We got our first look at the 2016 Buick Cascada a year ago at the Detroit Auto Show and found the first convertible to grace division’s lineup in 25 years a slick-looking, well-engineered exercise with impressive potential. We finally slipped behind the wheel of this would-be rival to the Audi A3 and BMW 2 Series drop tops to see just how well it lived up to expectations. The run was Miami to Key West along U.S. 1 and while not exactly ideal for exploring the Cascada’s handling capabilities, it did provide a good deal of insight regarding the nature of this stylish sun runner.  

Tweaked and tuned for America

Based on an Opel currently sold in Europe, Buick’s version of the Cascada has over 600 unique components in U.S. guise. While most of that new hardware is related to federal compliance issues, this compact 2+2 also boasts retuning and recalibration of its suspension, steering, brakes and throttle. According to Buick, these modifications impart a sportier character than its Opel kin without compromising overall refinement. 

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Available in standard and Premium grades, both Cascada variants feature a 1.6-liter turbocharged/direct-injected 4-cylinder Ecotec engine that drives the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission. Developing 200 horses and 207 lb-ft of torque that can be upped to 221 for roughly 10 seconds under full-throttle, the engine responds smartly with minimal turbo lag. It also makes this al fresco Buick feel notably quicker than one might expect given its 3,979-lb curb weight.

Beauty that’s more than skin deep

The Cascada also merits kudos for its fun-to-drive flair. Designed from the start as a drop-top, its unitized structure matches high-strength steel and major underbody reinforcing to yield a strong, rigid foundation that banishes cowl shake and provides a solid anchor point for the car’s confidence-inspiring independent suspension that teams Buick’s HiPer Struts up front with a Z-Link rear axle. Rounding out the mix is a well-weighted and responsive rack-mounted electric power steering system and standard 20-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 245/40 all-season tires. Although far from hard-core, that combination delivers a laudable blend of comfort and compliance with good body control and virtually no torque steer – characteristics we suspect will resonate with the vast majority of its potential buyers.

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Convertibles by their very nature are fashion statements and Buick has made sure the Cascada delivers. The car looks right from virtually every angle and regularly drew notice whenever we stopped along the drive route. Unlike most 2+2 exercises, the Cascada’s cabin – which more closely rivals an Audi A5 Cabrio for total space – really can accommodate four average-size adults should the need arise. It also boasts the most cargo space: 13.4 cu ft with the top up and 9.8 with it stowed beneath the well-integrated hard tonneau. As for the top, it’s fully automatic, cycles in just 17 seconds at speeds up to 31 mph and provides excellent sealing from both weather and road noise.

Priced to please

Last and far from least, the new Buick Cascada will offer solid value when it arrives in showrooms next month. Opening at $33,900 – which is $3,625 less than a base, front-drive 2016 A3 Cabriolet – the standard Cascada features heat-reflective leather upholstery, 8-way power front seats that also automatically slide fore and aft to facilitate rear-seat entry. Buick IntelliLink infotainment with a 7.0-inch color touchscreen, navigation, dual-zone climate control, OnStar 4G LTE with Wi-Fi, Siri Eyes Free for iOS smartphones, rear camera with rear park assist and pop-up rollover bars round out the feature set. Stepping up to the fully-loaded $36,990 Cascada Premium adds Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning, auto headlamp control, Rainsense wipers, air deflectors, unique wheels and front as well as rear Park Assist. Although Buick declined to give volume estimates on what is destined to be a relative niche player, the new Cascada definitely has a good deal to offer any budget-conscious drop-top fan.

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