Convertible cars always remind me of snow leopards or Thai elephants when I see them in the wild. Regardless of whether they are regally born and beautiful or homely looking and heavy, retractable roof cars are endangered species, teetering on the brink of extinction.
So when I recently got the chance to drive the Buick Cascada in all of its topless glory, I tried to make the most of it and focused on more than just the drop-top end of the question: This is a luxury car, designed for people who don’t just eat Beef Wellington, but for those who know what’s in it and how to make it as well.
It may come as a surprise, but this Buick is a turbocharged, sport-tuned automobile, and while it may not be as performance-focused as other convertibles out there (Corvette Z06, anyone?), it has been designed to be nimble enough to keep drivers engaged. But after 10 minutes of poking around, I began to realize that regardless of how well the Cascada handled, it had a few flaws that might cause it to struggle on the sales floor.
It’s a winning idea that lamentably misses on a number of levels, and for as enjoyable as it is to drive with the top down and the sun shining, its safe styling and convoluted controls made me rethink my joy to see a new convertible on the market.
On the outside, the Cascada is well proportioned, and while it most certainly is not a very masculine looking drop-top, it does a good job of appearing balanced with enough strong lines to make it slightly more confident looking. It rolls on 20-inch wheels, rocks low-profile Bridgestone Potenza rubber, has sharp head and tail lamps, and doesn’t do too much chrome. The only styling points that seemed out of place on it were the singular-sided, extra slim exhaust pipe and the side bumper lenses in the front and rear, neither of which matched the rest of the lines on the car.
As for the powertrain, it’s more of the same mindset, where a 1.6-liter turbo motor strikes a balance between being blessed with power but civilized and safe. It spools up and zips forward with enough effort and noise to make you grip the wheel, but its 200 ponies don’t blow you away either. This is a cruiser, a second car designed for taking to the beach on weekends, and for open-aired excursions around the canyon with the grandkids. Safe and steady, it’s a powerplant that has the kick to whip your hair around on the highway without making you think twice about traction control settings. While the six-speed auto does a damn good job of keeping things under control, the Cascada only returns a 23-mile-per-gallon average.
Interior-wise, it’s very much a Buick. There’s lots of heat-reflecting leather, soft touch materials, some two-tone styling points, and automatic everything. While it does offer some very comfortable cushioning for one’s posterior, the rear seat is honorary at best, with limited legroom that limits it to small-statured humans. Even though the retractable top is a one-touch affair, the overabundance of controls that layer the center stack could use some hefty simplification.
But where the unending rows of buttons left me lost, the amount of tech was a blessing; the Cascada has everything from 7-inch touchscreen and 4G LTE Wi-Fi features to articulating headlamps and accident warning systems that come standard on the Premium 1SP model. It also has things like tunnel detecting lights, rain-sensing wipers, and multiple kinds of parking assists, all of which are included at no additional charge.
At low speeds, the Cascada offers a relatively vanilla driving experience. It performs the way it looks, both in person and on paper, and is about as easy as it gets when it comes to control. Again, I see a lot of soon-to-be-retired history professors buying these things over anyone else because of the ease it offers to park and putter around the sunny beaches of Pensacola.
But the minute you mash on the throttle and aim for an apex, all 200 ponies and every ounce of torque it can muster comes forth with a resounding “whoosh,” which breaks down to 221 pound-feet of twist and a brief smirk of satisfaction. Unfortunately, the reason this car has to give it everything it’s got is because it weighs almost 2 tons, which means it has to make the turbocharged 1.6-liter motor earn its paycheck.
Nevertheless, although it may feel under-powered and overweight, the Cascada has grip and some pleasantly tight cornering capabilities; as good as that Potenza rubber may be, the real winner on this car is how it handles. By utilizing GM’s HiPer Strut design out front and a torsion beam/Watts link combo in the rear, Buick engineers were able to make a compact, quasi-aggressive suspension setup that makes you wonder how good this car could be with more power and a manual gearbox.
But that’s not Buick’s schtick with the Cascada. It’s meant more for open highway cruising, carrying its occupants at sensible speeds in safe, suburban settings. It’s for the buyer that values exposure to the air and sun over on-ramp acceleration and switchback-carving prowess.
In the end, the Cascada is basically a road legal show car: A convertible marketing device that does its job well enough to make you enjoy the test drive, but possibly not enough to get you to sign the dotted line. It has the potential to grow into something grand; that won’t come around for a while, and at almost $38,000, we think that opting for the more agile and powerful Regal GS and rolling with the windows down and the sunroof open will warrant more pleasing results.