Soon after taking the wheel of the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LS, I searched out Elvis Presley’s honeymoon hideaway in Palm Springs. The desert city was holding its breath in anticipation of Modernism Week, which begins Feb. 17 (and actually continues for 10 days). Crowds will exult in modernist design, taking architecture tours and attending lectures, fashion shows, and galas such as the Retro Martini Party, which would prove yet again that drinking turns you backwards. There are also displays of vintage automobiles and travel trailers. But for the moment, it was easy to park along Palm Canyon Drive, where my friend Eileen and I picked up a map in a souvenir shop and she bought a soy candle in Distinctive Home PS for $30—half off because it was on the red dot shelf!—that proved to be no more combustible than the Underwear Bomber’s salvo.
Before long we found ourselves arriving at 1350 Ladera Circle. Widely photographed when new, this delta-winged house perfectly represented the apogee of middle-class aspirations circa 1962, along with the Mercury missions, Cinerama, and Sandra Dee. Elvis liked it so much, he rented the place and brought Priscilla here.
No one would call the Cruze LS extravagant or an apogee of automotive design, but it’s tidy enough and a big step forward in relation to Chevrolet’s previous compact car efforts. So I imagined Elvis coming outside and catching us during our photo session. “Screw all these Cadillacs!” he’d undoubtedly say. “Priscilla, put Lisa Marie’s kiddie seat in back. I’m in the mood for some shopping.” On the way down to the local appliance store to buy ten TVs, he’d proudly tell anyone stopped next to them in traffic on Dinah Shore Drive that the manually adjustable side mirrors are all he needs, being a simple man at heart. And he’d boast that this particular car came with the optional compact spare tire ($100), which replaces the standard sealant and inflator kit. “By golly, if I’m going to have a new car, it sure ought to include a spare!”
A crooning rival’s rebuff. On the other hand, I can’t quite see a longtime contemporary resident of Palm Springs, the one and only Barry Manilow, forking over $18,570 for the Cruze LS. Known for commuting to his Las Vegas performances by private jet, the singer probably isn’t interested in the EPA-estimated 35 highway mpg. While there’s a jack for his iPod to shuffle through such hits as “Mandy” and “I Made It Through the Rain (Thanks to OnStar Navigation),” the Cruze’s deluxe cloth interior of jet black and medium titanium just isn’t up to Manilow’s standards for velour upholstery, shag carpet, and baby harp seal fur trim.
Nevertheless, my mind vaulted over obstacles of space and time, putting the two vocalists together:
Elvis: Having once sung, “Life begins when you’re in Mexico,” I never imagined the Chevy Cruze’s powertrain, which comprises a 1.8-liter Ecotec four and a six-speed automatic transmission, would be hecho en Mexíco. Of course, it should be noted that the car is ultimately assembled in Lordstown, Ohio.
Barry: I love to hear “Ramos Arizpe” rolling over your lips. If only the automatic gearbox were as fast or as smooth. The second-to-first downshifts, particularly in manual mode, are like following “I Write the Songs” with “I Wanna Be Sedated.”
Elvis: So, Barry, why don’t you just come out and admit it?
Barry: Because the blue-hairs who patronize my shows will stop throwing their foundation garments at me.
Elvis: That’s not what I mean. Go ahead and tell me how impressed you were with the Cruze’s smooth ride. It has a 105.7-inch wheelbase, longer than many a midsize car of yore, when my songs were still charting.
Barry: Indeed, that and the sensible and well-finished instrument panel and control layout were unexpected. But the Cruze could never be the car for me.
Elvis: Did my remark about the side mirrors put you off? I should’ve qualified that by saying there are indeed standard power windows with express down. Not to mention the remote-operated power locks and trunk release.
Elvis: What—because it’s not a hybrid?
Barry: Naw. Having this car would make me feel like I should be delivering pizza to Sinatra’s house.
Elvis: Sounds like a plan.