The 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser may borrow styling elements from the past, but it is a thoroughly modern front-wheel-drive compact wagon with a roomy interior, versatile cargo area, and a fuel-efficient 2.4 litre four cylinder engine.
‘Retro’ Cruiser is practical too
The 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser looks like a car you might have seen speeding down a rain-slicked Chicago street in an old Humphrey Bogart movie. Underneath that nifty retro styling however, is a thoroughly modern, front-wheel-drive, four cylinder wagon with a surprisingly roomy and versatile passenger cabin.
The PT Cruiser’s combination of retro styling, modern mechanicals, and comfortable, versatile interior make it difficult to categorize. Is it a car? Is it a small truck? ..a minivan? ..a sport-utility?
According to Tom Gale, DaimlerChrysler’s chief of design, it’s none of the above.
“It can be whatever the individual owner wants it to be,” he says. “Some may see it as a tribute to the classic era, some as a street rod, others as a multi-faceted and functional light truck in a class of its own.”
Retro Styling Draws On-Lookers
The PT Cruiser’s retro styling has the same kind of appeal as the Prowler street rod – people immediately identify with its American heritage. That’s counted as a plus in overseas markets where the PT Cruiser will also be sold.
In my first test-drive of the PT Cruiser, I found that both younger and older people were drawn to it, but particularly younger people. Given that most younger people have no memory of cars from the 30’s and 40’s, (other than what they’ve seen in old Humphrey Bogart movies), this might seem surprising – nevertheless, people from 14 to 30 think the PT Cruiser is ‘cool’.
Appealing PT Cruiser styling features include a tall grille with horizontal grille bars, a tall hood, protruding front and rear fenders, a high roofline, and an almost-vertical rear hatchback. The interior is more modern, but there are a couple of retro styling touches such as the body-coloured ‘metal’ dash inserts, and round shift knob on the manual transmission lever.
Despite being 76 mm (3.0 in.) shorter than a Chrysler Neon, the PT Cruiser has as much interior room (3.4 cu. m/120.2 cu. ft.) as a full-size sedan. Its cab-forward design, tall roof, upright sides, and near-vertical rear liftgate maximize passenger and cargo room.
Getting in and out is relatively easy because of its tall roof, big doors, and elevated seats. The rear doors in particular open out 74 degrees, or about 10 degrees more than most cars.
Like a minivan, the PT Cruiser’s elevated seats provide upright seating positions, improved visibility, and increased legroom, particularly rear legroom and footroom for rear passengers.
With plenty of window glass, including a third side window, the PT Cruiser offers excellent outward visibility. The base of the rear window is high, but the PT Cruiser’s elevated driver’s seat provides good rear vision when backing up.
Directly ahead of the driver are three pods containing round gauges – the centre pod has a speedometer and is flanked by fuel and coolant gauges on the left and a tachometer on the right. The deep instrument pods help reduce glare, however I found that they obscured a portion of the instruments, particularly the left side of the tachometer.
The centre dash area includes easy-to-use rotary ventilation and heater controls, and standard AM/FM/cassette stereo with six speakers. The centre dash area also has buttons for the defogger, rear wiper/washer, and (optional) Traction Control on/off button. Front passengers have two 12 volt power points, one on the dash and one in the lower centre console.
The buttons for the front power windows are in an unusual position at the top of the dashboard (it took me five minutes to find them) while rear power window buttons are located on the back of the centre console. This means that front passengers can’t operate the rear windows without reaching back over the centre console, nor can they lock out the rear windows.
The lower centre console area has four cupholders, a washable coinholder, an open storage bin, and a pen holder. Interior storage spaces include two large front door pockets, an underseat drawer, and a small glovebox – an armrest/storage bin is not offered.
Standard safety features include dual front airbags, height-adjustable front and rear head restraints four passengers, three-point safety belts for four passengers, and a rear lap belt for the centre rear passenger. Front side-airbags, which protect both the head and chest areas, are available as an option.
Versatile Cargo Area
One of the PT Cruiser’s most appealing features is its versatile seating and cargo-carrying capabilities. The split 65/35 rear seats will tumble forwards individually, or remove individually – each seat has a carrying handle and roller wheels. With the seats removed the cargo area is 1.5 m (5.0 ft.) long, and 1.1 m (3.5 ft.) wide. In addition, an optional front folding rear seatback allows objects up to 2.4 m (8.0 ft.) long to fit inside the vehicle – or the back of the front seat can be used as a table for the driver!
