Test Drive: 2003 Chrysler PT Turbo Dream Cruiser Series 2 car test drives chrysler
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Story and photos by Russell Purcell

With the arrival of the more potent PT Turbo in 2003, Chrysler’s design department decided that it was time to unleash the Dream Cruiser Series 2. Blessed with 215 horsepower and competent handling, the PT Turbo is much more aggressive than the standard offering, so it was important that the second Dream Cruiser reflect this with a little more flash.


Dreamy interior

Test Drive: 2003 Chrysler PT Turbo Dream Cruiser Series 2 car test drives chrysler

Test Drive: 2003 Chrysler PT Turbo Dream Cruiser Series 2 car test drives chrysler

Test Drive: 2003 Chrysler PT Turbo Dream Cruiser Series 2 car test drives chrysler

Test Drive: 2003 Chrysler PT Turbo Dream Cruiser Series 2 car test drives chrysler

Test Drive: 2003 Chrysler PT Turbo Dream Cruiser Series 2 car test drives chrysler

Test Drive: 2003 Chrysler PT Turbo Dream Cruiser Series 2 car test drives chrysler

Test Drive: 2003 Chrysler PT Turbo Dream Cruiser Series 2 car test drives chrysler

Test Drive: 2003 Chrysler PT Turbo Dream Cruiser Series 2 car test drives chrysler
Click image to enlarge


The standard PT Turbo features a host of interior touches designed to give the model a ‘sporty’ feel, and all of these are carried over for the Dream Cruiser 2 package. My test unit came loaded, equipped with the heated leather seats, a power moon roof, a five-speed manual transmission (a four-speed automatic is available as an option, equipped with Chrysler’s AutoStick), and a host of power accessories. Embroidered ‘Dream Cruiser’ floor mats, a ball-type chrome shift knob, and highly polished interior and exterior door handles add to the ‘sporty’ image conveyed by the new package.

The well-bolstered sport bucket seats come cloaked in two-tone leather, and do a great job at holding you in place during aggressive driving maneuvers or traipsing through a series of turns. The inserts have been colour-matched to the vibrant Tangerine exterior paint, giving the car a real ‘custom’ look and feel. Large, silver faced gauges are easily viewed through the thick-rimmed, four-spoke steering wheel, and the touch of chrome edging around the retro cluster adds to the hotrod look.

Most of the switch gear falls readily to hand and eye, but the front passenger window switches are still grouped together high up on the centre of the dash, while rear seat passengers will find theirs housed at the tail end of the centre console. This arrangement seems a little against the grain, but so does the whole PT Cruiser concept to many.


Cargo room


All PT Cruisers offer the ability to transform the interior layout of the vehicle to meet their ever-changing needs. The rear seats fold down (65/35 split) when longer items need to be carried, or can be removed altogether if really large cargo needs to be transported.

The cargo bay features a very sturdy cover that acts as both a platform shelf and a means to conceal items stowed beneath, but it also pivots to become a unique picnic table for your next tailgate party. A cargo net and strategically placed hooks also come in handy and will keep all of your gear secure when on the go.

A wide variety of bins and pockets, a generous glove box, and a handy drawer under the passenger seat allow owners to keep themselves organized. The passenger seat back also folds forward to provide a flat surface that can be used by either the driver or a rear seat passenger as a desk. This is a neat trick that allows busy individuals to spend the time they may be stuck in a ferry line-up or parked at a jobsite more productively. Simply plugging a laptop into the dash-mounted 12-volt accessory plug and your mobile office is born.


Performance


By mid-2002, PT Cruiser sales were falling short of projections, as initial fanfare was subsiding and the hot-rod crowd DaimlerChrysler had initially sought to attract was passing on the diminutive wagon as they felt it was under-powered. True, the 2.4-litre, 16-valve, DOHC four-cylinder fitted to the PT only generates 150 ponies, but that is still sufficient to hurl the Cruiser to 100-km/h in about 10-seconds. Unfortunately many potential customers wanted more zip.

Well Daimler-Chrysler was obviously listening to the consumer. For 2003, the PT can be had with a turbocharger, which along with a revised straight-through exhaust, adds a healthy 65 horsepower to the mix. The 2.4-litre DOHC engine has been redesigned to accommodate the inter-cooled turbo, which provides a healthy 12.9 psi of readily accessible boost. An up-rated sport-tuned suspension and bigger brakes and wheels transform the PT into a very capable car.

Steering is much more responsive than in lesser versions of the PT, and the advancements to the suspension package have improved road feel as well. Handling is nimble and predictable, which should be expected in a vehicle of this size, and you will sense a touch of torque-steer at higher revs. I had criticized the first generation of PT Cruiser for excessive body roll, but the revised suspension and larger wheels and tires fitted to the Turbo versions seem to have largely remedied this, although the high seating position still makes you more aware of the sensation.

Punch the accelerator and the Dream Cruiser reveals its new potential, with a subtle whine of a spooling turbocharger and the squeal of rubber at launch, you know that improving the fun factor was number one on the list of improvements when the R&D team set to work on the Turbo. Braking is impressive, as the combination of large, wide tires and four-wheel, ABS-equipped disc brakes were well adept at scrubbing off speed. Traction control is also present and can be switched off at the touch of a button, but the security it offers, especially when the roads are slick, is worth noting. If things do get out of control, the car is equipped with Next-Generation driver and passenger front air bags, and seat-mounted supplemental side air bags are available as an option.

All variants of the PT Cruiser ride very comfortably, more like a car than a van, which is a welcome change. The height of the car, which seems exaggerated due to its short length, merely adds to the visual impact of the PT. Advantage: Easy to park. The low sill height also allows for quick and efficient loading of both cargo and occupants.

