The Vauxhall Cascada is a two-door, four-seat soft-top pitched against the Audi A5 Cabriolet. Underneath the skin there are bits of Astra hatchback and Insignia saloon, but the Cascada looks altogether classier than run-of-the-mill Vauxhalls. In a class dominated by image and brand cachet over driving dynamics, can the Cascada cut it? We drove the 2.0-litre CDTi diesel in range-topping Elite trim to find out.
Cascada first impressions…
It’s a big beast, shading an Audi A5 for length at 4.7m. The doors are testament to that size: they’re enormous, and heavy. Though that makes for easier access to the rear seats, graceful ingress in standard parking spaces for a car measuring over 1.8m in width can be tricky. Still, the shape looks well resolved with the roof up (no ‘hungry horse’ ribbing here) and the rear deck is well finished with the cover dropped, with no exposure of the magnesium and aluminium mechanism.
What about inside the Cascada?
The centre console is lifted from the Astra, which means buttons galore. Though extended exposure does help (as we found in CAR’s recent Vauxhall Mokka review), it’s still not as slick to use as a rotary wheel-controlled infotainment interface, like BMW’s iDrive, Audi MMI or even Mazda’s latest effort. Plus, the dashboard’s button overkill makes it look downright ugly, which, in a car designed to be seen in, and seen into, is a cardinal sin. We’re not keen on the carbon-effect trim insert either.
You sit relatively high in the Cascada – this is no low-slung roadster. The leather-topped dash and steering wheel add a touch of class, and the heated sports seats are comfier than rock-hard, sit-up-and-pay-attention German brand chairs. This is a genuine four-seater convertible, too: okay, you’re not going to put two adults in the back and cruise to Monte Carlo (whatever the brochure promises) but the Cascada makes good use of its large footprint and is by no means a 2+one-and-a-half cabrio.
How does the Cascada’s engine range shape up?
You can have a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol (with a manual or automatic gearbox), but the headline petrol act is a new 1.6-litre turbo unit good for 168bhp and 206lb ft (auto only). The flagship diesel motor is Vauxhall’s brawny new 2.0-litre BiTurbo unit (manual only), but our test car used the more relaxed 163bhp/280lb ft single-turbo version with the six-speed stick-shift. Though the manual change in our car wasn’t as notchy as the Adam or Mokka, an automatic would much better suit the laid-back character of Cascada: it’ll set you back an extra £1520.
The engine’s grumble intrudes into the cabin at idle, and suffers from a narrow power band: maximum torque is only on tap from 1750-2750rpm. Keep the revs hovering in that zone and there’s a useful amount of overtaking punch, but it remains a powerplant that feels tuned for efficiency over tractability. Vauxhall’s official economy figure is a claimed 54.3mpg.
Does the Cascada fit the bill as a relaxed cruiser?
As you’d expect, this isn’t a sporty car to drive, despite fitment of Insignia VXR-derived ‘HiPerStrut’ front suspension that limits torque-steer. The Cascada’s prodigious heft (1931kg as tested) is felt all over the driving experience: in dive under braking, in its reluctance to change direction, and general inertia.
To disguise the weight problem Vauxhall has saddled the Cascada with very light power steering, and the overfed wheel is completely devoid of feel. Mind you, the A5 hardly has feedback dripping from its controls (quite the opposite in fact) so the unpleasant steering isn’t deal-breaking handicap for the Cascada.
The ride is niggly at posing … sorry, town-friendly speeds, at least on the 19in rims fitted to our test car (and needed to balance the Cascada’s substantial form. However, get out into the countryside or on the motorway and the ride smoothes out, while wind noise around the steeply raked A-pillars is well suppressed. For an extra £790 you can opt for the ‘FlexRide’ system, which brings Normal, Sport and Tour driving modes. Sport firms the damping and adds weight to the steering, while Tour does the opposite. The helm does feel a mite heavier in Sport, but overall the effects of the two modes are negligible, so it’s not a must-have option. Our test car didn’t have the optional triple-layer hood, so despite an absence of flapping fabric at higher speeds, it’s not as well insulated as it could be.
Drop the roof (in 17sec, at up to 30mph) and buffeting is non-existent at 30mph, breezy at 50mph and uncomfortable above 65. Unlike a much pricier Mercedes E-class cabrio, the Cascada does without a header rail wind-deflector, and headrest-mounted heaters. At least the seat-heaters are up to the job, though the warmed steering wheel is a little feeble.
How does the Cascada compare on price to the German rivals?
With the mainstream folding hardtop market all but dead (the Ford Focus CC is dead, while the VW Eos, Peugeot 308 CC and Renault Megane CC haven’t got long left) the Cascada’s main rival is, as Vauxhall is keen to profess, the Audi A5 Cabriolet. On paper, the Vauxhall does the job. Its £23,995 entry-level price (bagging you a 138bhp turbo 1.4 petrol) is a chunky £7970 less than Audi charges for A5 Cabriolet ownership, though for that you get a healthier 1.8 TFSI motor with 168bhp.
Taking our top-spec Elite test car as a case study (let’s face it, it’s far more desirable than a poverty spec example), you’ll pay £27,600 for the privilege, though our car’s saturated options list pushed that figure north to the tune of £34,055. Can a thirty-four grand Vauxhall be justified? Well, yes, if you consider that we specced an identically loaded Audi A5 Cabriolet 2.0TDI, with a bottom line reading £40,915. The Vauxhall also boasts an extra 15bhp and 22lb ft and the Lutonian appears to win the battle of the spreadsheets.
Then again, would you be willing to forgo a few goodies like lane departure warning, sports seats and 19in wheels to bag the posher badge? Cars like this live and die by desirability, not viability, and that’s where the dyed-in-the-wool German will always floor the rebadged Opel.
The Cascada costs substantially less than its direct rival, is competent but uninspiring to drive, and suffers from an image problem entirely not its own fault. Yet the gap left in the market by the Saab 9-3 (incidentally based on Vauxhall underpinnings) for people wanting a premium yet completely un-Germanic four-seat cabrio could be swallowed whole by the Cascada. Whether or not it can take a chunk out of more established German drop-top sales is a feat we remain sceptical of, however.