New Car/Review

Chrysler

Chrysler PT Cruiser (2001)

SEE ALSO: Chrysler Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig

SPECIFICATIONS

MODEL: 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser
ENGINE:  2.4-liter inline four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 150 hp @ 5,200 rpm/167 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Five-speed manual
WHEELBASE: 103.0 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 168.8 x 67.1 x 63.0 in.
STICKER PRICE:  $16,965

Easily one of the most popular cars on the auto show circuit in 2000 has been the Chrysler PT Cruiser. I attended one show where the people were lining up six deep just to sit in the car. Everyone smiles when you drive by and (almost) everyone is in love with the car.

Part of the fascination is the Cruiser's "retro" styling. A relative told me recently that she saw a two-door version of the Cruiser in our town. My interest was piqued, until I also saw it. It was in reality a 1930s Plymouth coupe, with all the styling attributes of the Cruiser.

But unlike the cars of the 1930s, the PT Cruiser is totally modern, has all the safety features of a small sedan (it is, after all, built on the Neon platform), and all the storage and carrying capacity of a small minivan. Performance is decent, too, with a 16-valve 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine that's rated at a robust 150 horsepower. It's hooked to a five-speed manual gearbox (a four-speed automatic is available) driving the front wheels. While the four is small, it has power, and we were able to "chirp" the tires on rapid start-ups from stop signs.

Even with the relatively high exterior hood line of the Cruiser, there's not much space under it for a larger engine. I also wouldn't want to be the person servicing this engine, although all the fillers and dip sticks are easily accessible. For 2002, Chrysler is rumored to be introducing a "GT Cruiser" with a turbocharged version of the same engine that should make the Cruiser a potent little performance car.

But the charm of the PT Cruiser is all about styling. Here is a vehicle that is a combination of a 1930s sedan, a minivan, a truck, and a street rod. Our tester was white, but I'll be it looks sharp in black with orange flames painted on the front. Inside, the seats were relatively normal, but the dash had a retro look and the shifter knob was a simple white ball, just like the kind you'd find on one of those old Hurst shifters.

The exterior is clean and rounded. I liked the way there were rear front fenders and a hint of a running board. The flat aerodynamic rear hatch even brought back memories of the Cadillac Aero-Dynamic Coupe that was introduced in 1933.

There were a few features we had to get used to. The biggest problem was the lack of power door locks. Yes, I know I'm spoiled, but even out `88 family sedan has power locks. The power window controls were located in the center of the dash. It's a sensible location, but it took me at least a minute to find them the first time. Thank God the PT Cruiser wasn't submerged in a lake somewhere at the time. And the exterior mirrors also didn't have power controls for adjustment, just stalks, but since the PT Cruiser is relatively small, it was easy to get to the right-hand adjuster.

The rear hatch opens upward to reveal a smallish trunk. However, you can fold down the rear seats, and with a little panel can create a flat luggage floor with a "protected" area underneath it. This proved to be handy. I stowed my golf clubs on the top and my shoes and other smaller items underneath. You could also use this lower area to carry crushable groceries while the heavier items remained on top. We drove most of the time with the rear seats folded.

But these seats are also removable. Flip a couple of handles and the seats come out easily, creating a huge storage area. The seats even have handles on them to help you take them out. There was enough room there to bring two garbage pains full of grass clippings to the compost dump, an important summertime capacity test.

With the rear seatbacks in the raised positions, the rear seating capacity was decent. This is, in reality, a four-passenger vehicle, ideal for double dates no matter what the ages of the daters are. There are enough cupholders to keep everyone happy, and with two rear doors, there's lest of a claustrophobic feeling in the rear.

Another great advantage of the PT Cruiser is its price. Sure, we didn't have all the power goodies, but with a sticker price of only $16,965 -- including four-wheel ABS disc brakes ($790) and side air bags ($350) -- you can't go wrong.

One of the advantages of this job is that you're often driving vehicles that have not been seen before. The PT Cruiser is on the road now and there are several in our neighborhood. But it's still the type of vehicle that draws smiles and thumbs ups from other drivers. When we stop, people tell me how much they like "my" car. It hurts to have to tell them it isn't mine and it's going back in a week to be replaced by something nondescript. Oh, well.

 

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