Vauxhall's Cascada is a large, elegant four-seater convertible for the price of a much smaller, less luxurious one. Jonathan Crouch tries it.
Ten Second Review
Here's a premium product from a very mainstream brand. Vauxhall's Cascada is a proper four-seat convertible that would really worry the premium makers were it not for issues of badge equity. For those prepared to look beyond that, this car offers luxury cabriolet motoring and head-turning good looks without the usual lottery winners' pricetag. It's surprisingly desirable.
If you've ever owned an affordably priced convertible, then you'll know that cars of this kind come with one major problem: you can't comfortably fit adult passengers in the back over any real distance. That's because models of this sort are largely based on Focus-sized family hatchbacks that are compact to start with and become even more so at the rear once you have to find space for a bulky hood. Cabriolets based on larger, more prestigious designs do better, but they're expensive. You'd think then, that there'd be a gap in the market here - and you'd be right. Here's the car that fills it - Vauxhall's Cascada. This, the Griffin brand is at pains to emphasise, is a significantly bigger proposition than the small convertibles it's directly priced against, cars like the Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet and the Peugeot 308CC. Sure enough, there's a wheelbase closely matched to Vauxhall's large medium range Insignia model and a body length that actually exceeds that of an Audi A5 Cabriolet from the next class up, a far pricier drop-top that the marketeers behind this car would like to think was a credible rival. Let's see.
From the moment you take a seat and set off in this car, it's clear that this is a luxury convertible first and foremost, rather than any kind of low-slung roadster. But that doesn't mean it can't be dynamically adept. Indeed it must be if Vauxhall's pretensions of tilting at the up-market German brands are to be credibly realised. That's why the spec sheet promises HiPerStrut suspension from the 170mph Insignia VXR. And the FlexRide adaptive damping system that does so much to make the brand's Astra VXR such a credibly competitive hot hatch. Here though, this technology is there to dynamically improve a very different kind of car, over two tonnes in weight and lacking the kind of fixed roof that would normally be key to structural rigidity. It could have all produced a rather disastrous result, had this Cascada been simply a convertible spin-off from an ordinary Vauxhall hatch, as was its direct Astra Twin Top predecessor. But it isn't. This, in contrast, is the first time the brand has properly designed and purpose-built a open-topped car from scratch since the early 1930s. They've done the job properly. Under the bonnet, Vauxhall has wheeled out the best it has in terms of current engine technology, including an all-new 1.6-litre SIDI (or 'Spark Ignition Direct Injection') petrol unit that offers 170PS when mated to a 6-speed automatic gearbox. If that's not fast enough, you can also ask your dealer about a 200PS manual gearbox version. There's also an entry-level 140PS 1.4-litre petrol turbo unit and two 2.0 CDTi diesels, one with 165PS and a minority interest 195PS Bi-Turbo version.
Design and Build
The Cascada scores straight off the bat by looking the part. It's certainly quite a size, at over 4.7m long and over 1.8m wide, larger than an Audi A5 Cabriolet, let alone anything in the Volkswagen Golf-sized convertible class. When the top's down, it has a very clean profile, with no roof-top cover or visible roll-over protection disturbing the car's silhouette behind the steeply-raked A-pillar. I always think though, that the acid visual test of a car of this kind comes when you put the roof up, a process you commence either by pulling up this chromed switch between the seats or by pushing a button on the keyfob. The magnesium and aluminium mechanism then glides into life, in 17s revealing a beautifully tailored fabric hood. One of the problems with metal folding hoods is that they eat into bootspace, an issue Vauxhall was keen to avoid here. Sure enough, with the roof up, there's lots of room to play with - 380-litres. When the hood's down though, that inevitably takes a hit, the figure falling to 280-litres with a space that probably wouldn't accommodate a decently sized hard case. At the wheel where you sit quite high up, the cabin offers a mixture of Vauxhall familiarity and some hand crafted detailing you might not associate with this blue collar brand. The belt butler for example that extends over your shoulder and hands you your belt as you take your seat. All of which leaves what is probably this car's defining feature, its back seat accommodation. Once in place, most adults should be quite comfortable and it's all a world away from similarly-priced compact convertibles where in most cases, the back of the front seat tends to sit virtually against the rear seat's cushion.
Market and Model
Looking at one of those Golf, Megane or Peugeot 308CC-based family hatchback-shaped convertibles? They're very nice, but it would surely be even better if you were able to stretch to something a little more up-market that would have proper room for two adults in the back - an Audi A5 Cabriolet or a Volvo C70 for example. Maybe even a convertible BMW 3 Series - though that's pricier again. If that's the position you're in, then the Cascada is a car you should try. The kind of smart, stylish looks and decent rear seat space you'd expect to have to pay £30,000 to £40,000 for, all at the kind of £24,000 to £30,000 budget that you'd need to assign to the purchase of a much smaller Golf Cabriolet, Renault Megane CC or Peugeot 308CC. All models get the powered roof, all-round power windows, alloy wheels, daytime running lights and air conditioning you'd expect from a modern £25,000 convertible and also include rear parking sensors, LED tail lights, sports front seats, cruise control, a leather covered steering wheel, a trip computer and a digital radio with USB and Aux-in connectivity. Plusher versions like this one get heated seats with leather trim, front foglamps and rain-sensitive wipers, plus auto headlamps that can dip themselves at night.
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, capable of 44.8mpg on the combined cycle and 148g/km of CO2. Other Cascada variants don't fare quite as well as that: the 1.6 SIDI petrol auto for example, manages 39.2mpg on the combined cycle and 168g/km of CO2. Then there are the diesel versions of this Vauxhall, with both 165 and 195PS versions of the 2.0 CDTi unit delivering 54.3mpg on the combined cycle and 138g/km of CO2. That's quite a bit better than you'd get from a rival Peugeot 308CC 2.0 HDi or Volvo C70 D3. But not quite up to the level of either a BMW 118d or 120d Convertible, or indeed the 2.0 TDI Cabriolet versions of either the Audi A5 or the Volkswagen Eos and Golf models.
These days, Vauxhall is a company with some genuinely desirable products in its portfolio. Here's one of them. In this Cascada, the brand looks to have virtually all the ingredients to guarantee success and the 10% market share it's seeking at the affordable end of the convertible segment. The design's good, the finish seems very polished and it's got some solid engineering underneath the pretty lines. A perfect recipe in fact for buyers who previously enjoyed the old Vauxhall-engineered Saab 9-3 Convertible. Whether though, this car can steal sales from today's prestigious makers in this notoriously badge-conscious sector is another thing of course. At least the Griffin brand has given it every chance. It not only, as you'd expect, substantially undercuts rival models from Audi, Volvo and BMW on price but it also provides what is, in many ways, a better all-round package into the bargain, one that includes more rear seat legroom and extra equipment. Some might even find this car to be better looking. If all that's not enough, then it's hard to see what more Vauxhall can do to win the hearts and minds of convertible buyers.