The cars we loved.
Whether we like to admit it or not, German has deservedly developed a reputation for making good machines. During the World Wars, their machines often were more advanced and imaginative in design, giving them an early upper hand. Even after the war, its trodden down automotive industry bounced back to defeat its war victors on the battlefield for sport and luxury car supremacy.
Today nearly all the marketing hoopla about “European styling” or European handling” is centered around just a few glamours German auto manufacturers. Less glamours than BMW, Audi or Mercedes-Benz is Opel (and to some extent Volkswagen). For Americans, Opel is Germany’s real best kept secret, although we have been driving them in various forms for years with Buick or Saturn badges on them. Without Opel, much of GM’s offerings in the important small car segment would be uncompetitive (think Chevy Cobalt).
Rebadged as Vauxhall or Holdens overseas, Opel’s considerable design and engineering abilities have helped prop up GM for decades while giving the GM’s British and Australians wings of a false sense of pride – primary engineering was always done in Rüsselsheim.
In America, Opel provided Buick with a string of interesting small cars in the ’70s. By the turn of the century, Opel sourced Saturn with some of its most compelling products, finally lifting the brands quality to its marketing standards. But it would be too late for Saturn and for a moment we got no versions of the Opel Astra in the US.
Fortunately, Buick was left remaining after the smoke cleared and once again Opel was paired to its original American dance partner like an old habit that was hard to kick. After all, the two brands have a similar mission in the new GM. Opel’s latest contribution to the Buick lineup is the Cascada convertible. As the first topless car for Buick since the Reatta in 1991, the Cascada fills two voids in the Buick line up., which leans more on Opel than ever. To Buick’s credit, it left the original elegant yet purposeful Opel design intact with only Buick’s vertical grille replacing Opel’s horizontal one.
First, Buick has not had a coupe in its brochures since the Regal in 1996. Second, as Buick’s only coupe the Cascade becomes the brand’s sportiest car, even though it lacks the manual transmission option of the related Verano or matches the Regal GS in raw power. Instead, the Cascade is only available as a smooth shifting automatic (six-speed) with a quick folding cloth top that can be activated in typical city craw speeds (up to 31 mph). As such, it fits the role as a personal coupe much like the Riviera or Regal coupe once did.
Unlike those cars the Cascada comes only with a four-cylinder engine. The direct injection turbocharged powerplant makes 3 more hp than the Euro spec cars and is likely geared differently due to American driving preferences. As a compact four seater coupe, the Cascada promises sprightly performance and comfort for front seat occupants. The HiPer strut suspension system helps tame any tourque steer that comes with front wheel drive, not that Cascada’s 200 hp will invite aggressive driving. Despite a sport tuned ride and optional 20in wheels, most drivers will admire the Cascada for what it is, a sleek modern comfortable near luxury take on the personal coupes of the past.
It’s interesting to note that cars like the Cascada will be priced modestly and be geared towards a market that might consider the Volkswagen Eos. Despite the lush leather interior and swooping style of the center stack with its entertainment options, the Cascada is likely to run circles around similar cars from just a decade ago like the now deceased Toyota Solara. While out running them at stop lights, its likely to out distance them at the pump too as 34 mpg or higher seems to be the new norm for small engines with about 200 hp (on regular unleaded gas mind you).
Time will tell if the latest Opel to wear the Buick bage will do well here. The Casada’s unique positioning in the American market is likely to be in its favor as the completion is minimal at the moment. In Europe and Australia where the Cascada goes by many names, it’s been a success since its launch in 2013. American will see the first Cascada’s roll into showrooms when the grounds starts to thaw in early Spring 2016.