2003 Pt Cruiser Turbo
Photo: Laurance Yap. Click image to enlarge

Story by Grant Yoxon
Photos by Laurance Yap

Suddenly fuel economy is fashionable again. Rising gasoline prices have a way of focusing the mind on what is really important.

People will take a second look at smaller, more fuel efficient cars. But whether they buy will depend on whether or not the small cars of today can deliver what people really want – sufficient space and power.

We want powerful cars, but we don’t want to empty our wallet every other day at the gas pump.
Recent advances in engine technology mean you probably can have your cake and eat it too. Features like continuously variable valve timing, variable air intake runners, and direct ignition have allowed substantial increases in horsepower and torque without reducing fuel economy. Many 4-cylinders today rival the horsepower and torque of yesterday’s V6s.

2003 Pt Cruiser Turbo

2003 Pt Cruiser Turbo

2003 Pt Cruiser Turbo

2003 Pt Cruiser Turbo

2003 Pt Cruiser Turbo

2003 Pt Cruiser Turbo
Photos: Laurance Yap. Click image to enlarge

Another way to obtain more with less is forced induction – adding a turbocharger (driven by exhaust pressure) or a super charger (driven off the crankshaft) to a small fuel-efficient engine. The amount of power an engine produces is directly related to the amount of air the engine can pump. Forced induction forces more air into the engine’s combustion chambers than the engine could normally draw in by itself. More air flowing through the engine means more power.

But it’s not free power. More fuel is also required. Without it, the engine would run lean, the fuel/air mixture would explode prematurely (knock), and possibly disastrous consequences could result. As well, to ensure proper ignition of the mixture, higher quality – high-octane – fuel is either required or recommended. Many high performance cars need 91-octane fuel for optimal performance, adding $5 for every 50 litres of fuel used. Over time, it adds up.

DaimlerChrysler chose turbocharging to boost the performance from its 2.4 litre 4-cylinder engine. The Chysler PT Cruiser GT Turbo is the first application for this engine. The PT Cruiser’s 2.4 litre turbocharged engine is not the same engine as found in every other PT Cruiser. It has been built stronger to withstand the pressures of forced induction. While the base 2.4 has a cast iron block, the 2.4 turbo has an aluminum block with cast-iron cylinder liners. Other differences include a re-designed cylinder head and crank shaft, a larger oil pan, greater coolant capacity and improved oil and water cooling to dissipate the additional heat created by the turbo. In other respects, the two engines are very similar, sharing the same displacement, bore and stroke and compression ratio.

Premium fuel is not required. Modern engine management systems with advanced knock sensing capability can adjust the timing to compensate for the octane rating of the fuel being used. But for optimal performance, 91-octane fuel is recommended.

The government fuel consumption rating for a PT Cruiser with a normally aspirated 2.4 litre engine is 11.2 litres per 100 kilometres in city driving and 8.1 L/100 km on the highway. The turbo-charged PT Cruiser is rated at 12.4 L/100 km in the city and 9.4 L/100 km on the highway.
In the depth of Ottawa’s coldest week of the year, my recorded fuel consumption was worse than that – much worse. We couldn’t get more than 300 kilometres with 45 litres of premium fuel. This works out to about 15 L/100 km in mostly city driving or about $12.75 for every 100 kilometres driven at an average cost of 85 cents for one litre of 91-octane unleaded fuel.

The turbocharged 2.4 litre engine in the PT Cruiser GT produces a lot more power than the normally aspirated engine – 215 horsepower and 245 lb-ft of torque compared to 150 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. This is a big – big as in huge – increase in power and a jump you would expect to feel not only at the gas pump, but also in the seat of your pants.

Here are the facts. The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) tests new cars annually in its Car of the Year Competition. The PT Cruiser won the 2001 Car of the Year in Canada. Acceleration tests for the 2001 awards show a 0-100 kilometre per hour time for the base PT Cruiser with 5-speed manual transmission of 10.6 seconds. Not very quick. In contrast, the PT Cruiser GT Turbo with automatic transmission tested this year accelerated to 100 km/h in 7.93 seconds. For a 1500-kilogram car with a four-cylinder engine, that is quick. And what you would expect from 215 hp and 245 lb-ft of torque.

So how come it doesn’t feel quick? In this case my seat of the pants sensors don’t agree with the facts. Left to its own devices, the 4-speed automatic is a sleepy affair. No one would argue that the PT Cruiser with base 2.4 coupled to an automatic transmission is an underpowered car. But adding a turbocharger only makes it adequate. Thankfully, Chrysler had the good sense to add their Autostick manual shift mode to this transmission. Push the button on the top of the chrome shifter ball, drop it into manual mode and the PT Cruiser GT finally begins to wake up.

