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Chrysler PT Cruiser (2001) second look

SEE ALSO: Chrysler Buyer's Guide

by Carey Russ

It's easy to become infatuated with the latest trendy car. But how is that same machine when the new wears off? The Chrysler PT Cruiser was the most talked-about car on the road when it was introduced a little over a year ago. Now that supply is starting to catch up with demand, Cruisers are becoming a bit more common. But they still command plenty of attention for their street rod- inspired retro-meets-modern style. I tested a 2001 PT Cruiser when it was a brand-new rarity about a year ago, and was impressed by its style and substance. But, after the novelty wears off, many popular vehicles can be found wanting. So, when I recently was offered the opportunity to test another, slightly differently- equipped, PT Cruiser, I accepted.

There haven't been any changes to the lineup in the past year. All PT Cruisers are still 2001 models, and, for the North American market, powered by a 2.4-liter liter twincam four-cylinder engine matched to a five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmission. A year ago I drove a top-of-the-line Limited Edition model, with a high-level option content. This week's Touring Edition lacked the leather and suede interior trim, but was otherwise similar. And, in any form, the PT Cruiser is an amazingly versatile vehicle.

Auto manufacturers today spend plenty of advertising and market effort to promote their offerings, particularly sport-utilities and the newer car-based "crossover" SUV-like vehicles, as "lifestyle vehicles." "Buy this," the promise goes, "and you'll be able to do (fill in your favorite activity here) better." The PT Cruiser can deliver on this promise better than many SUVs and crossovers, thanks to its roomy reconfigurable interior. During my week with it, a friend and I wanted to ride our mountain bikes in a local park but weren't too enthused about the ten-mile trip to the parking lot, which included a steep 800-foot climb up the access road. So, out came the rear seats, in went the bikes, with front wheels removed but no real difficulty, and off we went. I showed the Cruiser to a friend who is a scuba diver. "Hey! Plenty of room in the back for two wet suits, and the tanks can go in the back seat. Cool! This would be a great dive vehicle for two people." Take a look at the interior, and you can probably find your own use for a PT Cruiser.

So. If it's no longer the newest thing on the road, the PT Cruiser is still one of the most distinctive and definitely one of the most versatile in box-stock form. It still gets plenty of notice, but it's much more than a style statement. The PT Cruiser combines the best features of a car, a minivan, and an SUV in a conveniently- sized package.

APPEARANCE: There haven't been any changes to the PT Cruiser in the past year, and none are really needed. The basic body contours have the look of a street rod made from a late-1930s to late-1940s panel truck, but in three-quarter scale. Contemporary touches include the curved windshield, Prowler-like plastic body- colored grille and faired-in Viper-look headlights. The retro-look Chrysler logo at the front and rear (where it does double duty as the cargo hatch handle) looks totally appropriate, as do the optional five-spoke chromed alloy wheels. Tight panel gaps and a fascinating number of small details add up to a quality look.

COMFORT: OK. The PT Cruiser has looks. But more importantly for real-world everyday use, it has room and function. Four six- footers can fit comfortably, thanks to the high roofline. And there is a surprising amount of luggage space. The front bucket and rear split bench seats are comfortable and supportive, with a high eyepoint for good visibility. Interior design is as interesting as the exterior, with many different but cohesive textures and materials. Body-colored panels on the symmetrical instrument panel are a good touch, as are the vintage-look black-on-white instruments. Excellent attention is paid to often-overlooked details - check out the good-looking and easily-grasped door locks. The Cruiser's versatility comes from its reconfigurable seating. Things that may not fit easily into a small SUV fit into the Cruiser with the seats removed. Each part of the two-piece 65/35 split rear seat can separately be folded, flipped, or removed. The larger section is a touch on the heavy side, but lighter than most removable minivan seats, and both parts have carrying handles molded in convenient locations and wheels on the bottom for easy transport from the car to a safe stowing location. Additionally, as an option, the front passenger seatback can be folded flat on the cushion to facilitate longer loads. The rear cargo shade can be placed in three positions, one of which makes a picnic table, and an available cargo net keeps groceries and other things in place. The PT Cruiser's interior seems larger than its exterior size.

SAFETY: The 2001 PT Cruiser meets automobile, not truck safety standards. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes and front side airbags are available.

ROADABILITY: It may look like a shrunken vintage panel truck, but there is no truck in the PT Cruiser's chassis lineage. With the "Touring" suspension, tuned slightly firmer than standard, it has a firm but comfortable ride and very little body motion over bumps or around corners. It feels like a European sedan, not a truck.

PERFORMANCE: The PT Cruiser's name says it all for its performance. It's a cruiser, not a racer. Relax, smell the roses, and enjoy all that can be done with the Cruiser. The 2.4-liter four- cylinder engine that is the only U.S. market choice has 150 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque to move the PT Cruiser's 3200 lbs. While quicker than most small crossover SUVs, it's not exactly a Hemi at the drag strip. But, it's quick enough for the real world, and the four-speed automatic transmission with which both examples I've driven were equipped works well and conveniently. The standard five-speed manual ought to be good for a couple of seconds off the zero-to-sixty time for those who desire more acceleration.

CONCLUSIONS: More than a year after its debut, the Chrysler PT Cruiser is still unique, versatile, and capable of turning heads.

2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser

Base Price              $ 15,935
Price As Tested         $ 21,850
Engine Type             dual overhead cam 16-valve inline 
                          four 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 
Wheelbase / Length      103.0 in. / 168.8 in.
Curb Weight             3187 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower   21.2
Fuel Capacity           15.0 gal.
Fuel Requirement        unleaded regular, 87 octane
Tires                   P205/55 TR16 Goodyear Eagle LS
Brakes, front/rear      vented disc / disc, (antilock standard 
                          with optional rear discs)
Suspension, front/rear  independent MacPherson strut /
                          twist beam axle with trailing arm and 
                          Watt's linkage location, coil springs
Drivetrain              front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      20 / 25 / 20
0 to 60 mph            10.5  sec

Customer preferred package 28F - includes:
 power central locking and keyless remote;
 deep tint windscreen; fold-flat front passenger seat;
 outboard rear-seat headrests; interior assist handles,
 power heated outside mirrors, front and rear 12-volt
 power outlets, security alarm,
 cargo net, more                        $ 1,385

Luxury Touring Group - includes: 16" chromed
 aluminum wheels, front and rear luxury floor mats;
 leather-wrapped steering wheel and floor mats,
 fog lamps, bright exhaust tip; P205/55R16 touring
 tires and touring suspension tuning,
 special badging                        $ 1,265

Moonroof group: includes - power moonroof,
 overhead console with compass & temp,
 day/night rear-view mirror             $ 725

4-wheel antilock disc brakes
  and traction control                  $ 790
Side air bags                           $ 350
Underseat non-locking storage drawer    $ 25
4-speed automatic transmission          $ 825
Power height adjuster for driver's seat $ 100
Roof rack                               $ 165
Speed control                           $ 235
AM/FM/cassette/CD audio system          $225
Power Moonroof group discount         -($ 60)
ABS/traction control group discount   -($ 195)
Customer preferred discount           -($ 295)
Luxury Touring group discount         -($ 190)
Destination charge                      $ 565