Buick adds sporty, attractive convertible to its lineup.
Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press


Taking the lovely★★★ 2016 Buick Cascada convertible on a road trip is like driving into the alternate reality portrayed in the brand’s TV commercials.

“Man, beautiful car,” a passerby says after a double take. “That’s a Buick?” a passing bike rider asks. “Cool Buick,” “Sweet,” call out a couple of kids bouncing a basketball.

Then again, maybe it’s not an alternate reality. Perhaps this is reality.

It’s 2016. Buick is cool, sweet, beautiful and possibly about to become one of the auto industry’s hot brands.

The Cascada compact 2+2 convertible exemplifies a lot of what’s going right for Buick. It’s essentially a twin of a car General Motors’ European Opel brand began selling in 2013. Buick is a major beneficiary of the globalization of GM’s engineering and vehicle-development processes. Opel developed the Cascada using GM’s global architecture, which also underpins the closely related Opel Astra and Buick Verano compacts.

If GM hadn’t allied Buick with Opel a few years ago, the U.S. Cascada wouldn’t exist. The convergence of the brands’ design, engineering and personalities has helped both enormously. Buick gets cars with sharp handling like the Cascada, Verano and Regal. Opel benefits with vehicles like the Mokka subcompact SUV, an adaptation of the Buick Encore that got Opel into one of Europe’s hot-selling segments ahead of the competition.

China also played a huge role in Buick’s resurgence. Buick’s vehicles and reputation had deteriorated badly in the U.S., but Chinese buyers remembered when Buick built great, powerful, stylish cars. They expected Buicks to be great when GM sought to do business in the world’s most populous country. GM complied by building great Buicks for the first time in decades, and that ethic fed back into the U.S. Buick model line.

Buick sold 1.23 million vehicles last year — 900,000 in China. It’s GM’s second-biggest brand globally behind Chevrolet. Add Opel’s 1.1 million, and the twinned brands are a global powerhouse, performing well in the biggest, toughest markets on the planet.

The Cascada has few competitors, none of which are much, if at all, better than it is. Small convertibles Cascada buyers might consider include the Audi A3, Fiat 500c Abarth, Mini John Cooper Works and Volkswagen Beetle and Eos.

Cascada prices start at $33,065. A 1.6L turbocharged four-cylinder engine, front-wheel drive and six-speed automatic transmission are standard.

I tested a nicely equipped Premium model with navigation, leather upholstery, a touch screen, front seat side and knee air bags, backup camera, 20-inch aluminum wheels and more.

The Cascada does not offer blind-spot alert, memory for the driver’s settings, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Those are disappointments in a new car at this price. The features either weren’t available or didn’t matter to European customers when the Cascada went into production at a GM plant in Gliwice, Poland, three years ago.

The Cascada’s power soft top opens and closes in about 17 seconds at speeds up to 31 m.p.h. The insulated top provides good sound insulation at highway speeds.

The car’s handling is responsive and enjoyable. The steering is quick and direct, with good on-center feel. Engineers stiffened the chassis to keep the Cascada stable and composed in quick maneuvers and on rough surfaces.

With a curb weight of 3,979 pounds, the Cascada is heavier than its competitors. The hard-working engine offsets that with 200 horsepower at 5,500 r.p.m., 207 pound-feet of torque at 1,800 r.p.m. and 221 pound-feet for brief periods from 2,000 to 4,000 r.p.m. The engine requires premium gasoline for max power. The Cascada’s horsepower and torque beat all competitors except the new 2016 Cooper Works Mini.

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The Cascada’s EPA fuel-economy rating of 20 m.p.g. in the city, 27 highway and 23 combined trails the competition. The Environmental Protection Agency certified the Cascada’s fuel economy with regular gasoline.

The Cascada’s front seat is roomy and comfortable. The rear seat is tight. The Cascada has more luggage room than the competition, but that’s not saying much. I ended up stowing my large duffle in the back seat during my long road trip.

The controls trail those of the best competitors. The center stack is a wilderness of small buttons jammed together in a fashion it seems only German car designers can love. The touch screen is smaller and harder to reach than is ideal. The voice recognition and Siri Eyes Free feature for iPhones were inconsistent.

The Cascada looks great, with a low profile, scalloped sides, crisp lines and rising belt line. It should age well. Unlike many convertibles, the Cascada looks as good with the top closed as open.

The low top and small rear window limit visibility considerably. Better sight lines would be welcome. In their absence, blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts should be available in addition to the standard backup camera and rear parking assist.

Those cares disappear when you drop the Cascada’s top, and Buick’s new convertible has enough other virtues to be a welcome addition. Look for the brand to win more admiration and attention when the Envision compact luxury SUV and LaCrosse large sedan go on sale this summer.

Contact Mark Phelan: mmphelan@freepress.com, 313-222-6731 or on Twitter @mark_phelan

Behind the Wheel

2016 Buick Cascada Premium

Front-wheel-drive 2+2 compact convertible

Price as tested: $36,460 (excluding destination charge)

Rating: ★★★ (Out of four stars)

Reasons to buy: Convertible, handling, looks

Shortcomings: Controls, fuel economy, lack of common features

Competitive EPA fuel-economy ratings

(Automatic transmission models)

Buick Cascada Premium: 20 m.p.g. city/27 highway/23 combined. Regular gasoline

Audi A3 Prestige convertible: 24/35/28. Regular

Fiat 500c Abarth: 24/32/27. Premium

2016 Mini John Cooper Works: 24/32/27. Premium

Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T SE convertible: 25/34/28. Regular

Volkswagen Eos Komfort: 22/30/25. Premium

Source: www.fueleconomy.gov

Comparative base prices (excluding destination charges)

(Automatic transmission models)

Buick Cascada Premium: $36,065

Audi A3 Prestige convertible: $36,600 

Fiat 500c Abarth: $26,695

2016 Mini John Cooper Works: $35,600

Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T SE convertible: $28,070

Volkswagen Eos Komfort: $31,995

Source: Autotrader

Specifications as tested

Engine: 1.6L 16-valve turbocharged 4-cylinder

Power: 200 hp @ 5,500 r.p.m. (with premium gasoline); 207 lb-ft of torque @ 1,800-4,500 r.p.m. (221 lb-ft over boost @ 2,200-4,000)

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 106.1 inches

Length: 184.9 inches

Width: 72.4 inches 

Height: 56.8 inches

Curb Weight: 3,979 lbs.

Where assembled: Gliwice, Poland

Key features on vehicle tested

Standard equipment: Antilock brakes; stability control; front seat side and knee air bags; rear vision camera; rain sensing windshield wipers; automatic headlights; front and rear parking assist; lane-departure warning; remote start; 8-way power driver seat; heat reflective leather seating surfaces; heated front seats; electronic seat belt presenters; 50/50 fold flat rear seats; dual-zone automatic climate control; heated steering wheel; navigation; 7-inch touch screen; 7-speaker system; XM satellite radio with 3 months service; leather wrap steering wheel; power locks, windows and mirrors; heated outside mirrors; 20-inch aluminum wheels; HID headlights; LED daytime running lights; 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, and OnStar 5-year basic plan with 6 months of additional services

Option: Deep sky metallic blue paint