First Drive

2014 Vauxhall Cascada 1.6T 200 review

Vauxhall has given the Cascada soft-top a powerful new 1.6-litre petrol engine. Does it have what it takes to turn the convertible into a winner?

Words ByEd Callow

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The best convertible cars are easy to live with and can be driven every single day. Compromises to practicality are inevitable, but a decent drop-top needs to have a comfortable ride, good refinement and be fun to drive.

This 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol is one of 13 new engines that Vauxhall is launching between now and 2016. This particular unit is claimed to blend the power of a 2.0-litre with the economy of a 1.6.

We’ve driven a few different engines in the Cascada, but have so far found that they leave the car wanting for both pace and dynamic poise. So can this new engine change that verdict?

What's the Vauxhall Cascada 1.6T 200 like to drive?

The 1.6-litre petrol’s 197bhp and 206lb ft of torque might look more than enough on paper, but in the real world it just doesn’t deliver the performance you’d expect. This is largely down to the Cascada’s weight: at more than 1700kg, it’s around 350kg heavier than our favourite Audi A3 Cabriolet. The Audi has 59bhp less power, but it’s only half a second slower from 0-62mph.

Performance feels particularly sluggish at low revs. It doesn’t start to pull strongly until you’ve pushed well beyond 2000rpm, so if you put your foot down in a hurry, you’re left waiting for the speed to build. Quick progress through the gears is hindered by the notchy manual 'box, too.

Optional adaptive suspension (Β£790) gives the Cascada a comfortable ride – especially in the softest Tour setting, which makes motorway journeys a breeze. Even the models we’ve tried with standard springs soak up small imperfections with little fuss, although larger bumps and ruts can send jolts through the cabin.

Body control is also impressive in this class - it always feels planted and stable through corners. Unfortunately, the handling never moves from β€˜secure’ to β€˜entertaining’. There’s plenty of grip, but the weighty steering feels inconsistent at times, and there’s little feedback through the wheel rim.

Still, the new turbo petrol engine does at least feel smooth, and it’s reasonably hushed. There’s a bit of a boomy exhaust note under full throttle, but otherwise it's relaxing to drive. Wind noise is also particularly well suppressed with the roof up, although general traffic and road noise does intrude.

A more heavily insulated roof is available as a Β£300 option and is worth adding if you really value your peace and quiet. Regardless of material, the roof folds in just 17 seconds and can be operated at speeds of up to 30mph - a useful feature if you get caught in an unexpected downpour.

What's the Vauxhall Cascada 1.6T 200 like inside?

Cabin space in the Cascada is good, but not outstanding. There's plenty of room in the front, with a wide range of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel for the driver. The back seats will suit adults as long as they’re not six-footers. Otherwise, knee- and headroom is pretty restricted.

Rear-seat passengers won’t have any problems clambering behind the front seats, though. Access is as good as you’ll find in any convertible. The optional β€˜easy entry’ electric seats make it effortless, which come as part of the Β£400 Power Seat pack on Elite trim versions.

The boot is usefully big, too. There's 380 litres of space with the roof up (280 with it down) and the rear seats fold to allow longer items to be carried. It's even possible to squeeze in bulky items such as golf clubs, although the narrow boot opening makes this a rather difficult operation.

A leather-trimmed dashboard comes as standard with every Cascada, but it’s hard to the touch, so doesn’t feel anywhere near as luxurious as it looks. Most of the cabin feels fairly solid, although you’ll still hear the odd creak and rattle when driving over patchier surfaces.

As in most other Vauxhalls, much of the dashboard switchgear is rather cluttered; there are lots of buttons that aren't especially well marked or within easy reach. The rotary controller for the infotainment is nowhere near as intuitive as, say, Audi's MMI system in the A3 Cabriolet.

All-round visibility is disappointing. The chunky, raked windscreen pillars create blind spots at junctions, and the narrow rear screen in the fabric soft-top makes for a seriously restricted view.

There are only two specifications available for the Cascada: SE and Elite. The former comes with air-conditioning, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth, cruise control, rear parking sensors and 18-inch alloys.

Upgrading to Elite trim costs Β£2100, and adds dual-zone climate control, automatic lights and wipers, heated leather sport seats, a wind deflector and a heated steering wheel. If you want sat-nav on either trim it costs Β£855 for the basic unit or Β£1200 if you want Vauxhall’s Intellilink system.

Should I buy one?

The Cascada comes well equipped and rides comfortably, but costs a bit more than an equivalent VW Golf Cabriolet. The VW might be smaller, but requires very little compromise in interior space or practicality. The Golf is also sharper to drive, more economical and has a broader choice of engines.

More significantly, at this price the Cascada also has to compete with our favourite open-top car, the Audi A3 Cabriolet. In 138bhp 1.4 petrol guise, the A3 is Β£400 cheaper than the Vauxhall, and considerably cheaper to tax and fuel. It’s not quite as spacious, but its cabin is in a different league.

If outright passenger space is a priority, then you can make a case for the Cascada - especially with a hefty discount from your local Vauxhall dealer. In most other respects, though, there are far better rivals for the money.

What Car? says…

Audi A3 Cabriolet
Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet

Vauxhall Cascada 1.6T 200

Engine size 1.6-litre turbo petrol

Price from Β£26,210

Power 197bhp

Torque 206lb ft

0-62mph 8.5 seconds

Top speed 146mph

Fuel economy 42.2mpg

CO2 158g/km