Now in its fifth year, Chrysler’s retro-styled PT Cruiser also comes in a new-for-2005 convertible – although, having arrived on dealer lots in the spring of 2004, it really isn’t breaking news. 2005 also brings a new exterior colour, Linen Gold Pearl Coat, and a Homelink universal garage door opener on the upper-line models. The big news is a price drop on the base model, a $4,200 reduction that brings it to $15,998, until the end of 2005.

All PT Cruisers have 2.4-litre, 4-cylinder engines that come one of three ways: naturally aspirated for 150 hp, turbocharged for 180 hp, or in a high-output turbocharged version that makes 220 hp. The middle one may be the best of the three for everyday use, offering plenty of passing power while running on regular-grade fuel (although it only comes with an automatic transmission). The base engine’s a bit underpowered for pulling the relatively heavy (1,442 kg) little car around, and the high-output turbo requires premium fuel.

On the wagon, the non-turbo engine is standard on the base model and Touring Edition. The lower-output turbo is optional on the Touring; it’s standard on the GT, which can also be optioned to the high-output engine.

The base PT is very base, although it does come with power windows; it also has 15-inch wheels, manual remote mirrors, CD player, floor mats, variable intermittent wipers and fixed intermittent rear wiper/washer. A package of air conditioning, body side moldings, fold-flat front passenger seat, power mirrors, power locks with keyless entry and cruise control can be added.

The Touring Edition adds air conditioning, tinted glass, the new visor-mounted garage door opener, power driver’s height adjuster, cruise control, leather-wrapped wheel, fog lamps, 16-inch aluminum wheels and side air bags. The GT tops it all off with leather heated seats, rear spoiler, power sunroof, sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch wheels and the four-wheel disc brake package with ABS and traction control that can be optioned on all but the base model.

The drop-top comes only in Touring or GT trim. The Touring comes with the naturally-aspirated engine and can be optioned up to the turbo; unlike on the fixed-roof model, the GT comes only with the high-output engine. Touring trim includes air conditioning, 16-inch aluminum wheels, convertible top boot, power locks, fog lamps, power mirrors, cruise control and power windows; the GT adds the garage door opener, heated leather seats, leather-wrapped wheel, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and traction control, touring suspension and 17-inch wheels.

The PT Cruiser is almost a mini-minivan, offering upright seating for five (the convertible seats four), excellent visibility, and cargo space that’s uncanny for the car’s size. The rear 60/40 seats fold forward or can be removed entirely for a flat floor. The rear cargo area contains a clever table that can be adjusted to several positions, flipped over to form a waterproof plastic floor covering, or even pulled forward and turned into a table for campsite dining. When equipped with a fold-flat front passenger seat, the PT can haul home a load of eight-foot boards with the rear hatch closed.

The convertible ups the fun factor for relatively low dollars; Chrysler claims it’s the lowest-priced drop-top in the country. The “basket handle” isn’t a roll bar; it’s there to reduce buffeting, and it hides under the roof when it’s raised. The top lifts and lowers quite easily, with just a twist of a handle and then the touch of a button, although attaching the boot is a fiddly and annoying task. The lowered roof steals a lot of rearward visibility. Naturally, the PT’s cargo-carrying abilities suffer as well; although the trunk is still huge by ragtop standards, the lid opens upward and makes loading it difficult.

There are several worthy “tall wagons” in this segment, including the Suzuki Aerio, Ford Focus ZXW, Toyota Matrix and its clone Pontiac Vibe, but expect all eyes to be on the retro-styled Chevrolet HHR – designed by the same man responsible for the PT Cruiser – when it’s released as a 2006 model.

The PT Cruiser is made in Toluca, Mexico.