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New Car Review: 2004 PT Cruiser Turbo

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MODEL: Chrysler PT Cruiser Turbo
ENGINE: 2.4-liter turbocharged four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 180 hp @ 5,200 rpm/210 lb-ft @ 2,800-4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 4-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 103.0 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 168.8 x 67.1 x 63.0 in.

I have always liked the PT Cruiser. It has great retro styling that gives it real fenders. It's a good size, with enough seating and non-seating variations to make it either a micro-van or small people-carrier. It has taken the basic Neon platform and made it far more practical. Of course, it isn't for everyone, but those who choose the PT Cruiser generally drive it with a smile on their faces.

Chrysler realizes the value of the PT Cruiser in its lineup and has worked to come up with variations to keep the product new. There was the "woody," for example, with appliques on the side that simulated wood trim. The good news was that these decals were more than just pasted on; there were some body modifications as well.

Now Chrysler has upped the ante with a turbocharged version of the base 2.4-liter inline four. This increases horsepower from 150 in the un-turbocharged version to 180. That 20 percent, and the increase is noticeable. The engine is hooked to a smooth 5-speed automatic transmission and drives the front wheels, as before. Since the PT only weighs 3,176 pounds, there's enough power to go around.

There is a slight amount of "turbo steer," but it's nothing like what we used to encounter in the early years of turbocharging. This is where the car pulls to one side when the turbo engages on hard acceleration. With the PT Cruiser, you only notice the turbo steer when you're turning and accelerating. I punched the pedal and turned left one time and I almost lost the PT. So I'd recommend a few practice attempts just to give yourself an idea of what it can do. It isn't dangerous, especially if you know it might happen.

But other than that small inconvenience, the turbo PT is a neat package. I always felt the 150-hp version was slightly underpowered, and would have preferred an automatic with a stick shift attachment. But with 180 horses, there's enough power for an automatic to perform adequately. The PT still isn't overpowered, but at least there's enough power there to get out of its own way.

Our tester was painted "dark plum" with a pearl coat. I'd call it purple. Now purple isn't my favorite car color, but in a retro street rod like the PT Cruiser it's almost acceptable. The problem was, and it's a small problem, that the area that would be the glove box in a normal car, but now covers the passenger-side air bag, is also purple. So the passenger must stare at this bright color all the time. There's also purple trim around the instrument panel. No biggy.

The ip itself consists of the four basic gauges set into nacelles, just as they would be in a street rod. The gear lever knob looks like a pool cue, just as it would be in a street rod. The cruise control switch is similar to Toyota's, which is a good thing. All the other instruments and controls, such as the radio and HVAC system, are pure Chrysler.

One feature I didn't like was the power window switches. They're located in the center of the dash, not where you'd expect them to be. I remembered from previous PTs where they were, but I would prefer them to be located on the doors.

There are cupholders galore; three in front and one in the rear for the rear passengers. In each door there is a cubby for storage, and there's another in the dash. In fact, storage in the PT is excellent for a vehicle of its size.

For example, there are 21.9 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the rear seat and 64.2 cubic feet with that seat removed. I think if I owned a PT, that's the way I'd configure it, with the rear seat removed. But then, my family is grown and I need room for golf bags.

A nice "senior citizen" touch is assist handles at all four doors. However, in a small vehicle like the PT, they aren't necessary.

I liked the PT Cruiser turbo. I liked the styling the moment I saw it, and with the added power the vehicle has overcome one of its biggest drawbacks.

2004 The Auto Page Syndicate