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Eric's Autos: 2018 Buick Cascada

Eric Peters on

Impractical convertibles seem to do OK. The practical ones, not so much.

The Toyota Camry Solara, the Chrysler 200 convertible and the Volvo C70 convertible all withered away for lack of interest, like unwanted timeshares -- notwithstanding back seats that were both present and usable by adults as well as trunks large enough to hold more than a bag of M&M's and a bottle of water. Meanwhile, Mazda Miatas without back seats do fine.

Apparently, the Critical Ingredient is not back-seat legroom or a more-than-pouch-sized trunk. In other words, practicality isn't the problem, which could be a problem for the Buick Cascada convertible.

What It Is

The Cascada is a midsized five-seater convertible.

Base price is $33,065, but "base" is an unkind word to use given that this version of the Cascada comes standard with heated leather seats, a 7-inch LCD touch screen, Wi-Fi, GPS, a heated tilt and telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone climate control and a power soft top that can be raised or lowered in about 17 seconds with the car moving at speeds up to about 30 mph.

A top-of-the-line Sport trim stickers for $37,065. It comes with air deflectors for the front and rear seats to reduce wind buffeting when the top's down.

What's New

The Cascade is Buick's first convertible model since the Reatta way back in the early '90s. It was all new in 2016, and changes for the 2018 model year are minimal.

What's Good

You can drop the top without having to stop.

There are usable back seats with 32.8 inches of legroom, and there's a large trunk (13.4 cubic feet).

It's very reasonably priced compared with rivals like the Audi A3 cabriolet.

What's Not So Good

It has mediocre acceleration, and there's no optional engine to fix that.

Even though it's only 2 years old, it still has some old-timey equipment -- like a physical ignition key instead of a keyless/push-button ignition.

Under the Hood

In keeping up with trends, the Cascada has a very small (just 1.6 liters) four-cylinder engine with a turbo bolted to it for on-demand power. It has 200 horsepower -- strong for its size. But the Cascada is a heavy car, at 3,979 pounds, which is why this drop-top Buick needs 8.6 seconds to achieve 60 mph. This is much slower than the Audi A3 cabriolet, which can get to 60 almost 3 seconds sooner with its optional 220-horsepower engine. As mentioned previously, the Buick doesn't offer an optional engine.

Gas mileage is so-so, coming in at 20 mpg city and 27 highway. The more powerful -- and much quicker -- A3 cabriolet manages 35 mpg on the highway.

On the plus side, the Buick's turbocharged engine is designed to run on regular 87-octane unleaded gas. The Audi's turbocharged engine requires premium.

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On the Road

The Cascada is a gentle cruiser with a very smooth and quiet ride -- ideal for languid sightseeing trips on the Blue Ridge Parkway, for instance. With the top dropped on a warm summer day and no hurry about getting somewhere, it's the perfect car.

Unlike a Miata or a BMW Z4, it has back seats. And unlike a Chevy Camaro or Ford Mustang, those back seats are usable.

The trunk is huge for a convertible: 13.4 cubic feet (Miata's is 4.6 cubic feet).

Such similarly practical attributes didn't do much for the Camry Solara or the Chrysler 200 or the Volvo C70.

There are also some practical problems. While it's neat that you do not have to stop the car to raise or lower the top, when the top is up it's hard to see what's going on behind you because the rear glass is tiny and slanted sharply, and the rear headrests eat up what little rear view you've got.

At the Curb

The Cascada isn't exactly (cue Luca Brasi's voice) a masculine car, but it's not geriatric -- and that's definitely in the plus column. So are the adult-viable backseats and the doors -- that open almost perpendicularly -- which really open up access to the interior.

It is a fairly large car -- 184.9 inches long overall versus 175.4 for the A3 cabrio -- but other than the keyhole visibility to the rear when the top's up, it's an easy car to maneuver.

And it is absolutely loaded as it sits.

In keeping with its lover-not-a-fighter nature, the Cascada literally cascades with amenities. In fact, there are no extra-cost amenities, just a few safety features you can add if you like, such as lane-departure warning, front parking sensors and forward-collision alert. None of these add luxuriousness to the car, so if you skip them, you won't be driving a less-posh Cascada.

One of the few amenities that the otherwise-loaded-as-it-sits Cascada doesn't come standard with is the air deflectors that come standard with the Premium trim. These are arguably necessaries in a modern convertible -- especially one at this price point -- and should be included in the car's base price.

The Rest

The LCD touch screen is overly recessed, which makes it awkward to use.

This car also comes standard with a physical ignition key -- a dated feature in a 2018 car priced in the low-$30k starting range.

The Bottom Line

Convertibles are rarely practical. This one is, which may end up being the reason it doesn't succeed.

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Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" will be available soon. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Copyright 2018 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
 

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