After 25 years without a convertible in its lineup, Buick gets back into the drop-top class with the midsize 2016 Cascada. It's not nearly as luxurious as Buick claims, but it offers considerable value for the price.
What Is It?
The 2016 Buick Cascada is a two-door, four-passenger convertible that starts at $33,990. For that price you get features like adaptive headlights, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, a navigation system, Siri Eyes Free iPhone control, onboard WiFi and a rearview camera.
It's best to think of the Cascada as a comfortable tourer rather than a sporty convertible. Proportionally, there is a lot of sheet metal that makes it look heavy, particularly above the rear wheels. This prevents the car from having a sleek, "ready-to-pounce" stance, but it does allow for a flat rear deck lid that completely hides the folded fabric roof. An attractive chrome strip surrounds the passenger compartment and dresses things up a bit.
Our initial drive was in a model with the $3,000 Premium trim. It adds several safety items like forward collision alert, lane departure warning, automatic wipers and headlights. Wind deflectors to control buffeting with the top down are also part of the package.
The only other options on the Cascada are the exterior and interior colors and the wheels. Notably absent from the options list is a keyless ignition (you still need to use a key to start it), a premium audio upgrade and more advanced safety features.
Is It a True Luxury Convertible?
Given the price, this Buick is positioned as an entry-level luxury convertible. Judging by its interior, however, the Cascada falls short on that promise. Liberal use of hard trim pieces along with parts shared with various Chevrolet vehicles give the Cascada a less-than-premium look and feel. The stitched leather dashboard is attractive, but it's surrounded by plastics that suggest a lower price point.
Most of the switchgear and displays in the Cascada also have a dated appearance, with a low-resolution driver information display and a relatively small 7-inch touchscreen that is slightly out of reach. An overabundance of buttons and knobs on the center stack (we counted 46) further complicates infotainment and climate control operation. The auxiliary steering wheel buttons aren't any better, with wobbly rubberized switches that don't feel particularly precise.
The infotainment system itself isn't as sophisticated as competing units, either. The menus are not intuitive, and responses to inputs are often slow.
Trunk space is decent at 13.4 cubic feet with the convertible top up, dropping to 9.8 cubic feet with the top stowed. The typical carry-on suitcase will easily fit behind the folded top, and about two more can be accommodated when the top is out of the way. The trunk opening is narrow, which will prevent the loading of bulkier items, but a small center pass-through with remote rear-seat releases allows for longer cargo. Interior storage is limited to a few small bins and pockets.
How Comfortable Is the Cabin?
The Cascada's front seats provide a good amount of support and the perforated leather upholstery kept us adequately ventilated on a humid day. A reflective coating also helps keep the surface cooler, and a seatbelt presenter keeps front passengers from having to twist and reach rearward to buckle up. Unfortunately, the thinner padding and stiff leather did create some uncomfortable hard points after a few hours behind the wheel.
For the passengers in back, the seats feel puzzlingly off-kilter for average-size adults, as the position feels neither straight nor level. The lack of lateral and thigh support makes these narrow seats more appropriate for small passengers, as does the lack of headroom with the top up. Accessing the seats is easy thanks to a single latch that releases the front seatback and slides the seat forward. When the front seat is returned to its position, sensors detect where the rear passenger's knees are and adjust its rearward travel for optimal space.
With the top up, the triple-layer fabric roof does a good job of filtering out external sound, but there is a noticeable amount of road noise reverberating throughout the interior. The top folds away in only 17 seconds at speeds up to 31 mph with the touch of a single lever. The Premium trim's mesh wind blocker can be easily installed over the rear seats and dramatically reduces wind buffeting, even at highway speeds. We were able to have a civilized conversation without having to raise our voices, whether the windows were up or down.
What Is It Like on the Road?
Powering the 2016 Buick Cascada is a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder that produces 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. This isn't much power for a car that weighs 3,979 pounds, but it does get up to speed at a reasonable pace.
The EPA estimates the Cascada's fuel economy at 23 mpg combined (20 city/27 highway). These figures are about average for convertibles in this price range.
Gearchanges from the six-speed automatic transmission are smooth, and the front wheels don't tug at the steering wheel under full power. Passing slower traffic requires you to engage the overboost mode by flooring the throttle. Once engaged, the peak torque output is increased to 221 lb-ft for a short time. The extra power gets the job done, but the engine does labor quite loudly.
The Cascada is tuned to favor comfort over performance, so it feels smooth over most ruts and bumps, even with the standard 20-inch wheels. At worst, the rear wheels shimmy over long stretches of broken pavement, but even that is barely noticeable. Since most of our test-drive was on wide-open highways, we have yet to experience its ultimate handling potential on curvy roads.
Outward visibility is compromised by very thick windshield pillars, but thankfully they're situated far enough to the sides to prevent continuous obstruction. The high rear deck lid also presents some challenges when backing into a spot, forcing heavy reliance on the standard rearview camera. With the top up, rear visibility is further narrowed through a small glass window and the surrounding convertible top, a typical issue with vehicles in this class.
What Safety Features Are Available?
In addition to the typical safety features found in modern convertibles, the Buick Cascada also benefits from OnStar emergency telematics and front passenger knee airbags.
In the event of a rollover accident, high-strength steel bars will automatically deploy from behind the rear seats for added protection. The Premium trim also gets a lane departure warning system and forward collision alerts.
What Cars Compete With It?
There aren't many convertibles in the Cascada's price category. The only direct competitor comes in the form of the Audi A3 Cabriolet. With a starting price $3,000 greater than the Buick's, the bottom line may be a deciding factor for shoppers. If you can stretch the budget, however, the Audi rewards you with a more engaging driving experience and a significantly more luxurious interior.
Why Should You Consider It?
If you're looking for a convertible that's a step above your average soft-top Camaro, the Cascada is worth considering. It rides better, gets solid mileage and looks more elegant inside and out.
Why Should You Think Twice About It?
Although it tries to play the part of a luxury car, the Cascada comes up short when it comes to refinement, materials and performance. Rear-seat comfort is also worse than expected, and the interior controls aren't very intuitive.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.