Motoring review: Vauxhall Cascada 2.0 CDTi

Can Vauxhall reach beyond its salesman heartland?

Price: from £25,775
Engine: 1,956cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, turbodiesel, 165bhp
Transmission: Six-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive
Performance: 135mph, 0-60 in 9.6 seconds, 54.3mpg, CO2 138g/km

The new Cascada convertible arrived in time for our fitful summer, propelled by a tentative push to make Vauxhall credibly "premium" without abandoning its workaday sales-rep heartland (which would be quite the impressive trick if pulled off). Since then, I have seen not a single example on our roads.

That could well be because buyers of an upmarket convertible can't square such a car with the notion of a Vauxhall badge. Their friends would sneer. Their self-esteem would be in ruins. Prejudice and snobbery stand in the way of much that is good, however. So let me tell you about the Cascada.

It's a dramatic- looking convertible, with a windscreen raked back so far that it looks almost a continuation of the bonnet. So far forward is its base pulled that there are separate side quarter-windows ahead of the doors, as found in many MPVs but a first for a convertible. Unlike the Astra Twin Top with its solid, folding roof, which the Cascada sort-of replaces, the new car has a soft-top roof which is lighter, less bulky, easier to stow (just 17 powered seconds) and looks a lot neater. And when folded, it sits flush with the rear bodywork, all mechanical entrails hidden.

And that "sort-of" part? The Cascada is broadly based on the underpinnings of the current, rather hefty, Astra, but it's big enough to be a credible rival for a car size above. That means it competes (if you can just forget that badge business for a moment) with an Audi A5. Stay with me here; the Cascada's hood is a beautiful piece of design and engineering apart from its claustrophobic letterbox rear window, and the cabin is luxurious, with its contrasting stitching and lush trim. It's true that the dashboard looks too familiar to Astra and Insignia drivers, but it's pleasant enough.

Top "Elite" models even get what Mercedes-Benz used to call a "belt butler", an automatically extending arm which presents you with the seatbelt ready to slip over your shoulder. For a little extra outlay you can even have an extra layer of soft-top interleaving, making an already quiet, multilayered hood a claimed 38 per cent quieter. No real need; wind rush is impressively low as standard.

This air of refinement is helped by a structure far stiffer than the old open-top Astra's, and the Cascada really does have the gait and demeanour of a quality machine.

But, despite all-turbocharged engines, the Cascada is not a rapid car mainly because it's a heavy one, thanks to a lot of underside reinforcement. The new 1.6-litre unit's 170 horses seem particularly puny, not helped by this engine's compulsory automatic transmission. I didn't try the entry-level turbo 1.4 nor the range-topping, 195bhp twin-turbo diesel. But I did sample the regular 2.0-litre turbodiesel, with 165bhp and enough pulling ability to disguise the heft. In this form the Cascada comes into its own as a brisk but relaxed tourer, with a comfortable ride and an ability to nip round corners rather tidily.

This is a very likeable convertible, if an ambitiously expensive one for its badge by the time you've plundered the options list. Without doubt it deserves parity with the default-choice premium German brands. But would you dare to go against fashion in this high-fashion sector? Good on you, if you do.

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