The Vauxhall Cascada 1.6 SIDI Turbo is a big convertible car with a small engine. That used to be a bad idea. Not any longer, as Jonathan Crouch explains.
Ten Second Review
In a style-conscious sector, Vauxhall's Cascada wears a conspicuously blue-collar badge but if you can look beyond that, it might be the best of its ilk. The 200PS 1.6 SIDI Turbo petrol engine has a tall stack of torque and delivers refinement, performance and reasonable economy.
Consider for a moment, the Saab 9-3 Convertible. Yes, I know this review has Vauxhall, emblazoned across the top but let's park that just for the moment. The Saab 9-3 Convertible worked and worked for a reason. It was priced well, between the blue-collar and the blue-blood badges, yet had an air of sophisticated distance, buyers priding themselves on their independent tastes despite the fact that you couldn't move for the things in a Mamas and Papas car park. Yet the car was a slightly cynical artifice. Scratch beneath the veneer of Swedishness and you had a Vauxhall Vectra chassis. The engines, the transmissions and many of the minor controls were pure General Motors. So after that prelude we arrive at the Vauxhall Cascada. Here's a car that you may not have ever seen on the road. The Mamas and Papas crowd have disposable income that can't all be spent on Dreampod sleep bags and Moses baskets and no car to replace the estimable Saab. Can the Cascada assume that mantle? The latest version with its 1.6 SIDI Turbo engine might just have the power to convert a few of the free-thinking.
Let's face it, buying a sleek-looking convertible and then having to put up with an engine with all the refinement of a Kubota mini digger isn't all that appealing. That's why despite the big take-up in diesel power amongst saloon and estate models, convertible owners still prefer a good petrol powerplant and this SIDI Turbo 1.6 unit certainly answers that call. Vauxhall have sold a 170PS version of the SIDI engine for a while and now it's been supplemented with a 200PS high performance unit. SIDI stands for Spark Ignition Direct Injection, a more efficient way of delivering fuel to the cylinder, but we'll deal with economy figures later. We need to talk torque. The 200PS engine delivers 300Nm of torque with an overboost facility to help overtaking. It means that it'll feel as is it's got a much bigger engine than a compact 1.6-litre under the bonnet. In fact, these figures are the sort of numbers you would traditionally associated with a decent 3.0-litre lump. It'll hit 146mph with the top up and get to 62mph in around 8 seconds. It's well tied to the road too. Vauxhall's HiPerStrut front suspension, first used in the 325PS Insignia VXR, is standard. 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 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.
Design and Build
The Cascada scores straight off the bat by looking the part. People buy these sort 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 convertibles ultimately escape the dumpster look. The Vauxhall thankfully does. At 4697mm long and 1840mm wide (excluding mirrors), the Cascada is a big. It's bigger than an Audi A5 cabriolet, let alone anything in the 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
Vauxhall has boxed clever with the Cascada range's pricing, nudging it slightly upmarket but not to the point where the premium marques look overwhelmingly attractive. The narrative starts to get a bit fuzzy at the very top end though where this 200PS model, the top of the petrol-engined line, starts to nibble at the base of the the Audi A5 Cabriolet range. The choice here is quite easy. If you just want to perambulate around looking the part, buy the Audi. You'll love it. If you prefer your car with a bit of substance under the bonnet, go for the Cascada. Unfortunately that's why you won't see many of these on our roads. Big four seat convertibles aren't usually the choice of the keen driver. Would you pay around £30,000 for a convertible Vauxhall? It's a big ask. That said, you do get a lot of gear thrown in; certainly a lot more than if you were buying a BMW or Audi base model. 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
The great thing about the tiny 1.6-litre engine fitted to the Cascada SIDI turbo is that it delivers excellent economy and emissions figures for the performance on tap. Go for the 170PS version and you'll get 39.2mpg and 168g/km even with the efficiency drag of an automatic gearbox. The 200PS model with its six-speed manual gearbox should also prove affordable to run as well. Overall running costs, which include residual values aren't far off a diesel Cascada, with the SIDI 170PS SE costing 76.59 pence per mile (over a 3yr/36,000 mile period) against 74.66ppm for an equivalent 2.0-litre diesel SE with auto box. How does that compare to, say, an entry-level Audi A5 Cabriolet? Not bad actually. The 170PS Audi 1.8TFSi is not only more expensive to buy but at 79.66ppm, quite a bit more expensive to run. Advantage Cascada.
The truth is that convertible cars like this Vauxhall Cascada aren't bought on rational factors. They're all about sensation and what they purport to say about the owner. The 1.6-litre SIDI turbo engine, whether you buy it in 170 or 200PS outputs, put up some very good numbers, but the inconvenient truth is that people who are concerned with being seen in a drop top would just rather have a car badged by Audi, BMW or Mercedes in their driveway and might well be prepared to forgo engine and equipment to do just that. Hats off to Vauxhall for trying though. It's hard to see how the Cascada could have been a whole lot better. It looks good, it's well-equipped, it's fairly priced and in the SIDI turbo petrol engines, it has powerplants that are ideally suited to a soft top - smooth, refined and punchy. If you're one of that rare breed who enjoys a bit of top down motoring but isn't so insecure that they feel their ego needs to be propped up by a premium badge, the Cascada 1.6 SIDI turbo makes a smart choice and, as we've seen, a cost effective one too.