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2018 Buick Cascada

Buick Cascada is a compact convertible that’s all about style. Introduced for the 2016 model year, Cascada is the first Buick soft-top since the richly appointed Riviera of the mid-1980s, or the Reatta two-seater made in 1990-91.

Little has changed for the 2018 Cascada, but new color choices and color combinations with the soft top freshen the line. A Sport Touring trim level, with special design details, joined the lineup for 2017. Ranking as one of the least costly convertibles on sale today, the charmingly sedate drop-top has a distinctively continental aura.

Three trim levels are offered: base, Premium, and Sport Touring. Each version is stylish, fitted with a high level of standard features.

All models are front-wheel drive and use a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder that makes 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque, driving a 6-speed automatic transmission. An overboost provision can raise torque output briefly, to 221 pound-feet, when needed.

Buick’s convertible is pleasurable to drive, but it isn’t sporty. It’s more of a boulevard cruiser. Cascada has no direct competitors, now that moderately priced convertibles have faded away.

Rather than start fresh, General Motors looked to its highly respected European Opel division for the basis of the soft-roof Buick. Launched more than five years ago, Cascada’s European cousin hasn’t changed much since then. One sign of aging is the control layout, which relies heavily on buttons. Its infotainment system, too, hails from a prior generation of General Motors models.

Cascada lacks the most advanced safety features. A rearview camera is standard, but for a premium model, active-safety features are barely existent. Forward-collision and lane-departure warnings are optional, but automatic emergency braking is not available at all. Thus, Cascada is one of few current-model cars that cannot stop itself automatically if sensors detect an imminent crash.

Crash-testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration resulted in a five-star overall rating, with five stars for the side-impact test but only four for a frontal impact.

Model Lineup

Cascada ($33,065) comes standard with perforated leather upholstery, eight-way power heated front seats, rear parking sensors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 7.0-inch touchscreen, heated steering wheel, and 20-inch alloy wheels.

Premium ($36,065) adds navigation and safety features, including lane-departure and forward-collision warnings. Front/rear parking sensors, foglamps, and automatic articulating high-intensity discharge headlights are standard. Sport Touring ($37,065) gets unique wheels, sport alloy pedals, and a flat-bottomed, three-spoke sport steering wheel. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $925 destination charge.)

Exterior

An enticingly curvaceous body is the Cascada’s strong point. Assembled in Poland, it was designed and engineered in Germany, for the most part. Nothing about the Cascada is American, apart from its Buick badge. That German parentage results in an orderly, comparatively conservative overall appearance.

Suggestions of formal design contrast pleasantly with swoopy detail work. Up front, a heavily-chromed grille is blacked-out on the Sport Touring edition. All Cascadas ride on 20-inch tires that have a relatively low profile. Wheel designs differ by trim level.

This nicely-proportioned convertible looks just as good with its top down, as it does when the power-operated fabric roof is erected. The top can be folded in fewer than 20 seconds, at speeds up to 30 mph, in case of sudden weather changes in stop/go driving.

Interior

In stark contrast with the Cascada’s attractive body, its cabin comes across as dated and behind the times. Most notably, the center stack is overloaded with buttons. The overall look is aeronautical in nature, but it doesn’t come off well. Although there’s nothing really wrong with the instrument panel, which angles slightly toward the driver, it’s a humdrum layout.

Passenger space is limited, giving the Cascada a 2+2 configuration, which isn’t unusual for convertibles. A Cascada is comfortable for the two front occupants, who benefit from supportive seats and ample space. However, the back seat is tight for two more, unless they happen to be youngsters.

Cargo volume totals 13.4 cubic feet with the roof raised, shrinking to only 9.8 cubic feet with the fabric top folded. Those figures are about on par for the soft-top class. Thick lining of the fabric top helps stifle road sounds.

Interior materials are pleasing to the eye and mostly soft to touch, though not especially upscale. Standard perforated leather upholstery features an attractive pattern.

Not only is the infotainment system, with its 7.0-inch touchscreen, outdated, it seems like a generation removed from systems in other Buick models. Though it’s relatively easy to use, such features as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are absent. GM’s OnStar includes a 4G LTE wi-fi antenna.

Driving Impressions

Serving in its role as an open-roofed boulevard cruiser, the Cascada falls a bit short in refinement, but provides a pleasing experience. Potent performance isn’t part of the picture, but Buick’s convertible is relaxed on the road.

Large wheels and narrow tire sidewalls conspire to yield a choppier ride than expected – a bit like animal hooves pounding the pavement. Steering is accurate and appropriately-weighted, if short on road feel. The suspension fails to keep body lean fully controlled through curves and corners.

Despite relatively high power output for a small engine, the four-cylinder is overtaxed, largely because of weight. To retain body stiffness with the top down, a considerable amount of chassis bracing is required. Tipping the scale at nearly two tons, then, the Cascada is as hefty as some crossover SUVs.

In its attempt to deliver sufficient engine power, the turbocharger has to work quite hard. On the plus side, the Cascada engine is quiet and largely refined. Downshifts from the automatic transmission can be slow to arrive. Occasionally, they’re drawn out and woozy.

Fuel-efficiency falls short, partly due to the Cascada’s abundant weight. With its 1.6-liter engine, the 2018 Cascada is EPA-rated at 20/27 mpg City/Highway, or 23 mpg Combined.

Final Word

Buick Cascada is an alluring, attractively priced convertible. All three trim levels are well-equipped, but most modern active-safety features are absent. The back seat is snug, the ride is choppy, and performance is lackluster.

Driving impressions by Andrew Ganz, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.