A unique tray in the trunk area can be positioned in five different heights to divide up the cargo area into two zones. The tray’s underside has a rubber coating, and when turned upside down, can be used to carry wet or dirty items. In the ‘tailgate’ position, the shelf becomes a table for ‘tailgate parties’.
The rear hatch door has a very low 632 mm (25.0 in.) liftover height, and is easy to open and close. A full-sized adult can stand under the hatch.
The PT Cruiser can carry a payload of up to 392 kg (865 lb.), and tow a trailer up to 450 kg (1000 lb.).
With a standard 150 horsepower 2.4 litre DOHC 16 valve four cylinder engine, the PT Cruiser has sufficient horsepower for everyday city and highway driving needs, but I felt it could use more horsepower for highway passing, particularly when loaded with passengers and gear. The PT Cruiser’s curb weight is 1446 kg (3187) lb., or about 362 kg (798 lb.) more than a Chrysler Neon – yet it has only 20 more horsepower.
The standard 2.4 litre four cylinder engine (the same engine that powers the Chrysler Cirrus) is most responsive between 3000 and 5000 rpm, and has a 6100 rpm redline. I found it to be quieter and more refined than in the Cirrus, which can probably be attributed to more sound dampening and vibration-reducing techniques. Cruising on the highway is quiet and comfortable with the engine turning over just 2300 rpm at 100 km/h in top gear.
I was pleasantly surprised by the PT Cruiser’s standard manual transmission. With a long shift lever and a round ball for a hand grip, I expected the standard five-speed manual shifter to have long, truck-like throws. Instead, the shifts were short and snappy and required little effort. I had a lot of fun with this transmission.
I then tried a PT Cruiser with a four-speed automatic transmission and was again pleasantly surprised by this transmission’s responsive kick-down, smooth shifts, and refined performance. The automatic transmission always seemed to be in the right gear to match the engine’s revs. In fact, the automatic transmission appeared to enhance the PT Cruiser’s early acceleration, perhaps because of different gear ratios.
Another positive point about the PT Cruiser is its tight, solid body structure, quiet interior, and comfortable ride. The PT Cruiser almost feels like a near-luxury vehicle.
Though the PT Cruiser has a non-independent twist-beam rear suspension and a tall body, handling is quite good. There is some dive and pitch during initial turn in to a corner, but this is partly because the driver sits higher than in a normal car. Once the PT Cruiser is set into a corner, it tracks with stability and predictability.
The PT Cruiser’s turning circle of 11.1 metres (36.5 ft.) is acceptable, but models with 16-inch tires & automatic transmission have a larger turning circle of 12.1 metres (39.7 ft.) which makes U-turns more difficult.
I didn’t have the opportunity to do panic braking with the standard front disc/rear drum brakes, but they performed well in typical daily driving. I would recommend the optional four wheel disc brakes which come with ABS and low-speed traction control.
Base models Well-Equipped
PT Cruisers come in two trim levels, base ($23,200) and Limited Edition ($27,400.)
Standard features on the base model include the 2.4 litre four cylinder engine with block heater, a 5-speed manual transmission, power steering, five passenger seating with removeable rear seats, rear shelf, AM/FM cassette with CD changer controls, air conditioning, power windows for front passengers, tilt steering wheel, front airbags, variable intermittent wipers, rear window wiper/washer and rear defroster, tachometer, remote manual mirrors, 195/65R-15 inch tires, and front disc/rear drum brakes.
The Limited Edition model ($27,400), adds standard leather front seats, 205/55R-16 inch tires and alloy chrome-plated wheels, fog lamps, side airbags, overhead console, cruise control, fold-flat front seat, power heated folding side mirrors, anti-theft key system, remote keyless entry and alarm, power door locks, ‘Touring’ suspension, and chromed exhaust tip.
Options include 4-speed automatic transmission ($1,030), four wheel disc brakes with ABS and traction control ($845), moonroof ($910), AM/FM/cassette/CD with equalizer ($490), and roof rack ($210). A fully loaded PT Cruiser goes for well over $30,000.
PT Cruisers are built in Toluca, Mexico. “PT”, by the way, stands for “Personal Transportation”.