Buick's first convertible for the U.S. market in 25 years is a stylish, comfortable, soft-top cruiser that's reasonably priced, seats up to four people and has an expandable trunk.
The starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the Buick Cascada is just $33,990 — a base price that includes a 200-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, leather-trimmed seats and steering wheel, rear vision camera, dual-zone climate control, onboard navigation system and 20-inch wheels and tires.
Unexpected touches include power seat belt "presenters," which pull the front-seat belts forward to help the driver and front passenger buckle up. The trunk also is smartly engineered with 9.8 cubic feet of cargo space when the convertible top is down and a noteworthy 13.4 cubic feet when the top is up. More cargo space is available by folding down the rear seatbacks, a feature often found in sedans but not in two-door convertibles.
The Cascada's standard safety features include six air bags, traction control, electronic stability control, antilock brakes and metal pop-up bars that automatically deploy behind the rear-seat headrests during a rollover crash to help minimize head injuries. Other safety equipment, such as lane departure warning and forward collision alert, are available on the upper trim level.
But it doesn't offer other modern safety technology, such as blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alerts, that could improve driver views and alerts. As it is, the Cascada's side sheet metal comes up quite high and can make the driver and passengers feel like they're sitting in a low bowl.
When making turns, drivers need to look around the thick metal pillars at the sides of the front windshield that extend back toward the passenger compartment. Plus, the driver's rear view is constrained because of the car's high trunk lid and the small, slit-like rear window.
Still, the Cascada, which is built in Poland and is a version of an Opel car in Europe, is appealing and easy to drive.
The Cascada's only engine is a 1.6-liter, turbocharged, Ecotec four-cylinder that generates decent horsepower and peak torque of 207 foot-pounds starting at 1,800 rpm and going to 4,500 rpm. The power is needed because, at nearly 4,000 pounds, the Cascada is heavy for its subcompact size.
However, the car moves in sprightly, rather than sporty, fashion, and there can be a bit of turbo lag before power kicks in during passing maneuvers. The only transmission is a six-speed automatic, which produced mostly smooth shifts in the test vehicle.
Fuel economy is disappointing, with a federal government rating of only 20 miles a gallon in city driving and 27 mpg on highways. The test vehicle averaged 22 mpg in combined city/highway driving, amounting to a travel range of just 314 miles on a single, 14.3-gallon tank. Premium gasoline is recommended but not required.
With the roof up or down, the test vehicle exhibited "cowl shake" as it traveled over road bumps —a characteristic of open-top cars because of the loss of rigidity due to the lack of a metal roof structure. The front-wheel drive Cascada does not offer driver-adjustable suspension settings. The brakes were softer than the driver would have liked, and steering was mainstream.
Rear-seat legroom of 32.8 inches is good enough for smaller-sized adults, though rear-seat cushions are short. Headroom with the roof on the car is commendable, with a sedan-like 37.8 inches for front-seat passengers and 36.1 inches in the back seat.
Some of the car's information displays, however, can be washed out by the sun and difficult to read in top-down driving.