The Vauxhall Cascada is the company's latest attempt at shaking off its rather grey and glum reputation. It follows on from the likes of the Adam and Astra GTC, both far more shapely than anything Vauxhall had offered previously.
This is also the first proper convertible that Vauxhall has produced in a long time and has a styling and an interior which reminds us of Saab's later models. With a starting price of £23,995, it represents some serious value. But is it a poor man's Audi? Or does the Cascada succeed in finally giving that sense of personality that Vauxhall so desperately seeks?
The short answer is yes, it does have a personality, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Having spent a good while driving about a very wet Monaco, both in winding city streets and on the motorway, we feel we have formed enough of an opinion on the Cascada to deliver an in depth hands-on, but not yet enough to give a full review.
From the outside, the Cascada continues with Vauxhall's no right-angles rule. It is full of sweeping lines and clever bodywork touches which lead your eye to the interesting wheel design and quite frankly fantastic-looking set of rear LEDs. Those LEDs aren't like conventional clever car lights, they illuminate the rear lights in a single block of colour, giving the illusion that they glow in the dark - an effect we haven't seen before.
The roof is put together from a premium fabric that looks just as good as any of its more expensive competitors. It opens and closes in 17 seconds and, once open, ensures the Cascada looks fairly slick.
The car has a very abrupt and drawn-back windscreen, which requires a clever pop-out anti-roll bar in the back. It creates a great effect for the car's styling, giving it a swept-back and sporty look, but getting your head around exactly where the front bonnet ends can be a problem.
The Cascada is also a big vehicle, with plenty of blind spots and, with the roof up, rear visibility isn't great. It's not as nimble as some other convertibles and requires a bit more care and attention while driving. Having clever blind spot indicators in each mirror does help, but the Cascade could benefit slightly from not having quite such a sloped and slanted approach to looks. This is where the personality comes in, as driving the Cascada takes a little bit of practice to nail, but then turns into an enjoyable vehicle to glide about in once you have it.
Driving the Cascada offers up two seperate modes: Tour or Sport. Both fundamentally change the way the car handles. Leave things in Tour and you will plod along in comfort with the turbo (if you opt for a turbo model) lifting revs slowly and comfortably. Sport tightens everything up and gives you better throttle response, making the Cascada a much more exciting experience. It also adds red lighting to the speedometer and rev counter, VXR style.
We found ourselves predominantly leaving the Cascada in Sport mode, simply because the 1.4i 16v VVT Turbo in the model we drove just didn't have enough grunt to really get the 1600 Kg Cascada moving. If we had the choice we would opt for the 1.6 litre Turbo or the 2 litre Bi-Turbo option. Sport also gives you a much better steering feel, giving a good idea of how the convertible is going round corners. It certainly floats and glides, but the Cascada never feels disconnected like some other premium convertibles.
It might not be hugely quick, but the Cascada clearly has a strong engine, which will come with some of the affordability and ease of repair that you get with a Vauxhall, making the car a tad cheaper to maintain than more expensive offerings from Audi or BMW.
The interior of the Cascada we tested was fully decked out in leather, with electrically heated seats and steering wheel. It feels premium and offers some nice styling tweaks over the more staid approaches of competitors. You still can't quite get over the Vauxhall badge in the middle of the steering wheel, which does detract slightly from the sense of cool, but really this is a swish-looking car.
One thing we must fault the Cascada's interior on is its incredibly over-the-top centre console. The sat nav system is easy enough to understand, but the vast number of buttons on offer to control both air con and music mean it is difficult to navigate at a glance. It just needs to be a bit simpler and the Cascada's tech would be much easier to use.
But the Cascada is definitely a fun piece of kit and a testament to Vauxhall's continued approach to shaking off its dull image. Value for money is clearly paramount and those after a premium convertible without the price tag should find the Cascada an enjoyable ride.
We can't say for sure yet as that engine could become a bit of an issue, but this could be quite a car for the summer, particularly or those planning a road trip, which to our mind the Cascada is perfectly suited to.