Test Drive: 2016 Buick Cascada

That's a Buick? Cascada helps Buick reinvent its luxury image.

2016 Buick Cascada Convertible

By now, you’ve likely seen the Buick commercials where a young, hip, fashionable guy or gal in a car calls his/her friend, and declares “I’m in the Buick,” and the young, hip, fashionable friend walks up to the plainest, oldest car in the vicinity, only to be shocked to find out that they picked the wrong vehicle. Driving the new Cascada (that’s Cas-KAH-dah) convertible, I had a few “That’s a Buick?” moments of my own.

Once, at a McDonald’s drive through, the cashier leaned out, looked at the Cascada and asked, “Is that a Lexus?” then, incredulously, “It’s a Buick?” followed by surprised laughter. A few days later, a woman stopped me outside of Chipotle to ask if she could take a closer look at the Cascada. She then sat in the driver’s seat, lamenting the fact that she bought another vehicle right before the Cascada came out, and now wished that she had waited.

What does this mean (other than the fact that I should probably cut down on the fast food)? The ad strategy seems to be working, with Buick addressing the knocks on its brand head on. Cascada is a perception-shifting vehicle, and a valiant attempt to put past criticisms — Buicks are for old people, the styling is staid and boring, there’s nothing new about the brand — to bed for good. Through the first quarter of 2016, 64 percent of Cascada buyers have come from other non-General Motors brands, notably Audi, Toyota and Honda, helping Buick to reach an all-time high in conquest sales. Positioned as “attainable luxury,” Buick has earned recognition as Kelley Blue Book’s “Best Value Luxury Brand” for four years running.

Cascada does strike a handsome visage, with a raked windshield, attractive LED taillights with chrome accents, a sculpted body, and huge 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels. But looks aren’t everything, and with a convertible, there are always a few considerations: ease of operation for the top, noise and shake with the top up, and cargo and passenger access. Cascada gets mostly high marks in these areas. The top is insulated and opens in a mere 17 seconds at speeds up to 31 miles per hour. The operation is effortless and seamless. Because the top is triple-insulated, road noise is reduced significantly (although visibility out the slat-sized rear window is an issue). Top-down, the high beltline and tall seats insulate occupants from excessive wind.

cq5dam.web.1280.1280On the road, there is some of the dreaded cowl shake with the top up, and its heavy weight definitely makes Cascada a cruiser, rather than a performance sedan. It does stick fast to the pavement, with very little body roll, but a zero-to-60 time of just over eight seconds is nothing to write home about. On the plus side, the quick-shifting transmission is responsive at lower speeds and the ride is pleasant.

As with all convertibles, cargo space is limited with the top down, but I found just enough space for the spoils of a weekend shopping excursion with my teenage daughter. The rear seats can be folded down to create extra luggage space. If you choose to carry passengers in the diminutive back seat, power seats slide forward to enable access, then return to the original position when you flip the seat back. Should the seat make contact with the rear passenger’s knees, it will slide forward a few inches before coming to a stop. Nifty.

IMG_5353But, all is not perfect with the Cascada. We like to say that certain vehicles have “thoughtful touches” and here is where Buick falls short. First, the center stack is a hot mess of buttons that is neither attractive nor intuitive. Giving Buick the benefit of the doubt, I let my teenager try to navigate the sea of buttons to operate the audio system, and she ceded to my musical tastes out of frustration rather than figure out how to do otherwise.

The low-resolution red display on the dash is dated and washes out in the slightest of sunlight. There are two cupholders between the front seats, but one is rendered virtually useless with the center armrest folded down.

Overall, Cascada is very well equipped with a highly attractive starting price of $33,990. That includes navigation, premium seven-speaker audio, remote start, backup camera, heated leather seats, and an integrated wifi hotspot. The premium model adds several safety features and a few other niceties. It is a good car for the money that will please Buick aficionados and has proven to bring new buyers to the brand.

Price as tested: $36,990

 

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