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One Week With: 2016 Buick Cascada

A New Halo with an Old-Fashioned Key

Patrick M. HoeyPhotographerTodd LassaWriter

One annoyance from the 2016 Buick Cascada compact convertible is that those of us used to keyless-go (we know - auto journo problems) will get into the comfortable driver's seat and buckle up before realizing we can't go anywhere with the ignition key fob in our pocket.

Foreign switchgear has long been an issue for European and Australian General Motors cars rebadged for North America, beginning with the 2004 Pontiac GTO. It once afflicted the Saturn Astra and Pontiac G8, and now it afflicts the Chevrolet SS sport sedan and Caprice cop car. Even as a halo, the Polish-built Buick Cascada doesn't come with the Apple CarPlay/Android for Autos features available in lesser models. It does have Intellilink with navigation and 4G LTE with a hot spot, though, along with a nice host of modern safety features, at least in the top-spec Premium trim.

Once you dig out the key and insert it into the ignition switch, the Cascada's interior is a nice place to be, with stitched leather-covered seats and a nicely padded, stitched dash. A detachable front seat air deflector fits over the rear seats, which are short on legroom. Pop-up emergency rollover bars are hidden in a panel at the rear cowl, behind the rear headrests.

Front suspension is GM's HiPer Strut, designed to eliminate torque steer and improve steering feel. Rear suspension is a Watts Z-link, which means it's a lowly beam axle, but with the link providing good lateral control.

Introduced in 2013 as the Opel/Vauxhall Cascada, the Buick convertible follows the trend away from folding hardtops and features a heavy, sturdy insulated ragtop instead. It can be lowered in 17 seconds at cruising speeds of up to 31 mph. Cowl shake is minimal, but present, as this is a unibody convertible, after all. Power from the 200-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four can best be described as adequate, and it's not as smooth as we'd like in a relaxed ragtop, considering the peaky turbo. With all the added bracing, the Buick Cascada's curb weight is a robust 3,979 pounds, which makes it 53 pounds heavier than a Cadillac CT6 with all-wheel-drive and 3.6-liter V-6.

Combining the substantial mass with 20-inch aluminum wheels, the Buick Cascada feels more substantial than a compact. The 20s are typical of modern let's-fill-the-wheel-wells overkill, but the feeling that you're driving a bigger car isn't necessarily a bad thing. The ride and handling are nicely balanced, and well tilted toward the ride side, as it should be for a relaxed convertible with absolutely no sports car pretentions. Chevrolet sells a nicely redone Camaro convertible to better suit those automotive needs. Turn-in is average, there's some feel and feedback from the steering, and the benign understeer becomes tire-squealing excess only when you try to drive it as no Buick Cascada buyer will (or should, anyway).

As a convertible and as a Buick, the Cascada is a decent pick. At $33,990 for the base, 1SV trim and $36,990 for the Premium, with just a few options available, consider it a credible competitor for the $36,600-$48,450 (plus options) Audi A3, rather than as the spiritual successor to the unmissed Chrysler Sebring/200 convertible. As a halo car, it seems a sort of stopgap model, having arrived at the resurgent division three full years after its debut in Europe at Opel/Vauxhall dealers.

Yes, we're going down this well-travelled road once again: Giving us hope that Buick could finally get at least one rear-drive model, while Chevrolet has several. Division chief Duncan Aldred hinted at the Detroit show last January that a car like the Alpha-based Avista could be the halo to replace the Cascada when its time is done. A four-door Buick Avista could arrive about time for the 2019 model year, some six years after the Opel Cascada.

But that's not all that long for a low-volume specialty convertible, especially after just three years on the North American market. Having long re-established itself in China, Buick is gaining notice here as a brand that's more than a fleet of well-optioned Chevys for aging customers and their parents. There should be room in the lineup for both the Cascada and the Avista. Like the rest of the automotive world, Buick will be lavishing its mainstream-model attention on a burgeoning SUV lineup, anyway. And perhaps by 2019, Opel/Buick can prepare a Cascada model refresh that includes keyless-go.

2016 Buick Cascada Premium Specifications

On Sale: Now
Price: $36,990/$37,485 base/as-tested
Engine: 1.6L DOHC 16-valve turbocharged 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/highway)
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