The low-slung look has been accentuated in the new PT Turbo with the addition of its subtle body modifications and larger wheels and tires, all of which are carried over to the Dream Cruiser 2. The Dream Cruiser 2′s trick rear spoiler, chrome door guards and logo-emblazoned wheels bring the ‘show car’ look to the party, as well as emphasize this vehicle’s ‘sporty’ nature.


Do you crave attention?


Pull into a parking lot or up to a stoplight and get ready to answer questions, or at least catch admiring glances. Everyone that sees the flamboyant Dream Cruiser is quick to voice an opinion. Love it or leave it, this car’s retro good looks attract attention. The recent addition of a pair of styling treatments (available faux-wood and flame graphics) brought some new interest to showrooms, acting as a stop-gap prior to the introduction of the first performance-enhanced version of the PT, the PT Turbo. The upcoming PT Convertible and specials like the Dream Cruiser line should continue to generate interest for this innovative platform.


Is the PT Dream Cruiser 2 the car for you?


The PT Cruiser is the perfect car for the consumer that needs a versatile vehicle with room for a couple of kids or small amounts of cargo, or maybe kids and some sports equipment, and for whom the thought of a gigantic SUV or boring mini-van makes them cringe. The PT Cruiser line-up offers a conveniently sized vehicle, attractive options and a stylish design at price points within the range of most family budgets. For those individuals willing to step up to the limited edition Dream Cruiser 2 package, the extra power and attention-grabbing looks will ensure that daily life will be a little less boring, and at a cost that won’t break the bank.


Need a little more room?

Test Drive: 2003 Chrysler PT Turbo Dream Cruiser Series 2 car test drives chrysler

Test Drive: 2003 Chrysler PT Turbo Dream Cruiser Series 2 car test drives chrysler
Photo: Global Truck Retrofit

Test Drive: 2003 Chrysler PT Turbo Dream Cruiser Series 2 car test drives chrysler

Test Drive: 2003 Chrysler PT Turbo Dream Cruiser Series 2 car test drives chrysler
Photo: Global Truck Retrofit
Click image to enlarge

So you find yourself the proud owner of a PT Cruiser but still find the need on occasion to carry more cargo? Well help has arrived in the form of the PT Perfect Trailer. This innovative unit is manufactured by Global Truck Retrofit Ltd., a small company based in Kelowna, B.C.

Global was formed by John Collinson and a hand-selected team of craftsmen after their former employer, Western Star Trucks Inc., was purchased by Freightliner and moved to Portland, Oregon. The group recognized that it would be a shame to let their technical knowledge and engineering skills go to waste so they set out to find some interesting products to develop and market.

After searching the marketplace and observing the PT Cruiser phenomenon, they soon realized that there was a need for a modern, yet functional trailer to compliment this trend-setting vehicle. The PT Perfect Trailer was born.

The PT Perfect Trailer is comprised of a T6 Aircraft Aluminum frame fitted with a hand crafted Fiberglass body. As the Perfect Trailer was designed exclusively with the PT Cruiser in mind, it meets or beats all Daimler-Chrysler’s towing specifications for the vehicle – no more than 1000 lbs pull / no more than 100 lbs tongue weight.

The unit weighs 430 lbs with the tonneau cover in place, leaving you with a 570 lb load capacity. Removing the tonneau cover takes about two minutes and reduces the trailer weight by 60 lbs, thereby increasing the load capacity by 60 lbs.

The goal was to design a trailer that was utilitarian as well as pretty, so Global made the cargo box 49.5″ wide and (with the tail gate closed) 6′ 3″ inches long. Dropping the tailgate allows the user to carry a full 4′ x 8′ sheet of plywood. The overall width of the trailer body is only 3″ wider than the car (1.5 inches per side), but this increases the safety as well as the trailer is more visible in your side mirrors

As with the car, the PT Perfect Trailer’s exterior has no flat surfaces (one of the reasons no one else has been able to master the tailgate concept), and all surface curves match the corresponding surfaces on the car – hence, all accessories that fit the car also fit the trailer.

The Perfect Trailer’s axle incorporates the PT Cruiser’s wheel hub ensuring that any Cruiser wheels will also fit on the trailer, allowing the option to match your wheels or utilize the spare from the car. The company can also colour match the trailer to compliment the factory finish of your car.

Global Truck Retrofit has received certification for the Perfect Trailer from both Transport Canada and the USDOT, which means that both durability and insurability are a non-issue.

The PT Perfect Trailer is now available through selected Chrysler dealerships and carries a suggested retail price of $6,995.00,Cdn plus shipping and handling. Optional accessories such as a nifty tent insert and electric brakes can also be specified on order. For more information about Global Truck Retrofit Limited and its products, visit the company’s website (www.ptperfecttrailer.com).


Technical Data: 2003 Chrysler PT Turbo Dream Cruiser Series 2

Base price (MSRP) $27,700
Price as tested $33,570
Type Four-door multipurpose hatchback
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.4 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves, inter-cooled High-Output Turbo
Horsepower 215 @ 5,000 rpm
Torque 245 lb.-ft @ 3,600 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual with overdrive and a heavy-duty Getrag transaxle (optional 4-speed AutoStick automatic)
Curb weight 1416 kg (3123 lb.)
Wheelbase 2,616 mm (103.0 in.)
Length 4,288 mm (168.8 in.)
Width 1,705 mm (67.1 in.)
Height 1,601 mm (63.0 in.)
Cargo volume 538 litres with passengers
Fuel consumption City: 11.4 L/100 km (25 mpg)
  Hwy: 8.1 L/100 km (35 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km; Powertrain warranty 7 yrs/115,000 km