Is the Opel Cascada really a rival to premium German drop-tops?
So to find out whether this new four-seat open-top Opel falls into a neat niche, or flounders in awkward no-man’s land.
The Cascada’s handsome exterior design gives it strong road presence. With Insignia innards mixed with Astra styling, the Opel measures the same width the Audi A5, but is slightly longer at almost 4.7 metres. That makes it larger than its price-point rivals, including the BMW 1 Series Convertible, the VW Golf Cabriolet and Eos, the Peugoet 308 CC, and of course the A3 Cabriolet.
The solid, chunky design sits on 18-inch wheels and sees a steeply raked front windscreen and rising beltline help maintain its style even with the roof up.
That roof – made of cloth to save weight, space and cost – comes with a glass windscreen and takes 17 seconds to sinks seamlessly into the boot at speeds of up to 48km/h. It can also be operated remotely via the key.
Any impression of this being a premium product, however, diminishes once you’re greeted with the cabin’s mix of Astra and Insignia switchgear. Comparing this to the inside of an Audi A5 is like comparing Penfold’s Grange with restaurant house wine – it’s just not in the same league.
There are supportive heated leather seats up front, with reasonable surfaces throughout, but areas such as the dash top lack the luxury feel.
There’s the smattering of buttons in the centre stack around the sat-nav display, which also doubles for the standard reversing camera.
The audio set-up includes MP3 and Bluetooth connectivity, while higher models have premium audio with steering-wheel controls.
Safety tech includes radar cruise and lane departure warning, as well as premium options such as a heated wheel.
Despite being high on equipment, the overall ambience simply can’t match other German offerings.
It’s not game over for the Cascada, though. There are plenty of under-bonnet choices, inlcuding a 121kW 2.0-litre diesel, and a more powerful BiTurbo diesel to arrive in European versions later this year. We’ve already seen the 103kW 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine in the Holden Cruze and Trax as well as the forthcoming Opel Mokka SUV, but there’s also a brand new 138kW 1.6-litre turbocharged, direct-injection petrol engine on offer, too.
Manual versions have start/stop technology, the diesel’s claimed 5.2L/100km making it the most efficient, while the auto-only 1.6-litre is thirstiest, but still only rated at 7.2L/100km.
The 1.4-litre petrol engine is impressively quiet with a seamless start/stop system, and doesn’t protest when you push it hard – which you’ll have to, as it isn’t brisk. Climb through the slightly notchy yet direct shift of the six-speed manual and you’ll find enough poke for a relaxed country drive, but for gaps in traffic you’ll have to work it hard. The 1.6-litre is more responsive, but it's no performance drop-top.
That’s because the lightest model – the 1.4-litre turbo petrol – weighs 1626kg to make it more portly than an A5 Cabriolet, while the top-spec diesel is even heavier at 1741kg. The torquey diesel, which spins quietly and with little vibration, can’t overcome the weight, let alone the petrol four-cylinder. If you want urge from your Cascada, you’ll need to wait for the BiTurbo.
The Cascada feels well planted on the road, though. Refinement with the roof up is superb, with tyre noise making up most of the soundtrack around town, while on the freeway a small but not excessive amount of wind noise joins in. There’s no scuttle shake, either, and only over larger bumps does the roof make any creaking when it’s up.
Despite limited visibility from the tiny rear windscreen, lowering the roof shows the Cascada to be a mature convertible that cocoons its passengers from the wind.
There’s a comfortable ride that doesn’t jar over bumps nor crash through into the cabin, partly due to the HiPerStrut front suspension seen in Opel Astra GTC and OPC that helps the front end stay compliant and the steering feel more direct.
The optional FlexRide system tweaks the damper rates, steering feel and throttle response based on your driving style, and can be selected manually via the Sport button on the dash.
While there’s a strong chassis, the steering wheel’s massive diameter and excessive, artificial weighing-up means that your arms feel overworked in twisty sections of road, where the Cascada does an otherwise great job. Even in Sport mode, the steering’s not involving and turn-in is a little vague.
Body control is solid, though, as Cascada settles quickly with only a small amount of roll into corners. Change-of-direction isn’t sloppy and the car doesn’t feel as heavy in corners as the stats suggest.
The weight does come back to haunt the Cascada around town, as that heavy steering and a massive turning circle mean tight manoeuvres at the local Coles aren’t its forte.
The lack of luggage space is another reason to give the supermarket a miss. The 280-litre claim isn’t so bad, but the packaging means little of it is usable. Roof up, and there’s another 100 litres to match the A5’s space, but you’re better off using the back seats.
They’re even better at hosting rear passengers and, with the roof up, there’s actually good headroom in the back, too, making it the one of the most spacious four-seat convertibles on sale.
It’s also the most affordable. While local prices are yet to be confirmed, they’re expected to start at less than $40,000, making it about the same as a VW Eos and much cheaper than the A5 Cabriolet, which starts at about $80K.
The Opel Cascada is a competent cruiser, but it doesn’t feel overly special to drive. The BiTurbo may prove a standout, but the rest of the range can’t muster a genuine threat to more expensive German rivals, while the similarly priced VW Golf Cabrio is a far more spritely drive, with superior cabin quality and engines to boot.
While there are better convertibles to drive for the money, however, there are few this roomy, so if four-up cruising is the priority then the Cascada may get some time in the sun with buyers…