Car reviews - Holden - Cascada - convertible
Space for four adults, practical folding rear seats, decent fuel economy, pleasing dynamics, quick roof deployment
Room for improvement
Space and spontaneity robbing luggage cover must be in place first, some questionable interior finishes, sluggish transmission
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5 Jan 2016
Price and equipment
For $42,990 plus on-road costs and comprehensively equipped, the Cascada is the least expensive proper four-seat soft-top on the market.
Yes the Citroen DS3, Fiat 500C, Mini Cooper Cabrio, Renault Megane CC and even Jeep Wrangler can drop their tops for less but they offer only token rear-seat space and three of those five are pretty abstract versions of the convertible genre.
The Holden’s closest competitors, then, are the more expensive and smaller Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet ($1000 more) and Audi A3 Cabriolet (from $47,600).
But the Cascada is sized more closely to the A5 Cabriolet (from $81,200), which makes it look like something of a bargain – moreso when you look at the standard specification.
It starts with Holden’s MyLink infotainment system, a 7.0-inch display providing access to satellite navigation, the reversing camera, internet audio streaming apps Pandora, Stitcher and TuneIn via a Bluetooth-tethered smartphone plus DAB+ digital radio, a MP3-compatible CD player and USB/auxiliary inputs.
There’s also dual-zone climate control, perforated leather upholstery, seat, steering wheel and exterior mirror heating, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers, a multi-function trip computer and alloy pedals.
Compared with how it looks in photos, first impressions of the Cascada interior were not great, our attention drawn to the numerous brittle and cheap feeling trim surfaces and the typically General Motors hotch-potch of textures.
But there are a few nice details like the stitched leather-like surface on the instrument cowling and passenger-side dash-top, the perforated leather upholstery and mood lighting glow from beneath the gear selector.
Holden has thrown a lot of standard equipment at the Cascada, but like the Astra with which it shares a central stack dashboard, there is a bewildering, cheap ‘n’ cheesy looking array of buttons.
Better is the 7.0-inch MyLink system’s excellent sat-nav graphics, which along with the Bluetooth audio streaming, DAB+ digital radio, internet streaming apps, USB socket and subtly integrated MP3-compatible CD player provide plenty of infotainment power.
Instruments are pleasantly clean, crisp and readable, with a red arrow indicating 130km/h a nod to the Cascada’s European origins. The multi-function display is typical GM and dated to look at but nevertheless provides the required information with clarity.
Up front, the door bins look small but are surprisingly spacious and can accommodate drinks bottles at an angle. There is also a multi-function cupholder set-up in the centre console, a steeply raked (hard acceleration proof) storage area in front of the gearlever, a large glovebox, another mini glovebox by the driver’s right knee and under the adjustable central armrest is another large storage area.
Rear passengers get map pockets and a set of cupholders and cubbies between the separate rear seats.
We managed many miles of happy travel with four adults onboard roof up or down.
Those in the back enjoy an impressive amount of comfort and space, the only flies in the ointment being oddly positioned elbow rests, the feeling of being thrown about a bit on twisty roads and some roof-down buffeting above urban speeds.
Initially we found the front seats a bit firm and quite uncomfortable but after some playing with the tilt, height and BMW-style thigh-support adjustments we settled in.
That said, the driver’s seat always felt a little high for this six-foot road tester, giving the impression we were ducking to look under the top of the windscreen frame.
Also, though there are handy quarterlights between the A-pillars and the doors mirrors, the thickness and angle of the windscreen pillars can easily hide other road users. Luckily for one pedestrian, our passenger alerted us to his presence.
Otherwise, roof-up visibility it pretty good for a convertible and the reversing camera screen plus front/rear parking sensors help.
Considering this is a canvas-topped convertible, roof-up driving in the Cascada is pleasantly serene owing to the the triple-layer acoustically insulated hood construction, with the only additional noise intrusion over a tin-topped car being from heavy trucks on the motorway. Without back-to-back testing against an A3 or Golf cabriolet, we’d say it was at roughly on a par with the high bar set by those cars.
Unfortunately spontaneous roof-down driving is denied unless you get about with the boot space robbing luggage cover into place, which reduces seats-up volume from 380 litres to 280L and tends to get in the way of loading even items that will fit beneath it.
The boot aperture is also quite small, meaning we could not load bulky items such as an Esky, but electric releases quickly fold the rear seats and liberate a handy 750 litres of space – which can always be filled through the open roof provided it isn’t raining.
We timed the speed of the roof opening and closing action at 17 and 14.5 seconds respectively – significantly quicker than a couple of BMW convertibles we had recently driven – and it can be deployed on the move at up to 50km/h.
Also better than the BMWs was the Cascada’s wind deflector, which felt sturdily constructed and snapped easily into place, providing relatively serene top-down motoring, even at 100km/h.
In fact, it was so effective that when driving with it in place on a sunny day we felt a bit hot as we were not subject to cooling cabin airflow so thankfully it can be tilted back and disabled with a quick over-the-shoulder shove.
