2001 PT Cruiser Limited Edition

Those who dare to be different will earn the admiration of some and the scorn of others. So it is with the PT Cruiser. But Chrysler has to be commended for designing and building a vehicle that is so decidedly different, even more so for making it comfortable, practical and fun to drive.

Versatile PT Cruiser combines style and functionality

By now you would think Chrysler’s PT Cruiser would be old news. Hardly a day goes by that you don’t see two or three on the road. Now that production is flowing to dealers across Canada, waiting time is way down from what it was only a few months ago.

In the early summer, the Cruiser was a rare sight. When Margaret Trudeau took delivery of one of the first PTs in Ottawa, it made the front page of the local section in the Ottawa Citizen. How often is buying a new car a newsworthy event?

But that was then and this is now, as the saying goes, and surely the PT Cruiser has blended into the automotive landscape. No one would give the PT Cruiser a second look, right?

Wrong. My recent week behind the wheel of a silver Limited Edition PT Cruiser was like a week in a fish bowl. I wouldn’t have attracted any more attention at stop lights and parking lots if I’d been driving naked. Thank goodness for the deep tinted windows that come standard on the Limited Edition.

If you are the least bit self-conscious, then maybe the PT Cruiser isn’t your kind of car. But if you like the envious glances of pedestrians and passing motorists, then Chrysler’s look-at-me-mobile might be just the ticket.

But it wasn’t all ooh and ah, what a nice car, mister. If you drive centre stage then you have to accept the tomatoes as well as the applause. When I stopped the car in the drop-off zone at my children’s school, I could see fifty heads turn toward us, but the voice I heard was the one that said, “Hey look, a PT loser!”

For those smitten with PT fever, it may come as a surprise that not everyone loves the little wagon. The Cruiser, with its dominant hood, high roof, front and rear fenders, and steeply sloped back has been likened to a modern rendition of a �39 Ford or a hot rod for the people, but it was just as likely to conjure up the image of a miniature hearse, which turned some people off.

Those who dare to be different will earn the admiration of some and the scorn of others. So it is with the PT Cruiser. But Chrysler has to be commended for designing and building a vehicle that is so decidedly different, even more so for making it comfortable, practical and fun to drive.

Look beyond the styling and Chrysler’s PT Cruiser is a functional station wagon built on a small car platform. The cargo area is not huge but sufficient for carrying a good load of groceries held securely by a cargo net, or a few bags of luggage hidden from view by the Cruiser’s multi-functional rear shelf.

The shelf – carpeted on one side, rubber on the other – can be set at five different positions, dividing the cargo area in two, and it can be reversed, rubber side up for carrying dirty stuff and protecting the carpeted cargo area. It is also a table, with a support leg, great for roadside picnics or tailgate parties.

With its flip, fold and removable seats, the Cruiser’s cargo carrying capacity grows enormously and can be configured in a variety of ways for carrying just about any size or shape. Well, almost. Even though it is classified as a truck by the US government, it isn’t. You could put a lot of foam insulation inside a Cruiser, but don’t expect to load it up with patio stones – payload capacity including passengers is only 392 kg (865 lbs). And if you’re thinking about replacing your gas guzzling SUV with the relatively more fuel efficient PT Cruiser to pull your camper, think before buying – maximum gross trailer weight is 450 kg (1000 lbs).

2001 PT Cruiser base
At 4,288 mm (168.8 inches), the overall exterior length of the PT Cruiser is equal to the size of a small car, yet its interior volume of 3.39 cu. metres (119.8 cubic feet) rivals that of a full-size sedan. Much of this space is attributable to the Cruiser’s high head room, which has limited application for cargo capacity, but makes for terrific ergonomics for both front and rear passengers. Like a mini van, the seating position is high and upright, but even with the power moon roof there is plenty of headroom for even the tallest of drivers. And leg room for rear passengers is more than adequate thanks to the cavernous space beneath the front seats.

