6.08.2016

The American Cruiser Returns (Sort Of): The 2016 Buick Cascada

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Buick Cascada
The 2016 Buick Cascada.
Longtime TireKicker readers are aware that I am a sucker for convertibles.  Probably goes back to my earliest memories of car rides with my Uncle Ron, who always bought ragtops.  '53 Corvette, '55 Thunderbird, '60 Thunderbird, '63 Thunderbird (the rare Sports Roadster, no less...only 455 made that year) and finally, because they stopped making Thunderbird convertibles in 1966, a 1969 Mercury Cougar XR-7 convertible.

I only remember the '60, '63 and '69, but rides in those were magical. I was hooked.  And so I was excited to hear that Buick was importing the Opel Cascada.  And now, after two years on the market in Europe, it's here.




Rear 3/4 view of the 2016 Buick Cascada
2016 Buick Cascada.
There's a lot to like about the Cascada.  It's trimly styled, looking from the rear like a cleaned-up BMW 6-series cabrio. It has a soft top instead of a retractable hard top, which saves on weight and trunk space.  And it puts on one heck of a motorized ballet for 17 seconds when you put it up or down.

Around town, the car was a smooth, effortless cruiser.  Just perfect for warm, late spring California evenings.

Interior view of 2016 Buick Cascada
2016 Buick Cascada interior.
The materials are of high quality, as is the craftsmanship.  The switchgear is a bit of a throwback to GM products of the previous decade, but there are no deal-breakers there.  And it comes exceptionally well-equipped in both 1SV ($33,990) and Premium ($36,990) trim levels.  We had the Premium, which came optionless.

So what's wrong?  Just one thing.  The powertrain.

On paper, it makes sense.  a 1.6-liter turbo four with a six-speed automatic.  EPA estimate 20 city/27 highway.  Around town, it's smooth and quick...especially when you dip your toe into the turbo. But on a winding mountain road (and regular TireKicker readers know I'm more of a sucker for those than I am convertibles), it just....doesn't work.

Map of Folsom to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Folsom to Uncle Tom's Cabin in El Dorado County (source: Google Maps).
And, as fate would have it, we had the Cascada over Memorial Day weekend, and there was a barbecue at Uncle Tom's Cabin in El Dorado County...a 152-year-old bar and former Pony Express stop that is the first sign of civilization for those driving the Rubicon Trail from Lake Tahoe westward.  To get there from Folsom, you take three winding roads...Green Valley Road, California State Route 49 right past where gold was first discovered in Coloma and then Wentworth Springs Road up into the Sierra.

The Cascada just couldn't find its footing.  The problem was a lack of power and the wrong gearing.  Slow down for a curve, you lose the revs, the shift points on the six-speed automatic are too high, punch it for the turbo and it's too much at once and you're not smooth going into the next curve.....

The only answer was to drive it very slowly all the way.  As in 35 or 40 miles per hour on the twisty bits.  As in, I'm now Grandpa in the Buick who's out for a Sunday drive, aggravating the bikers, Miata drivers and even other Grandpas in other Buicks. And I don't even have grandkids.

There is a solution.  Actually, two. More power, especially at low rpm, or a sport mode for the six-speed transmission that would lower the shift points.  Or both.

But take Buick execs to Starbucks and buy them a decaf latte triple sodium pentathol and they'll confess that they don't expect to sell enough Cascadas to make a business case for major modifications.  The idea is to give them a "That's a Buick?" car for advertising and showroom traffic, without any investment beyond shipping them across the Atlantic, putting Buick badges on them and whipping up some image advertising.  So, the Cascada we have is the Cascada we'll get for as long as we get it.

If you're not at all interested in winding roads, though...if your universe consists of straight stretches of pavement or around town cruises and admiring, perhaps envious, glances from your neighbors, the Cascada could be exactly what you're looking for.  Let's face it...apart from maybe that '53 Corvette, none of Uncle Ron's cars were exactly canyon carvers, either.  And I wouldn't turn down any one of them.




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