Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown, I love you. Today, we’re looking for virtue in Sin City as we take to Las Vegas in search of some sensible cars. Before we get into that, let’s check in on how our family-friendly battle from yesterday went.
And the V70 has smashed it out of the park in a rare victory for unreliable European tin over sensible transportation. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Volvo as much as anyone, but those Rondos have a good track record. Plus, it’s a car that sort-of shares a name with my favorite Ontario Provincial Park. Anyway, on to today’s event, two very sensible cars from a city that isn’t sensible at all. Let’s see what we’re working with.
2004 Chrysler PT Cruiser – $2,600
Engine/drivetrain: 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, four-speed automatic gearbox, front-wheel-drive.
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Odometer reading: 108,862 miles
If you need a reasonably economical car with a lot of interior room for not a lot of money anywhere in America, it’s hard to do better than a PT Cruiser. These things may represent the ugly side of postmodernism from a styling perspective, but they’re reasonably reliable, cheap to fix, and incredibly practical.
Under the hood sits a 2.4-liter Tritec engine making 150 horsepower, a perfectly cromulent number for a vehicle this size. Granted, the four-speed automatic isn’t the most inspiring choice in the world, but that’s often the path cheap cars take. Still, this one appears to have no engine-related lights on the dashboard, generally a good sign in a cheap car.
The styling of the PT Cruiser is often mocked, although whether rightly so or not depends on perspective. For better or worse, it’s a generational statement. What’s old became new, only to become old again. Most retro cars are in a perpetual state of aging, and the PT Cruiser is no exception. Still, let’s focus on condition rather than design here. This PT Cruiser does have its fair share of dents, but it looks fairly solid thanks to a life in dry, sunny Nevada.
On the inside is where the PT Cruiser impresses, with a level of forethought and pragmatism uncommon in compact cars of the time. The rear seats could fold, flip, or lift out completely, while the cargo cover doubles as a table. Sure, this PT Cruiser is missing a knob for the fader, but its interior seems fairly tidy otherwise.
2001 Toyota Echo – $2,600
Engine/drivetrain: 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, four-speed automatic gearbox, front-wheel-drive.
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Odometer reading: 180,000 miles
Runs/drives? You bet.
Welcome to what might be the best best entry-level car Toyota’s ever made. That’s a controversial statement, but the Echo has the stuff to back it up. It emerged at a time where cars were arguably at their most reliable, with a great balance of durability and simplicity. It also adopted a radical form that’s now seen in every subcompact car today: The Echo got tall. More on that in a bit.
Powering the Echo is Toyota’s bombproof 1NZ-FE 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, good for 108 rampaging horsepower. It’s not a huge number, but it’ll stand until the end of time. Although the four-speed automatic gearbox does its best to dampen the Echo’s pace, it’s also quite reliable.
As for styling, the Echo is positively adorkable. Once described by Car And Driver as “a hippo in roller skates,” its tall styling and mischievous grin has aged well when you considering how pretty much every subcompact car since has adopted its tall form factor. Granted, I think this particular Echo was sideswiped at some point, judging by the massive dent in the right rear door and the passenger-side mirror from a completely different car, so maybe this example hasn’t aged the best.
That tall form factor pays dividends on the inside of the Echo, where you find space galore. Not only is there plenty of headroom and legroom on tap, this little car offers an incredible array of storage cubbies. Dual gloveboxes, bins on either side of the center stack, a shelf under the steering column, just so many places to put stuff. While I’m suspicious of the condition of the front seats under those covers, this looks like a reasonable place to spend some time upon first glance.
So there we are, two fairly economical cars in the city of sin. One offers Japanese reliability, the other features immense cargo flexibility. As ever, choose carefully.
(Photo credits: Craigslist sellers)
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My wife bought a 2004 Toyota Echo right at the start of the pandemic expecting it to last for maaaaybe the winter, and it’s continued to serve us faithfully. It’s a shitbox full of randomly appearing warning lights, weird electrical gremlins, and a fair amount of body damage (thanks to someone rear-ending them at road speed in a Target parking lot), but it just soldiers on. It’s not a “good” car by most objective measures, but I’m genuinely smitten with the little cockroach of a thing and I’ll be sad once we inevitably replace it.
Design wise the PT Cruiser is a practical update of a 1940s sedan. The Echo is bereft of life.
PT Cruiser for me even with the slushbox in this case mainly due to the difference in mileage and that Echo looks pretty beat up.
I’ve been through three cruisers, still driving two of them, so my vote was as predictable as it was consistent.
And yeah, they’re “cheap to fix” — until they’re not (A/C condenser, then timing belt on a turbo-equipped 2004).
All the Elvis impersonators in Vegas couldn’t get me to like the styling of the Echo, PT Cruiser it is!
I reluctantly chose the PT Cruiser. I have no issues with a PT Cruiser (sue me…), But they are ridiculously practical. But considering I drive a lot of interstate and have to pull onto roads where power on tap is a necessity, I’m not sure I could get along with just 108 horsepower… And I drove a 2.0L automatic Tracker for multiple years, but even that was pushing what I would deal with. (plus it made up for it with the 4WD).
So call me a sucker, pt barnum it is, having driven both, yeah…. sad to pick a questionable Chrysler over a reliable Toyota, both seem to be about a thousand too high.
It came down to econo biggish box VS econo box sans box.
And the echo i drove did echo, and the cruiser did cruise 🙂
…Pinch hitting for Pedro Borbon…Manny Mota… Mota… Mota
I’ve got to concentrate… concentrate… concentrate… concentrate…
Even as the owner of a Yaris, can I choose yesterday’s Rondo instead?
I hate them both and can’t believe I’m choosing an ugly Chrysler over a Toyota of any kind.
As always, condition matters. But what matters even more is current need.
For hauling things, the PT is much better. If I needed an efficient daily, I’d definitely take the Toyota.
For what it’s worth, even Consumer Reports called the Echo “boring” back in the day.
Just scrolled past everything and voted for the Echo. It doesn’t matter. The PT Cruiser is a hateful horrible and…just no. I can’t car. At least as meh the Echo is, it’s a Toyota. Pull the engine and make a gokart…at the least.
Truly this is the “Kobayashi Maru” of recent Shitbox showdowns….
reluctantly picked the PT cruiser because I doubt I’d fit in the echo comfortably.
As an aside, by now “cromulent” has to be an entry in the OED, no? Lol 🙂