SEE ALSO: Chrysler Buyer's Guide
The Chrysler PT Cruiser is the most attention-grabbing thing on four wheels at the moment. It has retro-meets-modern, street rod-inspired show car style and roomy practicality. Unlike DaimlerChrysler's other production concept cars, the Dodge Viper and Plymouth Prowler, the PT Cruiser is priced for the masses. And, judging from the attention I've received while driving one for the past week, the PT Cruiser has mass appeal.
But what kind of vehicle is it? Is it a car, a modern version of the tall compact wagons that didn't quite reach popularity a decade ago? Or is it a small sport-utility vehicle, a micro-panel truck? Maybe it's a cleverly-disguised micro-minivan?
It's all of the above and none of the above. DaimlerChrysler considers it to be the only vehicle in a new market segment, just as the minivan was back in 1984. "PT" stands for "Personal Transportation," and the Cruiser can be something for everyone. (And whatever it currently isn't will undoubtedly be available from the aftermarket.) Three trim packages are available, base, Touring Edition, and Limited Edition. All have a 2.4-liter, 150-horsepower four-cylinder engine, matched to a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearbox. My test car is a Limited Edition model with the automatic. It's been turning heads all week, and is more than just an interesting face. It has plenty of style, but not at the expense of function, and in one of the rare vehicles than can appeal equally to the emotions or logic. At heart, it's a four-door hatchback, or maybe a mini-minivan. Two more-ignored categories would be hard to find. Leave it to Chrysler to make such a vehicle a hot item.
APPEARANCE: The 1930s meet the 21st century in the PT Cruiser's styling. The general body shape is reminiscent of cars from the late 1930s through late 1940s, with rounded contours and large, bulbous separate streamlined fenders, and a 1930s-inspired grille that looks right off the Plymouth Prowler. The retro-look Chrysler logo at the front and rear looks completely in place. But the curved windshield and faired-in Viperesque headlights are completely modern. And the optional chromed, five-spoke alloy wheels reveal the PT Cruiser's nature - less retro than factory street rod. Interesting details abound, such as the sharp edge at the top of the hood, the inset character line that continues around the car from the back if the hood seam, and the solid-feeling chromed door handles. There's nothing quite like it on the road.
COMFORT: The PT Cruiser's interior is as interesting as it's exterior. It's ultra-contemporary in style, and, because of the high roofline and panel-truck body contour, amazingly spacious for such a short vehicle. The symmetrical instrument panel uses body- colored panels around the deeply-inset, black-on-white instruments and above the large, locking glovebox. The chair-like seating position says "truck" today, but is the same as was found in cars when cars looked like the PT Cruiser. The Limited Edition package features leather seating surfaces with suede trim and suede accents on textured door panels. All four doors have pockets with vent holes - is anyone expecting a deep stream crossing? Well, if not, they do add interior style and useful storage space. Minivan-like versatility is the PT Cruiser's strongest point - the rear seat is split 65/35, and each side can separately be folded flat, flipped up for more space, or completely removed. Optionally, the front passenger seat can be folded flat for a true panel truck experience. The rear cargo shade has multiple positions and can be used as a picnic table. There are plenty of interesting quirks, highlighted by the "cue ball" shift knob in manual-equipped PTs and window lifts placed in the center of the dash and on the rear end of the console. Even the base PT Cruiser is well-equipped, with power windows, air conditioning, and a tilt steering column standard.
SAFETY: The 2001 PT Cruiser meets automobile, not truck safety standards. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes and front side airbags are available.
ROADABILITY: The PT Cruiser's chameleonlike nature extends to the ride and handling department. With the touring suspension that is part of the Limited Edition package, the suspension tuning is firmer than that of a mainstream sedan, with little body roll in cornering. It is still compliant and comfortable over rough surfaces. The PT Cruiser feels somewhere between a car and a truck, in part because of the suspension firmness, and also because of the rear beam axle, used for increased interior space, and the high seating position. A carlike unit-construction chassis gives it a solid feel. Interior noise levels are moderate, and equivalent to those of other small sedans and crossover vehicles.
PERFORMANCE: Performance fans are advised to stick with the stick. While the optional four-speed automatic adds convenience in city and traffic driving, it does sap some response from the PT's 2.4-liter twincam four-cylinder engine. With 150 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque to move 3200 lbs of weight, the PT Cruiser is more of a show car than go car. But acceleration is comparable to or better than any of the similarly-sized small "crossover" SUVs. My test car was equipped with the automatic, and was a little slow from a standstill, but had good acceleration from 20 mph or so - just what is needed for success in the real world. The optional four- wheel antilock disc brakes work very well, and are a highly- recommended investment.
CONCLUSIONS: A combination of unique style, multipurpose functionality, and a reasonable price will make the Chrysler PT Cruiser a popular vehicle with a wide range of people.
SPECIFICATIONS 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser Base Price $ 15,450 Price As Tested $ 20,835 Engine Type dual overhead cam 16-valve inline 4-cylinder Engine Size 2.4 liters / 148 cu. in. Horsepower 150 @ 5500 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 162 @ 4000 rpm Transmission 4-speed automatic (5-speed manual standard) Wheelbase / Length 103.0 in. / 168.8 in. Curb Weight 3200 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 21.3 Fuel Capacity 15.0 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular, 87 octane Tires P205/55 TR16 Goodyear Eagle LS Brakes, front/rear vented disc / disc Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / beam axle with trailing links and Watt's linkage, coil springs Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 20 / 26 / 21 0 to 60 mph 10.9 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Customer Preferred Package 28G (Limited Edition) - includes: Seats: leather and suede trim, front passenger's folds flat, driver's power-adjustable; touring suspension with 16-inch chrome alloy wheels and P205/55R16 touring tires; power moonroof, side airbags, theft-deterrent system, alarm and remote keyless entry; leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, and more $ 4,580 Smoker's group (ashtray and lighter) $ 20 4-speed automatic transmission $ 825 4-wheel disc brakes with antilock $ 790 AM/FM/cassette/CD sound system $ 225 Destination charge $ 550 ABS/traction control group discount -($ 195) Customer preferred discount -($ 1,410)