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  • Breaking News

    CONVERTIBLE FIRST DRIVE-BUICK CASCADA 2016


    “Look how much fun Buick can be!” That’s what we imagine some Buick dealers will think at the sight of the new 2016 Buick Cascada, an attractive soft-top convertible that’s soon to brighten showrooms everywhere, or at least in the five states the automaker says make up half of all convertible sales—and to buyers who aren’t especially brand-loyal. The Cascada will serve Buick as another brand perception-breaker, and you won’t find a convertible at Acura, Cadillac, or Volvo. At a launch event in Florida, we drove the Buick Cascada with the top down, up, and unfolding at speed to determine whether Audi, BMW, or even Ford should be worried.

    Although the new-to-the-U.S. 2016 Buick Envision midsize crossover could become the brand’s best-seller in 2017 or 2018, the 2016 Cascada convertible enters a much lower-volume segment. The car reaches our shores thanks to Opel, General Motors’ European subsidiary, and has already been on sale in Europe for a couple years. Buick sprinkled in a few changes—suspension and steering tweaks, for example—but almost nothing has changed with the design aside from the Buick badges (not yet in color as on the 2017 LaCrosse) and huge 20-inch wheels in two styles. They’re standard equipment on every Cascada, part of an impressive standard-equipment list that helps disguise the fact that the car is closely based on a non-premium European model.



    With a starting price of $33,990 including destination, every 2016 Buick Cascada includes as standard 20-inch alloys, articulating HID headlights and LED taillights, navigation on a 7-inch touchscreen, heat-reflective leather seats with an interesting perforated triangular pattern, heated and eight-way power-adjustable front seats, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, and rear parking sensors with a rearview camera. It’s a useful grouping of content that makes for a worthwhile “I could live with that” base model.

    All Buick Cascadas are powered by a turbocharged, 1.6-liter four-cylinder that produces 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque routed through a six-speed automatic and always with front-wheel drive—the more expensive Audi A3 and BMW 2 Series drop-tops offer AWD. Don’t get too excited about those figures, though, as Buick estimates the Cascada’s curb weight at just less than 4,000 pounds. Remember that the next time a Buick salesperson points out the much lighter and smaller Audi A3 Cabriolet comes standard with only 170 hp, and on track-tested Cascada performance numbers.



    Few folks seeking a convertible under $40,000 are stoplight drag racing, though, and the more interesting Cascada numbers are 17, 19, and 31. By holding down or lifting a latch between the two front seats, the top will go down or back up in 17 and 19 seconds, respectively, and at speeds of up to 31 mph. Although this functionality isn’t unique to the Buick, it’s still cool and proved useful in Miami traffic (the top went up …) before the congestion cleared (… and back down).

    Refrain from driving it like a sports car, and the 2016 Cascada performs well, but the engine doesn’t have much to offer below about 3,000 rpm. The smooth-shifting six-speed automatic lacks a Sport mode or paddle shifters, but the manual gate on the shifter is helpful if a little slow to react. EPA-rated fuel economy, at 20/27 mpg, is at the bottom of the class. The base-model A3 Cabriolet with the 1.8-liter turbo-four instead of the higher priced 2.0-liter model comes in at 24/35 mpg. The BMW 228i drop-top in rear-drive form is good for an EPA-rated 23/34 mpg, and even the Ford Mustang with 310 hp from a 2.3-liter turbo-four comes in at 20/29 mpg. We look forward to evaluating how the Buick Cascada’s small-displacement turbo-four fares in our Real MPG testing.

    Perhaps the Buick’s wonderfully quiet interior partially explains the EPA fuel economy. Noise levels aren’t bad with the top down, but things get much quieter when the top goes up. The car should also score points with convertible owners tired of arching their back to reach for the seat belts. In the Cascada, an electronic arm reaches out to give you the seat belt and retracts once the seat belt is fastened. Rear-seat passengers aren’t left out, either. Pull forward the front seat backs, and the seats automatically power forward. From the rear seat, pull it back and the seat motors back to touch your legs. Once the proximity sensor finds your legs, the soft seat backs move forward a touch. It’s still cozy back there, but the feature is a welcome one.



    Over the mostly flat, straight, and well-paved roads from Miami to Key West, we didn’t have many opportunities to test the Cascada’s handling or suspension. Even so, for a car with standard 20-inch wheels, the Cascada’s HiPer Strut front suspension and Watts Z-link rear suspension keep the ride smooth. There’s a bit too much travel in the brake pedal before anything happens, but otherwise the car is a comfortable driver at sensible speeds.

    The styling and a long list of standard features will attract some buyers to dealerships, but once you take a closer look, this new-to-the-U.S. car starts to feel old. Hands-free keyless access isn’t available, so there’s no push-button start. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, as well as active safety technologies that go beyond warning and actually intervene, aren’t available. Interestingly, Buick tells us it has petitioned the NHTSA to get the Cascada safety rated (low-volume convertibles aren’t usually rated) and expects an overall five-star rating. The car also lacks a trunk-open button inside the cabin, and the instrument cluster with its plain gauges and non-modern info screen and surrounding black plastic looks as if it came from a 5-year-old non-luxury car. That info screen, which has red lighting to match the car’s ambient lighting around the gear-shift stalk, helpfully can show redundant navigation directions and a tire pressure readout for all four tires.

    If turning a switchblade-style key in an ignition and an older instrument cluster design don’t bother you, the Buick Cascada could be compelling. Suddenly, a new four-seat drop-top alternative exists for Mustang and Camaro buyers who want something different and for Audi A3 and BMW 2 Series buyers startled by prices with a few options. The Cascada’s sensible pricing and quiet interior with the top up are great features, but this is no Buick halo car. We can’t wait to see how Buick acts on the excitement the Avenir and Avista concepts have generated, but until that happens, the Cascada expands the brand’s lineup in a way some competitors can’t or won’t.

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