The Vauxhall Cascada harks back to a time when large, elegant four-seater convertibles were a more common sight. Jonathan Crouch drives the entry-level 1.4T petrol version
Ten Second Review
The Vauxhall Cascada looks good, is well engineered and undercuts several key rivals. Whether it has the badge to succeed in a notoriously badge-conscious sector of the market is of course another thing, but if rear seat practicality is part of your decision-making process for a car of this kind, then here's one that's difficult to ignore, especially in entry-level 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol form.
Put yourself in this position. You're looking for a convertible car but you have a bit of a problem. Your dubious predicament is brought about by the fact that your children have legs. Don't worry, you're not on your own with this one. Other families, it seems, are afflicted in just the same way. It's just that car manufacturers, and to narrow them down a bit, manufacturers of convertible cars, usually cater for children with no legs.
You only have to look in the back of most 'four-seater' convertibles to realise that legs are a thorny issue. Where to put them? They certainly don't fit where they ought to go - the rear footwell. If there's an average sized adult up-front, this usually doesn't exist in such a design, the back of the front seat tending to sit virtually against the rear seat's cushion. Vauxhall, though, thinks that it has a solution to this issue in the elegant form of its Cascada convertible. If it has, then this could be the kind of drop-top the market's been waiting for. Let's try the most affordable version, the petrol-powered 1.4T.
As any chassis engineer knows, lopping the top off a car is the preferred way to make it handle like an unroadworthy charabanc. That's why the best convertibles are those which have been designed from the outset to have no roof, and have all of the requisite stiffening in place. That's certainly the case with the Cascada, which is 43 per cent stiffer torsionally and 10 per cent more resistant to bending forces than the Astra TwinTop, Vauxhall's last open-topped car. Impressive underbody reinforcement comprises crossed steel bars and strengthened rocker panels.
Vauxhall's HiPerStrut front suspension, first used in the 325PS Insignia VXR, is standard across the Cascada range. The system separates damping and steering functions, reducing torque steer, while also improving steering feel and cornering control. In addition to this, the Cascada's electric power steering module is mounted direct to the rack for greater feel and precision. Also available across the Cascada range is FlexRide, Vauxhall's fully adaptive chassis control system, which automatically adapts to suit driving style and prevailing road conditions, or can be over-ridden with one of three driver-controlled modes.
We tested the most leisurely means of Cascada conveyance, that fitted with the entry-level 140PS 1.4-litre petrol turbo unit. With all that bulk to shift along, it isn't especially fast of course - 62mph from rest takes 10.2s on the way to 129mph - but it seems to suit the overall character of this car quite well.
Design and Build
The Cascada scores straight off the bat by looking the part. People buy these sorts of vehicles to look and feel good about themselves and so styling is key here. A large convertible lends itself to a low sleek look, but not all four-seat cabrios ultimately escape the dumpster look. The Vauxhall thankfully does. At 4697mm long and 1840mm wide (excluding mirrors), the Cascada is surprisingly big. It's larger in fact than an Audi A5 Cabriolet, let alone anything in the smaller Peugeot 308 or Ford Focus convertible class. With the top down, it has a very clean profile, with no roof-top cover or visible roll-over protection disturbing the car's silhouette aft of the steeply-raked A-pillar. It's also elegantly proportioned when the hood's up, thanks to a nicely contoured hood shape and a sharply raked rear screen. The fabric roof can be specified in one of three colours, which can be coordinated with one of ten body colours.
The Cascada's cabin mixes the smart functionality of an Insignia's interior with some hand crafted detailing you might not associate with Vauxhall. Soft-touch materials with high-quality stitching comprise the dash roll top and the wing-shaped panel flows into the doors and frames the area around each front occupant. The deeply contoured seats are available in a range of embossed fabrics and leathers and customers have the option of ergonomic, Nappa leather-trimmed seats, which can be heated or ventilated. An Easy Entry system allows access to the rear seats and electric seat belt arms make securing front occupants less of a stretch. With a minimum load volume of 280-litres with the roof down and up to 350-litres roof up, the Cascada is even reasonably practical. In addition, the 50:50 split-rear seats benefit from Vauxhall's FlexFold system, which electrically releases and folds them.
Market and Model
Expect to pay around £24,000 for a Cascada in this 1.4T petrol form, the most affordable variant in the range. That's the kind of money you'd need to pay for equivalently powered versions of smaller drop-top rivals like Volkswagen's Golf Cabriolet and the Peugeot 308CC.
As well as a decent level of standard kit, Vauxhall offers some interesting options like AFL+ (Adaptive Forward Lighting) with up to 11 automatic lighting functions, a Front Camera System including Traffic Sign Recognition, Lane Departure Warning, 'Following Distance Indication' and 'Forward Collision Alert'. You can also get your car with things like a rear-view camera, a heated steering wheel, Hill Start Assist and Side Blind Spot Alert. Safety is taken very seriously and there's a rigid steel passenger cell and pyrotechnically activated, spring-loaded high strength bars which automatically deploy behind the rear seats. These pop-ups are also triggered during other severe impacts, such as when the airbags are deployed. The front seats both benefit from two-way active headrests and double seat belt pre-tensioners, while even the two rear seats benefit from seat belt pre-tensioners.
Cost of Ownership
A larger car is inevitably a heavier car. So given that unlike its family hatchback-shaped cabriolet counterparts, this Cascada has proper room for four and weighs over two tonnes, you'd expect running costs to be higher. Which is not necessarily the case, thanks to features like a start/stop system fitted across the range which cuts the engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights.
And the results? Well, take the 1.4T 140PS petrol variant we tried, capable of 44.8mpg on the combined cycle and 148g/km of CO2, an almost identical set of figures to those returned by the smaller, less powerful Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet 1.4 TSI 122PS and actually a bit better than you'd get in a BMW 118i Cabriolet, for all its 'EfficientDynamics'. And you'll go around five more miles on every gallon and put out around 15% less CO2 than you would in rival models like Peugeot's 308CC 1.6 THP or Renault's Megane CC 1.4 TCe.
The Vauxhall Cascada looks to have virtually all the ingredients to guarantee success at the affordable end of the executive convertible segment. It looks good, the finish seems very polished and it's got some solid engineering underneath the pretty lines. Whether it can steal sales from posher brands in this notoriously badge-conscious sector is another thing of course.
The availability of the entry-level petrol 1.4T engine we tried should help. It enables the Cascada to pitch in at an entry-level price way below the least expensive Audi A5 Cabriolet and BMW 3 Series Convertible models that Vauxhall would like to think represent its nearest competition. Truth be told, you could probably get this car for around the same amount - or less - than you'd pay for smaller and less desirable cabrios based on family hatchbacks, cars like drop-top versions of the Volkswagen Golf and the Peugeot 308. If all that's not enough, then it's hard to see what more the Griffin brand can do to win the hearts and minds of convertible buyers.