Cascada is the name of two things created in Germany: a dance music group and an Opel (albeit one assembled in Poland). The former is best known for their hit 2009 single, “Evacuate The Dancefloor”, which was a Top 40 hit in the US and was popular throughout the world. The latter? Not so much.
GM boasted the Buick Cascada, the division’s first convertible since the ill-fated Reatta way back in 1991, was successfully bringing in new buyers. Around 60% of Cascada buyers were new to the Buick brand, which was a commendable achievement. Except it’s not all that surprising that Cascada buyers would be new to Buick given it’s presumably quite rare for somebody to trade in a LaCrosse or Enclave for a compact convertible. And though GM crowed about this statistic, they’ve abandoned those new buyers – 2019 is the last year for the Buick Cascada and there’ll be no replacement.
Cascada’s hit song may have made little sense – why would a dance song implore you to leave a dance floor? – but the car made a lot of sense. It was a “white space” vehicle for Buick, an Opel that was conveniently available and which filled an untapped role in the Buick range and could appeal to new buyers. Based on the 2009 Opel Astra J, the Cascada first reached European showrooms – with Vauxhall or Opel badging – way back in 2013. It took three years to reach the US. By 2016, Buick’s Opel-based products were moving away from button-heavy dashboards. And although the Cascada’s grille ditched Buick’s waterfall theme and wore a new design motif, the rest of the styling owed more to the dying Verano than to new Buicks rolling into showrooms.
GM saw fit to introduce the Cascada to Australia, too, where it wore Holden badges. Introduced in 2015, the Cascada was Holden’s first drop-top since the 2009 Astra TwinTop. That car – with its folding metal hardtop – replaced the soft-top Astra Convertible, a surprisingly strong seller in Australia.
The Cascada didn’t replicate its ancestor’s success. Holden sold 523 Cascadas in 2015, sliding to 500 in 2016. That was less than half of the MX-5’s sales tally and still a hundred units off the Audi A3 Cabriolet, which cost $AUD6k more. Consequently, the Cascada was axed in 2017. Cascada was yet another new nameplate for a brand known for orphan models. The name lasted just a single truncated generation in Holden showrooms, much like the Insignia, Suburban, Malibu, Epica, Adventra, Calibra, Tigra, and Viva, among others. How could Holden expect the Cascada to sell when nobody had ever heard the name? Given its mechanical relation to the Astra and that car’s name equity in Australia, why not just call it the Holden Astra Cabriolet?
At least the car received some advertising dollars in the US, starring in a Super Bowl commercial and some ads featuring the delightful Ellie Kemper. A compact, European convertible was exactly the kind of proof Buick needed for their recent marketing efforts which consisted mostly of ads showing people astonished that anything remotely alluring to young people could dare wear a Buick badge. Yes, it was “Not your father’s Oldsmobile again”, aka a retread of, “That’s a Saturn?” GM, a word of advice: try to keep your brands’ reputations relatively desirable so you don’t have to do this kind of damage control marketing. The Cascada’s splashy launch was enough to net 7,153 sales in 2016 but that number fell to 5,595 and then 4,136 last year.
Even the UK, that curiously contradictory home of roadsters and inclement weather, was none too enamoured of the Cascada. In 2018, it was withdrawn from Vauxhall showrooms due to slow sales – it posted just 220 sales in 2017, down from a peak of 850. It survives only in European markets but it’s marked for death. PSA, Opel’s new owners, exited the C-segment convertible segment in 2014 and they’re unwilling to develop a new Cascada. Even though there are fewer C-segment convertible offerings in Europe than there were a decade ago, Cascada sales have been disappointing – 5,910 were sold in 2014 but that number has declined every year since.
Slow sales and muddled messaging aside, the Cascada was a competent compact. It was very much a GM product of its time, being a bit overweight albeit quite substantial in feel (if suffering from some cowl shake). That husky 3962-pound curb weight – roughly the same as a Holden VF Commodore/Chevrolet SS – meant the Cascada’s only engine in the US and Australia struggled to motivate the car with much gusto. A turbocharged 1.6 four, the Cascada’s engine produced 200 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 221 lb-ft of torque at 2200 rpm. Acceleration was therefore lackadaisical, the Cascada ambling to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds. That wasn’t a bad time for, say, 1996 but it was rather pokey for 2016 and around two seconds slower than most rivals.
Australian Cascadas were more a trickle than a cascade – with a 168 hp/192 ft-lb version of the 1.6 turbo, they hit 60 mph in just under 10 seconds. Fortunately (?), the Cascada was a rather inert handler so this didn’t feel like a waste of chassis talent. Appropriately supple ride quality further pigeon-holed the Cascada as a cruiser, no more. There was no manual transmission available in the US or Australia, just a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic.
In the US and Australia, the Cascada competed in a small yet diverse segment. There were roadsters of sporting pedigree, like the Mazda MX-5 and Fiat 124. Convertible variants of the Audi A3 and BMW 2-Series were more direct rivals, albeit priced $3-5k more. Then there were, in the US at least, pony cars like the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang. If you were after a compact, relatively luxurious convertible but didn’t care too much about performance, handling or the badge on the grille, the Cascada hit the sweet spot. That was a niche within a niche, though, which puts the Cascada’s discontinuation from markets like the US, UK and Australia into perspective.
It represented poor value when compared to a Chevrolet Camaro, which cost a few hundred dollars less and had a much more powerful turbo four. It may have been cheaper than the A3 and 2-Series but they were faster, better to drive and had more badge cred. Volkswagen’s Beetle convertible had a base price almost $8k lower in the US. And if you wanted your convertible to have a spark and make you feel good driving it, Mazda had you covered. The one ace the Cascada had was its rear seats, which could fit two adults more comfortably than any of the aforementioned vehicles. This attribute – coupled with Cascada’s presence on some rental fleets – made it more of a symbolic successor to the Chrysler 200 convertible than to anything else.
The Cascada had more direct rivals in Europe in the shape of the Renault Megane and Volkswagen Golf. There were more powertrain options, including a 2.0 turbo diesel in two states of tune and a smaller 1.4 turbo petrol four. But the Opel Cascada’s more direct competition there further exposed its flaws. What was good but not class-leading way back in 2013 is now tired in 2019.
“Evacuate The Dancefloor” isn’t an amazing song but it can be impossible to shake from your head – the same can probably be said for others songs in Cascada’s discography. GM’s Cascada, however, is regrettably all too easy to forget.