The Cascada is saddled with an outdated version of Buick’s IntelliLink infotainment system, as well as a relatively tiny, touchscreen information screen at the top of the instrument panel. If you’d gotten used to the quick and brilliant MyLink in recent Chevrolets, you’re in for a disappointment. In addition to being difficult to reach, the touchscreen system reacts slowly, and you’ll never be able to memorize the location of the tens of buttons that control it by feel. You’ll want to make sure your subscription to the flawless 4G LTE wi-fi, arguably the most up-to-date feature on the Cascada, is active.
But here’s the thing: There was a time, not long ago, that you could still argue that, even for the Cascada’s flaws, it was gutsy for GM to re-enter an almost dead segment and build a convertible that erred on the side of the everyday. Buick is now a victim of its own success. Look at the fit and finish of the new LaCrosse, or the graphics quality of its latest touchscreen nav system.
Recidivism is a complicated behavior. For the Cascada to succeed and attract new buyers (beyond Ellie Kemper) to the fold, Buick ought to triage a refresh and impress the American convertible buying public. All of this adds up to a driving experience that’s a bit of a letdown from the auto conglomerate that’s been delivering win after win recently.
You shouldn’t have to settle for something average, even at the rental lot, and GM knows that. See the Chevrolet Camaro convertible one aisle over?
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- FreedMike Good article! And I salute the author for not using the classic “Lucas - prince of darkness” trope, well earned as it may be. We all know the rap on BL cars, but on the flip side, they’re apparently pretty easy to work on (at least that’s the impression I’ve picked up). On the other hand, check the panel fits on the driver’s and passenger’s doors. Clearly, BL wasn’t much concerned with things like structural integrity when it chopped the roof off a car designed as a coupe.