But you will find that Cruiser’s excitement level is directly related to input from the gas pedal and that will just get you back to the premium pump all that much quicker. My guess is that the PT Cruiser GT Turbo would be a whole lot more responsive, fun and fuel efficient with the Getrag 5-speed manual transmission. Selecting the manual transmission on the order sheet will also put $1230 in your pocket, money that can be spent on, well, premium fuel for example.

The high output 2.4 litre is the main performance enhancement although the PT Cruiser GT benefits as well from improved stopping power thanks to performance front discs. ABS is standard, as is traction control, which received plenty of use during our winter test despite P205-50R17 Michelin Pilot Alpin winter tires.

Suspension is pretty much standard PT Cruiser, low profile performance tires being the biggest traction aid. But the Cruiser is a cruiser, not a sporting vehicle, and those who will want to take a close look at the GT Turbo are people who like the PT Cruiser’s styling and versatility, but want more power.

2003 Pt Cruiser Turbo

2003 Pt Cruiser Turbo

2003 Pt Cruiser Turbo

2003 Pt Cruiser Turbo
Photos: Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

The PT Cruiser’s styling is certainly unique. With this edition, the styling folks at DaimlerChrysler have gone monotone. There are no black accents anywhere. Front and rear facia, bumpers and side moldings are all body colour – electric blue on our tester. The front facia features a large, lower grille to allow ample air to reach the turbo’s intercooler, while a large, chrome exhaust tip completes the performance look out back.

Inside, the performance theme continues with a 240 km/h speedometer, more supportive front “sport’ seats, “GT’ embroidered floor mats, silver shifter knob and silver-faced instruments, recessed well into the instrument cluster. The instrument cluster and passenger air bag door is covered in a unique “shadow dot” pattern on a silver background.

Other standard features include overhead console with compass and outside temperature display, remote keyless entry, engine immobilizer, cruise control, power windows and door locks and fog lamps. Storage includes a smallish glove box, a compartment under the passenger seat, spacious map pockets in the doors and an open floor console. Most controls, including the power window controls, are located on the center stack within easy reach.

My tester included a $2,655 option package that added leather seating, front seat mounted side air bags, AM/FM stereo/cassette/CD player and equalizer, driver’s side power seat height adjuster, leather wrapped steering wheel and power sunroof.

The seats, while broad and supportive, have inboard side arm rests, which I found to be too high to be used comfortably and which interfered with manual shifting. But equipped with optional seat heaters that warm not only the seat surface, but the lumbar region as well, they were certainly a Godsend on those -25 degree mornings.

The passenger front seat will flip forward flat to make a table. The rear 60/40 bench seat will fold flat, flip forward or can be completely removed from the car to make a huge cargo area. Chrysler says the PT Cruiser’s seats can be arranged in 32 different ways. I’m sure they’re right although I didn’t discover them all.

The PT Cruiser’s styling may be a love it or hate it thing, but there is no doubt it is an immensely practical car. No longer is it necessary to buy a big car to get big interior spaces. This is a good thing for people who are more concerned about the price of gas and the long-term cost of driving than they are about performance.

If performance is important, the turbocharged engine will deliver more power. But there is no free ride. It will cost more to get there quicker.

Technical Data:

2003 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT 2.4 Turbo
Base price $27,700
Options $2,655 (side air bags, autostick, sound system, driver�s power height adjustable seat, leather- wrapped steering wheel, power sun roof, leather seating); chrome wheels, $465; heated front seats, $375)
Freight $810
Price as tested $33,335
Type four-door, five passenger compact hatchback
Layout transverse engine, front wheel drive
Engine 2.4 litre DOHC 16V High-Output 4-cylinder
Horsepower 215 @ 4950 rpm
Torque 245 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic with Autostick manual shift mode
Tires P205-50R17 Michelin Pilot Alpin winter tires (P205-50R17 Goodyear performance radials standard)
Curb weight 1,505 kg (3311 lbs)
Wheelbase 2,616 mm (103 in)
Length 4,288 mm (168.8 in)
Width 1,705 mm (67.1 in)
Height 1,601 mm (63 in)
Fuel 91 Octane Premium recommended
Fuel consumption City: 12.4 L/100 km (23 mpg); Hwy: 9.4 L/100 km (30 mpg)

Warranty 3 years/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 7 years/115,000 km

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