Miami to Key West, Fl. – In our business we don’t buy many new cars because we have to drive two new test vehicles each week to write about them – we know, it’s a tough job.
Spending so much time in test vehicles leaves little time to drive our own car, in fact our car only gets taken out two or three times a year, usually for oil changes and too infrequent exercise. The rest of the time it sits in the garage, covered up, but ready to go.
Our car is a 1990 Buick Reatta. It is a hand-built Buick two-seater that was only built for four years. It was love at first sight car for Barbara when she saw it up on the pedestal at the San Francisco International Auto Show in 1989. The next week she went to the local Buick dealer and bought one and that was the last new car we’ve purchased.
A year ago at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show Barbara saw the new Buick Cascada Convertible Concept roped off in the Buick display and fell in love with it. So when Buick invited us to the introduction of the new Cascada convertible in January, in Miami, she had to go.
The Cascada introduction drive started in Miami and included a drive through one of our favorite areas, the Florida Keys, to Key West. While these are not the best test roads – straight with low speed limits -- the idea of cruising down one of America most scenic (water view) roads with the top down and temperature hovering at a perfect (for us) 70 degrees seem like a great escape from the rainy Northwest.
The 2017 Buick Cascada has a head-turning design that even seemed to attract the attention of the jaded ‘Miamites’ who on a day-to-day basis see some of the most exotic cars in the world.
The Cascada was designed to be a convertible. It’s not a coupe with the top cut off. As such, the design flows gracefully from the Buick grille and signature wing-like daytime running lights and sleek HID headlights over the sloping hood to the fast-raked A-pillars. Forward sloping sides add to the impression of motion. The large 20-inch standard wheels and tires add to the aggressive look. By building it as a convertible they were also able to build in a stronger, more rigid body structure. This was obvious by the complete lack of the cowl shake or twisting and shaking often experienced in many convertibles.
"The Cascada’s design blends the suggestion of speed with sophisticated and uncompromising details," said Holt Ware, Buick exterior design director. "Most convertibles are designed from existing coupes or sedans, meaning stowage of the top is an afterthought, but not this Buick. It looks handsome and has a premium appearance when the top is lowered – and a perfect, seamless profile when it’s up."
With the cloth top up the Cascada takes the persona of a coupe. Push the chrome horseshoe-shaped switch on the center console and 17 seconds later the top is folded neatly under the tonneau cover behind the rear seat back. The top can be lowered and raised while the Cascada is still moving at speeds up to 31 mpg. Inside, the lined top is one of the best we’ve seen providing not only a coupe-like sound level with the top up, but a nicely finished headliner.
With the top down, and the available diffuser in place over the rear seat, the wind noise and buffeting is minimal so we could still listen to Sirusly Sinatra on the SiriusXM satellite radio and talk as we pointed out sights along the drive route.
The leather seating is soft and supportive and proved to be quite comfortable on the four-hour drive. The leather on the seats is treated to reflect the sun’s rays and therefore stays cooler when left out with the top down. We give the Cascada high marks for having standard heated front seats, heated steering wheel and a nice seatbelt presenter that pushes out of the seat belt bracket to make the belt much easier to grab.
With the top down the cargo area is still fairly roomy for a convertible with 9.8 cubic feet of space. When the top is up the space grows to 13.4 cubic feet, and the rear seatback can be folded exposing a 22.4- x 12.6-inch pass-through for carrying longer items like golf clubs, skis or wakeboards. The Cascada has 2+2 seating which means a couple of adults would have a "cozy" ride in the rear seat. Actually it’s much better suited for carrying stuff, and with a rear seat the insurance is usually less. Buick engineers have designed a very helpful access system which automatically moves the front seat forward to make it easier to climb into the back.
We disagreed about the controls. Barbara thought the large number of buttons and knobs high up on the center stack were somewhat confusing and cluttered. Bill thought grouping them tightly made them easier to use. We both like the larger, faster IntelliLink touch screen but thought it was tucked too far into the dash and was difficult to use. The navigation and infotainment system does include the OnStar communications system along a 4G LTE connectivity with Wi-Fi hotspot that all the passengers can use to connect to the Internet.
The instrument panel with analog tachometer and speedometer on both sides of the digital display are very well placed and easy to see.
The 2016 Buick Cascada is available in two trim levels the Base 1SV model which starts at $34,915, including the destination charge and the Premium 1SP at $37,915. Standard equipment on both models includes navigation, OnStar with the Wi-Fi hotspot, rear vision camera, remote vehicle starter, 20-inch aluminum wheels, rear park assist and a significant number of other features. The Premium models add forward collision alert, lane departure warning, automatic headlamp control, front and rear park assist, rain sensor wipers and upgraded wheels.
Included with all the tradition Buick safety equipment are automated, spring-loaded and pyrotechnically activated rollover bars behind the rear seat. The bars shoot up to help protect the occupants in the event of a perceived rollover.
Even with all the extensive equipment list, we felt it was missing a few important features: blind spot detection, active cruise control, a push button start and doors that unlock without using the key fob. When we asked about them we were told they would probably be included on future models. We also learned the Cascada has been sold in Europe the last couple of years as an Opel and that the Europeans evidently didn’t place as much importance on those features as we do.
Although we’ll reserve handling judgement until we can spend some time driving in the mountains near our home, the performance is good for a cruiser like this. The Cascada has good acceleration but it won’t pass as a boulevard racer. It’s powered by a 200-hp 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It’s a sophisticated little engine with direct injection and variable valve timing. We’ve found no official acceleration figures, but our seat of the pants test figures somewhere in the 8- to 9- second range. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined.
We like the 2016 Buick Cascada. It competes well in its limited class and is definitely a step up from some of the competitors. It might even be tempting for us when they add a blind spot system and active cruise control.