Standard equipment on PT Cruisers includes power windows (auto-down in front), air conditioning, six speaker AM/FM/cassette, split flip/fold and removable rear seats, 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 PT Cruiser Limited Edition test car included leather and suede seating surfaces and door inserts, flat folding passenger seat, power height adjustment on the driver’s seat, power heated folding side mirrors, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and traction control, larger 205/55R-16 inch tires and alloy wheels, fog lamps, side airbags, overhead console, cruise, remote keyless entry and alarm, anti-theft key system, power door locks, ‘Touring’ suspension, and chromed exhaust tip.

2001 PT Cruiser leather interior
Though thoroughly modern inside, there are retro elements in the design of the gauges, the body coloured metal dash inserts, the control knobs on the air vents and, in a standard transmission, the cue ball manual shift handle. The effect is eclectic and, to my eye, appealing.

Despite being 142 mm (5.6 in) shorter than a Neon and having a 51 mm (2 in) shorter wheel base, the PT Cruiser is heavier – a lot heavier. At 1446 kg (3187 lbs) equipped with automatic transmission, the Cruiser is 285 kg (628 lbs) heavier than the Neon.

With this kind of weight, it is not surprising that North American Cruisers are fitted with the 2.4 litre 16 valve 4 cylinder engine rather than the Neon’s 2.0 litre motor. The 150 horsepower 2.4 accelerated our automatic-equipped Cruiser surprisingly well considering the power to weight ratio. You won’t take a Cruiser to the drag strip for Friday night grudge matches, but neither will you wait two hours for a transport truck to pull over before passing.

Weight also hurts fuel efficiency. The Cruiser in automatic form is rated by Transport Canada at 11.9L/100 km (24 mi./gal.) city, 8.6L/100 km (33 mi./gal.) highway. However, my experience was much worse – a combined highway/city average of 12.5L/100 km or (22.6 mi./gal.).

Handling is unremarkable. It’s no sports car, but neither is it unwieldy. At times the Cruiser felt like a minivan, its height working against it in tight corners. But its solid ride, tight construction, well-tuned steering and surprisingly good brakes more than made up for any deficit attributable to its high roof line.

The PT Cruiser has been nicely engineered, making the most of a small platform. Lift the hood and you’ll see what I mean. The engine compartment is one of the tightest I’ve ever seen.

2001 PT Cruiser engine compartment
Basic maintenance can be performed by the owner – everything requiring routine checking or refilling is clearly marked and accessible. But some usually simple tasks like changing a head light bulb or replacing the battery have moved up a notch in required skill. The headlights are accessed by removing small panels in the inner fenders. The battery can’t be replaced without removing the air filter box and air ducts first. Access to most accessories and components requires a fair amount of disassembly, which will disappoint die hard do-it-yourselfers, but put a smile on the face of dealership technicians.

Safety features include �next generation’ driver and passenger front air bags and, standard with leather seats, supplemental side air bags. All three seating positions in the rear have three-point seat belts. In the centre position, the retractor is concealed in the seat back and the webbing exits through a slot at the top of the back. The latch that holds the seat back in the upright position also supports the shoulder belt loads. The belt cannot be used if the seat is not properly latched.

It is obvious Chrysler has made quality and functionality a priority in the Mexican-built PT Cruiser. Quality is as much evident in the good solid feel on the road as in the solid feel of its interior and exterior door handles. And functionality hasn’t been sacrificed to styling – though small, it is amazingly roomy inside with seating options that make it adaptable for both passengers and cargo.

See also Greg Wilson’s review of the 2001 PT Cruiser

Technical Data:

Base price $23,665
Price as tested $29,120
Freight $735
Type 4-door, 5-passenger sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.4 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 150 @ 5500 rpm
Torque 162 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission 4 speed automatic (5 speed manual)
Tires 205/55R-16
Curb weight 1446 kg (3187 lbs)
Wheelbase 2616 mm (103.0 in.)
Length 4288 mm (168.8 in.)
Width 1705 mm (67.1 in)
Height 1601 mm (63.0 in.)
Cargo capacity 538 litres (19.0 cu. ft.) behind rear seat
1820 litres (64.2 cu. ft.) rear seats out
Fuel consumption City: 11.9L/100 km (24 mi./gal.)
  Highway: 8.6L/100 km (33 mi./gal.)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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