Buick has at long last thrown caution to the wind and added a convertible to its lineup. And it is a good, four-seat ragtop.
The 2016 Cascada (properly pronounced Kas-KAH-da) is just rolling into dealerships in two trim levels with starting prices of $33,000 and $37,000. Buick is excited for the car because there are so few choices in four-seat convertibles in this entry-luxury segment, namely the Audi A3, VW Eos and maybe the Lexus IS.
Cascada is the ideal "reward" car. It is stylish, sporty to drive, well soundproofed and solid with virtually no cowl shake. The car was designed as a convertible so the reinforced structure for body integrity is built in, not added on. The lined and insulated top raises or lowers in 17 seconds. Trunk space with the top down is snug at 9.8 cubic, so your travel bags should be soft. Even so, the back seat folds (50/50) and the space will accommodate two golf bags. With the top up, the trunk has a generous 13.4 cubic feet.
The standard equipment on the Premium model is rich. Eight-way power (and heated) front seats include lumbar adjustment and nifty, electric seat-belt presenters that move the belt into easy-grasping position. The leather-trimmed upholstery is heat-reflective with perforated centers and is supposed to reduce the surface temp by a few degrees. That's important when the two shades of leather are black or neutral with black inserts.
Other nice extras include a rearview camera, front and rear parking assists, heated steering wheel, remote locking, electric parking brake and seven-speaker audio system with satellite radio, seven-inch touch screen and navigation.
The seats are supportive for weekend getaways and not so severely bolstered as to hamper comfortable entry and exit. The turning circle is zip-in and zip-out easy at 38.7 feet and the long wheelbase (106.1 inches) allows a comfortable ride.
Wind flow with the top down is well controlled without buffeting, but there is a standard windscreen. The manual screen folds down when not needed, and I did not need it in my test drive of 155 miles. Headroom with the top up (37.8 inches) was plenty for a 6-foot-2 male, without his knees rubbing the center console and still good thigh support from the seats.
Sightlines with the top up are good at the sides and over the hood, but the small backlight is limiting. A standard rearview camera and front and rear parking sensors help feel the way.
Cascada is a transplant from General Motors' "global" architecture (from the Opel Astra and Buick Verano), but there were more than 600 changes to meet U.S. standards for safety and comfort, such as a softer ride, soundproofing and improved seats. (The Opel Cascada has been on sale in Europe since 2013).
The engineering is refined. The steering, acceleration and braking engage with smoothness and finesse. HiPer Struts, specifically tuned coil springs, stabilizer bars and hydraulic ride bushings all help with control and to filter out road harshness. Braking is luxury class from four-wheel-disc brakes (vented 12.6-inch rotors front, solid 11.5-inch rear). Standard 20-inch alloy wheels roll with 245/40 all-season tires.
There is one powertrain choice of a 200 horsepower, direct-injection and turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission. This is a hefty convertible at 3,979 pounds, but the performance is unhesitating and lively. The engine's 207 foot-pounds of torque peaks at a low 1,700 rpm and pulls steady through 4,700 rpm. The six-speed finesses the power with easy downshifts and smooth roll on through the gears. Fuel economy ratings are 20 mpg city, 27 highway and 23 mpg combined, on the recommended but not required premium fuel.
The Cascada won't add up to big sales numbers, but it is just the halo Buick needs to lure convertible lovers to showrooms.
Mark Maynard is the automotive editor at the San Diego Union-Tribune. Mark.Maynard@sduniontribune.com