It’s not unreasonable to think of Buick as the original near-luxury brand. It was the first of the many brands that Billy Durant acquired as he began building up General Motors more than a century ago. Later as Alfred Sloan organized GM’s marketing efforts and brands into a stair step from Chevrolet at the entry level to Cadillac at the pinnacle, Buick was slotted in just below the top as the “doctor’s car.” A few decades ago, a big sedan like the LaCrosse would have been the brand flagship, the model an up and coming professional would be driving on their way to eventually having a Cadillac. Today, the recently introduced third-generation LaCrosse is almost an afterthought for customers as they rush to buy crossovers like the sub-compact Encore and full-size Enclave.
Buick hasn’t offered very many convertibles in the past several decades. In fact the last one was the short-lived Reatta that went away 25 years ago. Open-air Buick driving is finally back thanks to the fact that the brand is now sharing most of its lineup with Opel, General Motors’ European division. The Opel Cascada launched on the continent in 2013 and Buick dealers have been selling them since early this year. I got a chance to spend a week with the Buick Cascada during a mid-summer Michigan heat wave.
Ever since Opel launched the compact Cascada convertible in Europe two years ago, the question has been when, not if it would join the Buick lineup here in North America. The Cascada is the first open-top Buick since the demise of the Reatta more than two decades ago.
Buick already builds and sells a re-badged Opel Astra as the compact Verano sedan and the Cascada is built on the same underpinnings so this addition was a natural. Despite sharing mechanical bits with its closed top sibling, all of the bodywork is unique to the Cascada including the resculpted flanks. Thankfully, Opel opted to go with a folding soft-top rather than a mechanically complex hardtop. The result is a much more attractive and better proportioned car with the top up or down than the now discontinued VW Eos and Chrysler 200. The top can even raised or lowered at speeds up to 31 mph.
Ever since GM’s 2009 bankruptcy, Buick and Opel have been gradually converging, much like Saturn had tried to do with the European brand a decade ago. Previously however, Opels like the Insignia, Astra swapped their grilles for the traditional Buick waterfall when they made the trip across the Atlantic. This time, the Cascada keeps both its name and horizontal bar grille, replacing only the Opel lightning bolt with the Buick tri-shield emblem.
The Buick convertible also retains the 200-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder from the Opel driving the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transaxle. Like the more powerful versions of the larger Regal and LaCrosse, the Cascada uses a HiPer strut front suspension that separates forces to help improve steering feel and minimize torque steer.
Unfortunately, the Buick Cascada doesn’t go on sale until early 2016.
It’s been more than four years since I last drove a Buick Regal and while it hasn’t changed all that much mechanically, the evolutionary updates to this midsize sedan have generally if not universally been a good thing. As I familiarize myself with the vehicles on the market today for my day job as an industry analyst, I got to spend several days with the performance pinnacle of the current Buick lineup, the 2015 Regal GS with all-wheel-drive and the operative word is smoothness.