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New Car/Review


Chrysler PT Cruiser (2001)

SEE ALSO: Chrysler Buyer's Guide

By Matt/Bob Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 15,450
     Price As Tested                                    $ 20,835
     Engine Type              DOHC 16-valve 2.4 Liter I4 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 148 cid/2429 cc
     Horsepower                                   150 @ 5500 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               162 @ 4000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  103.0"/67.1"/168.8"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3123 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  15.0 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                              P20555R16 Touring
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/five-door
     Domestic Content                                 48 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            20/25/22
     0-60 MPH                                       10.0 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                          16.5 seconds @ 84.0 mph
     Top-speed                                           110 mph
                * Sequential multi-point fuel injection

("The Chrysler PT Cruiser is the hottest 'niche' vehicle to come along in a long time," says Matt Hagin. Bob Hagin says it reminds him of the "surfer wagons" of his youth.)

BOB - Since it first came on line with its "cab-forward" LH sedans in the early '90s, Chrysler has continually blown away the competition with vehicles that are attention-grabbers. The Viper is certainly one of those, and so is the Prowler retro street-rod. Now it's come up with a new showpiece in its PT Cruiser. The machine is so reminiscent of the hot-rod beach wagons of the '60s that it should come factory-equipped with a pair of surf boards lashed to its factory-installed roof rack. It has to make every baby-boomer think back to the "Gidget" surfer movies they saw as pre-teens. Unfortunately, the PT Cruiser lacks a V8 engine up front that drives the rear wheels like its single-purpose precursors.

MATT - It's a good thing, too. Those old home-mades were rough- riding, tricky to drive and unreliable. Buyers of the PT Cruiser want to look as cool as a surfer-dude in a '32 Ford Woodie, without all the automotive inconveniences that went along with ownership. The Cruiser is officially listed as a car by the federal government, although it comes within a whisker of being a minivan or a small SUV. Either category would have made it a truck. As it is, it could almost be classified as a station wagon since its rear doors swing out rather than slide. It has that archetypal low front/high tail Los Angeles look with a minimum of overhang front and rear. The low, wide checkerboard grill hangs down below its mid-mounted front bumper and its front, swept-back fenders and headlights look like a grimace that boarders on a snarl. The big hatchback opens up wide, and with the back seats moved around in one of the plethora of combinations that are available, there's room for mountain bikes, skis, luge boards and other "extreme" sports paraphernalia. That's the kind of "active lifestyle" buyers that Chrysler is targeting for the PT Cruiser.

BOB - I hope that those buyers are ready for relatively mediocre performance because the car is definitely no ball of fire. Its 150 horses would be OK on something that weighed around 2500 pounds, but the Cruiser has to pull 600 pounds more than that. The news through the grapevine is that a turbocharged version is in the works and may be close to production, which would no doubt add the additional grunt needed to make it live up to its image. Our test rig was handicapped with a four-speed automatic transmission and I've been told that the version that carries a five-speed stick shift performs somewhat better.

MATT - But the Cruiser doesn't come up short in the handling department, Dad. The front end is strictly Dodge Neon, with MacPherson struts and a sway bar but Chrysler avoided the Neon rear strut suspension in favor of a beam axle and a five-link control system. The reason for this is that struts would have to stick up into the cargo compartment too much and get in the way of storage.

MATT - The interior of the PT Cruiser has been really well thought out and almost every cubic inch is used. Besides the rear seats being foldable, the front passenger's seat can be flattened so that items up to eight feet long can be carried with the hatchback closed. Everybody inside sits bolt upright but in not an uncomfortable position. Our unit came with a $4500 Customer Preferred Package which replaces the standard 15-inch steel wheels with 16-inch alloy units shod with P205/55R16 touring tires. Judging from the popularity of the PT Cruiser and how quickly they're snapped up, I doubt many stripped versions will be made - at least for sale here. According to the Chrysler Public Relations kit, the company plans to market the PT Cruiser in 40 countries.

BOB - I can understand that, Matt. I've been told that American movies are really popular around the world and some of those old surfer flicks are still being shown in emerging countries. What better subliminal method could Chrysler use to promote the PT Cruiser than to have movie buffs around the world see Annette Funicello jump into an original in every other scene.