MIAMI — Perhaps the roots of the 2016 Buick Cascada were sown when the Korean-built Buick Encore SUV arrived for 2013. The automotive media greeted the latter with pretty much zero enthusiasm, until we drove it: What a nice, buttoned-down little sport-ute, one of the most pleasant surprises of the model year.
When the Chevrolet Trax SUV arrived, riding on the same platform, mild anticipation turned into disappointment—it was a penalty box that bore little or no resemblance to the Encore. Which means Buick apparently knows how to take a mediocre sport-ute and turn it into something good.
The company is trying to do the same thing for the 2016 Buick Cascada (pronounced cas-CAH-dah, “waterfall” in Spanish), a truly international four-seat convertible: It’s essentially an Opel, built in Poland, with a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder from Hungary and a six-speed automatic transmission from Mexico.
And you know what? It works.
The Cascada is no Mazda MX-5 Miata, nor does it try to be. There are only two basic models, two different wheel designs and six different colors. The “sport-tuned” suspension has no adjustability. The seats are leather (two colors). A few expected features such as push-button start are missing because, we were told at the Key West-to-Miami media introduction, “some features were not in Opel’s toolbox.”
What’s there is just fine, even on the base model, which lists for $33,990, including the boat trip over from Poland. The test car, a Premium model, started at $36,065, and $395 for the “carbon black metallic” paint (we’d choose white, which is free) plus $925 in destination fees brought the total to $37,385.
We’d be fine with the base model—the upscale version gets mostly electronic aids such as front and rear parking assist—and the only way to tell the base from the Premium is the absence of sensors in the former’s front bumper. We were told, though, that lease incentives are available on the Premium, making it actually cheaper to drive than the base car.
Buick didn’t give much thought to equipping the Cascada with a solid folding roof, given that the car is already a porky 3,979 pounds due to lots of under-chassis bracing that absolutely eliminates cowl shake on the roughest roads. The multi-layer soft top is fine, raising and lowering in about 15 seconds (Buick says 17 seconds), and you can do it at speeds up to 31 mph. The top folds neatly under a hard tonneau and leaves a decent 9.8 cubic feet of room in the trunk, compared to 13.4 cubic feet with the top up.
It’s surprisingly quiet with the top up, very tolerable with the top down. A folding wind deflector in the Premium model stretches across the back seat when you have no passengers, and it’s effective. There’s a pair of pyrotechnically activated bars in the rear that pop up if the car rolls over— and Buick thinks the bars and the car’s six air bags are enough to earn the top safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, interesting as NHTSA typically doesn’t test convertibles.
Interior space is fine up front, better than you’d think in the two rear seats. You can actually wedge four 6-footers into the cabin, but none of them will be eager to take a cross-country trip. One interesting feature: Move the power front seat forward, climb in the back seat, and move the front again. Proximity sensors return the seat to about a half-inch from the rear passenger’s knees, and stop it automatically.
On the road, the 2016 Buick Cascada is a viceless car, performing every task well but never exceptionally so. Handling, with the standard 20-inch tires and alloy wheels, is responsive and predictable, and the ride is firm but comfortable except on really bad roads.
The corporate 1.6-liter turbo-four sits beneath a big black plastic engine cover that says ECOTEC— come on, guys, at least try to dress up the engine compartment on a premium-brand model. It pumps out a rated 200 horsepower, with 207 lb-ft of torque, which is adequate but nothing more for the two-ton convertible. The six-speed automatic can get confused when you accelerate hard then back off, but otherwise, it helps the little engine the best it can. Yes, there is a manual transmission offered overseas, but it’s of no interest to Buick.
Buick would like to sell 10,000 Cascadas in its first year; even though it’s an Opel, the U.S. model allegedly has 600 unique parts, and add in the cost to get it federalized, and Buick already has put in a pretty significant investment. Even though China is Buick’s most important market—the company sells 1 million cars a year there, 250,000 here—China won’t get the Cascada. Why? “Because with their pollution,” said a Buick executive, “why would they want to put the top down?” He said it; we didn’t.
Buick has no plans now to pursue the rental car market, but down here in Florida, it seems a natural. Florida, California, New Jersey, New York, and Texas absorb half the convertibles sold in this country, and that’s where the Cascada rolls out first. Wherever you are, it should be at a dealership near you shortly.
There’s really no direct competition for the Cascada, especially with the Chrysler 200 convertible and Volkswagen Eos gone. Buick would like to think people will cross-shop it against Audi’s A3, and buyers will immediately find it is more similar in size and content to the pricier A5, but that seems optimistic.
Still, 10,000 sales are well within the realm of possibility. But what do we know? We liked the last convertible Buick built 25 years ago, the Reatta, and only now is it getting some overdue respect.
Nicely done, Buick—a fitting Encore for that last little SUV.
2016 Buick Cascada Specifications
- On Sale: Now
- Price: $33,990/$37,385 (base/as tested)
- Engine: 1.6L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/200 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 207 lb-ft @ 1,800-4,500 rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed automatic
- Layout: 2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, FWD convertible
- EPA Mileage: 20/27 mpg (city/hwy) (est)
- L x W x H: 184.9 x 72.4 x 56.8 in
- Wheelbase: 106.1 in
- Weight: 3,979 lb
- 0-60 mph:
- 8.1 sec
- Top Speed: N/A