Apart from the small boot aperture and annoying luggage cover requirement for open-top driving, the Cascada is a pretty uncompromised four-seat drop-top from a practicality point of view. It even has Isofix child seat anchorages for free-spirited families.
Engine and transmission
With a hefty 1786kg plus passengers and luggage to haul about, the Cascada’s 1.6-litre turbo-petrol is no firecracker with a modest outputs of 125kW of power and 260Nm of torque, but it is smooth and tractable.
Despite the hard work occurring under the bonnet, we averaged fuel consumption of 8.7 litres per 100 kilometres, up 1.2L on the official combined figure and not bad considering that was achieved across urban and country roads with lots of top-down driving, often with four adults onboard.
Being respectably fuel-efficient and lacking in unpleasant thrashiness under load, the Cascada is blessed with GM's best four-cylinder effort in years. But we’d prefer a more characterful note than the fan-like sounds produced, for the start-up rasp to be subtler and the low-speed exhaust drone to be quieter and less boomy.
For everyday driving, the six-speed automatic transmission was smooth and unfussed, but it was a bit slow for spirited stuff regardless of whether it was subject to manual shifts or left to its own devices.
We sensed the electronics were making the right decisions at the right time and responded promptly to manual requests, but that the mechanical bits were slow to keep up.
Driving around this foible in manual mode required a degree of anticipation and forward planning. Failing that, the engine’s flexibility and torque often overcame its neighbour’s shortcomings.
Ride and handling
Despite the standard fitment of sizeable 18-inch alloys, Holden has resisted the temptation to go for low-profile tyres on the Cascada, to the benefit of ride quality. It’s obviously been well tuned by the Holden engineering team for Australian conditions and while it is firmly sprung, has great damping.
For a four-seat convertible, the Cascada does a pretty good impression of a sportscar when flung down a twisty country road. The steering, front-end grip and confidence-inspiring feel pleasantly surprised us and delivered plenty of smiles on our favourite stretch of bendy bitumen.
We admired how balanced and neutral the Cascada felt. Even approaching hairpins with wild abandon, we discovered the Cascada’s ability to carry some decent corner entry speeds, without significant understeer. When pushed to that level, the stability system grabs an inside front tyre to quell the push.
During spirited driving, the Cascada’s steering rack can be felt moving about and the chassis flexing, and sometimes the rear suspension will catch a bump, causing it to start pitching and bouncing along the road. These are all compromises of being a convertible and while we also experienced some scuttle-shake and wobbliness, these were not to an unforgivable degree.
Overall the Cascada delivers an impressive and largely uncompromised dynamic package for a soft-top.
Safety and servicing
Holden offers a three-year/100,000 kilometre warranty on all passenger vehicles, with roadside assistance for the same duration.
Under Holden’s lifetime capped-price servicing scheme, the Cascada’s 15,000km/12-month maintenance intervals cost $229 for each visit until 60,000km, rising to $289 until 105,000km and the first sizeable bill coming at 120,000km for $584 (prices correct at time of writing).
Neither ANCAP or Euro NCAP have crash-tested the Cascada, which comes with dual front and side airbags, electronic stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, active head restraints, front seat seatbelt monitoring and Isofix child seat anchors.
It also features twin steel hoops that spring from behind the rear seats if an imminent roll-over accident is detected. Together with the windscreen frame, these protect the cabin space and supports the vehicle’s weight of the vehicle.
With the Cascada, Holden has come up with a great all-rounder of a convertible, providing exceptional value-for-money, impressive practicality, decent fuel consumption and a surprising dose of dynamic ability.
Despite a few relatively minor disappointments, during our week-long fling the drop-top Holden grew on us immensely and we came away impressed. If your Holden dealer offers only a round-the-block test-drive, insist on having the car for longer to see if the same happens for you.
It’s a great – and much more affordable – spiritual successor to the dearly departed Saab 9-3 convertible. Bravo, Holden.
Renault Megane CC from $38,990 plus on-road costs
Despite a sharp-looking 2014 facelift, this is an ageing car underneath and the hatch on which it’s based is about to be replaced with an all-new model.
Folding metal roof aids top-up refinement and security but the driveline struggles to cope with its weight. Rear seats are for small children or amputees only, but probably luggage.
Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet from $43,990 plus on-road costs
Based on the old MK6 Golf, which itself is a rebodied MK5, so it’s effectively two generations old and won’t be replaced until the MK8 Golf comes along.
Nevertheless it’s a fine car to drive, with a punchy engine, slick transmission and well-insulated fabric roof. Can’t match the Cascada for space.
Audi A3 Cabriolet from $47,600 plus on-road costs
Unlike the Golf and Megane, the A3 drophead is based on the very latest underpinnings, so is a very smooth operator. Its entry price is just that and Audi’s otherwise wonderful interior design really, really needs a few expensive cosmetic options to brighten it up. A lot shorter than the Cascada, and your rear passengers ought to be too.
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