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New Car Review: 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible Touring Edition

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SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Chrysler

Normally, with a test car I drive within a 75-mile radius of home. The driving is likely typical of what you do - shopping and day trips, highways and byways, commute traffic and, if I'm lucky, a chance to unwind on clear back road. But last week was different.

I had planned a two-day trip to the mountains near where I live. As luck had it, my car for the week was a new 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible Touring Edition with the optional 180-horsepower turbo engine. Sometimes everything works out perfectly. If I didn't have a road trip planned, I would have had to come up with one!

And what could be a better test of a convertible than a 500-mile journey with elevation changes from sea level to 7,000 feet, temperatures from the high 40s to nearly 100 degrees, and roads from Interstate superslab to beautiful twisting mountain paths through pine forests and meadows? With the top up at speed in the heat on the Interstate, we were cool and comfortable. Top-down through the pines, well, does motoring life get better?

The Touring Edition is the middle of three levels of PT Convertible. At the base is the Standard model, with a 2.4-liter, 150-horsepower engine and five-speed manual transaxle. Even it has an insulated power top with heated glass backlight and 50/50 split fold-and-tumble rear seat with a passthrough. The Touring Edition adds alloy wheels, cruise control, a security alarm, and other upgrades, and can be fitted with the 180-horse turbo engine. The GT comes with the high-output turbo engine, 220 horses worth, matched to a five-speed Getrag gearbox, a performance-tuned suspension, and standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes plus interior and exterior enhancements.

``Touring Edition'' and ``Cruiser'' are apt descriptions of the PT Convertible's character. With the 30 extra horsepower from the turbo, it's quick enough for all but the most sporting use, and the GT exists for that market. The turbo's relative immunity to altitude was welcome at the 5000 to 7000 foot elevations common through the two days spent there. The softer ``Touring'' suspension - compared to the GT - was most welcome for a long drive on indifferently-maintained roads. For two people traveling reasonably light, there is plenty of room in the trunk, and the ``sport bar'' not only deflects wind from the front-seat passengers' heads, it keeps turbulence down in the rear seat as well. Even with the top down at 50 mph, loose items in the rear seat stayed in place. The PT Convertible is roomier than other small four-seat convertibles, and its snug top and excellent climate control system make it a great all-around, year-round fun and useful car.

APPEARANCE: Chrysler's stylists kept the PT Cruiser's distinctive silhouette intact for the convertible. If anything, it looks even more like a car from the `30s or `40s than its sedan sibling with the top up because of the profile and small rear window. Good mirror visibility allows good rear and rear quarter vision with the top up, and the heated glass backlight should help on frosty mornings. Ahead of the windshield, the convertible is identical to the PT sedan. Behind they are a bit different, sharing only the taillights. The sedan's four doors are replaced by the convertible's two longer ones, and, with the top down, the ``sport bar'' is noticeable.

COMFORT: The PT Cruiser sedan is a remarkably roomy vehicle, equal in space and versatility to many small SUVs. Because of design change for storage of the convertible top, and its two-door body style, the PT Convertible isn't the cargo-hauler that the sedan can be, but the sedan doesn't allow top-down driving. Pick your priorities. Still, unlike other small convertibles, the Cruiser's rear seat is split 50/50 and each half can be folded and tumbled forward so that long items like golf clubs can fit through the passthrough in the rear bulkhead. And the trunk is large enough to be useful. Back up front, interior styling is similar to that of the sedan. The metallic finish on the dash is retro, but don't look for wind-up windows - the PT convertible is not that retro. The top goes up or down quickly, with a manual latch. The sedan's comfortably upright, high-hip point seating position has been retained. Grippy, breathable cloth upholstery is standard in the Touring Edition, and power adjustment of the driver's seat cushion height is available. The front passenger seat has mechanical memory to ease access to the rear seat. Just slide it forward, get in through the wide doors, and it returns to its original position. The sport bar provides anchorage for the front safety belts, a place for the dome lights, and keeps excess turbulence at bay. The rear seat has far more room - up to ten inches more legroom - than is found in any other small convertible. Passenger space and comfort are not compromised by the convertible conversion, and with nine different interior seat configurations possible, versatility is closer to that of a small SUV than a compact convertible.

SAFETY: The PT Cruiser Convertible's chassis structure is equal to the sedan's in occupant protection. Next-generation front airbags cam be supplemented by available side airbags and antilock brakes.

ROADABILITY: Because of their open nature, unibody convertibles are often noticeably less rigid than their related sedans. Flex, noticeable in the form of squeaks and rattles and even cowl shake over bumpy surfaces, results in more interior noise and less-precise handling. Reinforcements to make up for the loss of the top's structural contributions can add up to several hundred pounds of weight, decreasing performance and fuel economy. The PT Cruiser Convertible is spared these drawbacks thanks to careful design and engineering. The B-pillar sport bar provides some top-side rigidity, and reinforcements to the door sills and beltline area further enhance rigidity. Also important is the bulkhead between the rear seat and trunk, which is absent in the sedan. These changes only add 150 pounds, so their impact is minimal, especially given the Touring Edition's relaxed nature. The suspension is typical for small front-wheel drive cars, with MacPherson struts in front and twist-beam rear axle. It's tuned moderately, for very good comfort on all reasonable road surfaces.

PERFORMANCE: There are two choices for power in the Touring Edition of the PT Convertible. Standard is a 2.4-liter twincam four with 150 horsepower and 165 lb-ft of torque, while a turbocharged version of the same engine, with 180 horses at 5100 rpm and 210 lb-ft between 2800 and 4500 rpm is available. My car had the turbo, and it helped offset the modest weight gain of the convertible and, especially, made the car much more enjoyable at altitude, as forced-induction engines are less affected by thin air than naturally-aspirated ones. It's only available with a four-speed automatic, which undoubtedly affects acceleration compared to a five-speed manual. But the automatic is in keeping with the Touring Edition's character - it's ``PT *Cruiser*, after all - and a five-speed is offered with the high-boost GT model if performance it in your spec. Power for acceleration and passing was never lacking, even at altitude.

CONCLUSIONS: Cruise in comfort and style while you work on your tan in the Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible.

2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible Touring Edition

Base Price			$ 22,900
Price As Tested 	$ 27,610
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 16-valve 
				turbocharged inline 4-cylinder
Engine Size			2.4 liters / 148 cu. in.
Horsepower			180 @ 5100 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			210 @ 2800-4500 rpm
Transmission			4-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		103.0 in. / 168.8 in.
Curb Weight			n/a lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		n/a
Fuel Capacity			15 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular
Tires				P205/55TR 16 Goodyear Eagle LS
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / drum, antilock
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  semi-independent twist-beam
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		19 / 26 / 21
0 to 60 mph				est. 8.8  sec

Performance four-wheel antilock brakes and 
  traction control				$   825
Supplemental side airbags			$   390
Four-speed automatic transaxle			$   825
2.4-liter I4 dohc turbo engine			$ 1,280
Driver's seat power height adjuster		$   100
18-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels		$   700
Destination charge				$