We take a moment to reflect on the short career of the Opel Cascada, a glamorous under-achiever, conceived in the most parlous of times for its maker.
Its names were once legion, but the Cascada is no more. Production ended at Gliwice not long into 2018, but Vauxhall and Opel Ireland have only gone public on the matter in the last week. All over Europe, Opel’s national sales operations are less direct about the matter. Autocropley reported that: “The model remains available in other European markets as the Opel Cascada.”
In raw figures, 25,234 Cascadas were sold in Europe between 2012 and 2018. The first and last years scarcely count, so small were the numbers, and the best result was 5910 in 2014.
Even at its early 2013 European launch there was much talk of the Cascada finding its way to the USA wearing the triple shield of Buick. In 2016 it happened, and in the two years when it was on sale, the Buick Cascada achieved 13,666 sales, well over half the number which had been registered as Opels and Vauxhalls in Europe over the car’s 5½ year life.
Australia and New Zealand got a Holden Cascada from April 2015. They couldn’t save the Cascada, and the Cascada couldn’t save Holden.
In late 2012 Opel were swimming against the tide by introducing a four seat soft-top. In the previous decade convertibles had been legion, adding glamour but probably not profits, to the otherwise mundane ranges of Renault, Peugeot, Ford, VW and Opel themselves.
Most of these makers eventually realised that they were ploughing a hard furrow. Turning the monocoque of a C-segment hatchback into what is effectively a platform chassis is a difficult enough task, but the market also demanded folding hardtops. Imitating the functions with which nature endowed Coleopterae using sheet metal and computer-managed electro-hydraulic trickery must be one of the hardest tasks in the automotive engineering textbook.
It is also one of the most pointless, which is why fabric roofs returned to the fore. The Cascada’s roof was fabric, and when not required, descended into a cavity concealed by a cleverly articulated boot lid.
Opel claimed that the Cascada’s body was 43% stiffer than the preceding Astra Twin-Top, although they do not specify whether the stiffness was of the torsional or beam sort, or whether the roofless Astra was particularly deficient in this matter.
Opel are to be admired for successfully distancing the Cascada from the Astra J, which shared its GM Delta II platform. Not that the Astra was a bad car, but Opel’s sights were set on BMW, Daimler, and Audi rivals a full size segment larger. The Astra had a very generous 2685mm wheelbase, which helped when Opel’s engineers gave the Cascada a well-proportioned body 70mm longer than the considerably more expensive Audi A5 cabrio.
What the GM car could not match was Audi’s extensive powertrain range; the most powerful offerings in the Cascada were a 1.6 litre turbocharged petrol four with 168bhp, or a 192bhp 2.0 diesel, if you were willing to inhale the fumes of heavy oil in an open-topped car. With weights of 1733kg and 1810kg to haul, neither engine was going to make the Cascada a dynamic delight.
Well we might well ask what GM were thinking, given the Cascada’s woeful sales performance. Product planning was low on their list of concerns in 2009 as they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and a ruthless restructuring commenced which almost included the immediate sale of Vauxhall and Opel.
It’s easy to say that the money and development resources expended to produce the Cascada would have been far better spent on a Qashqai clone, but Opel did at least score a bullseye in the sector below with the Mokka, launched at the same time as the Cascada, and soon achieving annual European sales in the hundreds of thousands.
Let us forgive Opel their folly, their Sports Frivolity Vehicle, a glamorous expression of hope in a time of grim adversity. The Cascada’s oddity and rarity should ensure its place as a future classic when the Mokkas, Antarae and Bigland Xs are all gone.