2016 Buick Cascada second drive review

To a great number of Americans, the quintessential spring break involves cruising a Miami Beach, taking in the sun with the top down, picking up some friends, and maybe heading out to Key West.

While the Cascada has the goods to fulfill that fantasy, we’re not entirely convinced that it’s the sort of car that everyday drivers will appreciate as much as a daily driver.

As the first Polish-assembled vehicle for the U.S., with engineering by GM’s German Opel division, an engine from Hungary, and a transmission from Mexico, the Cascada is a truly global affair.

Yet for all its potential as a “best of” mix of GM hardware, there’s very little charm from the driver’s seat.

The Cascada is sprightly, but it accelerates reasonably quickly and responds well enough—provided the streets are Florida-level. Its 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is rated at 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque (with an overboost mode delivering up to 221 lb-ft). Peak torque is made at a low 1,800 rpm; but from there up to just past 3,000 rpm, there’s some significant lag if you let your right foot up and then go back into it.

Oh, and the Cascada is heavy—really heavy. At nearly 4,000 pounds, it’s a relic of an era when GM relied on extra bracing and bolstering (especially for its convertibles), rather than high-strength steels or aluminum.

A cascade of odd choices

GM’s workaround for that situation, to make the Cascada responsive, is to make the lower few gears of the six-speed automatic rather low, and to delay upshifts, even in moderate acceleration, until revs near the 4,000-rpm mark. That way the upshift lands around the 3,000-rpm mark where the turbo’s on its best boil and the engine’s closer to its 5,500-rpm power peak.

That weight, and the transmission shift program, takes a deep toll on real-world fuel economy, and the ability to replicate the EPA fuel economy ratings for the Cascada, of 20 mpg city, 27 highway. In about 70 miles of mixed-condition driving around LA boulevards and freeways, over a couple of days, the trip odometer on our test car showed an average of 17 mpg—rather unbelievable for a modest four-seater with a 1.6-liter engine.

Yes, the Cascada would have been a much happier, responsive car with the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder from the Verano and Regal.

You’d think all the weight might lead to decent straight-ahead tracking and a a sense of solidity; but the Cascada also felt unsettled on LA’s battered freeways, requiring frequent small steering corrections to stay straight-on. The relatively low-profile (40) tires on 20-inch wheels probably don’t help that much for ride.

The Cascada rides on a version of GM’s so-called HiPer strut front suspension, with a Watts-link, torsion-beam setup in back. While this tuning makes the Verano sedan feel surprisingly sporty and communicative, the extra few hundred pounds of weight here, and downright odd tuning, adds up to a car that feels a bit at odds with itself chassis-wise; it heaves and leans more than you’d think over big bumps, railroad tracks, and heading quickly around corners yet feels compulsively jittery over surface irregularities and roadway cracks.

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