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Review and photos by Paul Williams
Vancouver Island, British Columbia – “Well, now you’ve gone and done it!” said the formidable looking woman with her hands on her hips.
We were in a long line of cars waiting for the ferry at the Departure Bay terminal in Nanaimo, BC. I was, I thought, minding my own business.
Then she broke into a big smile. “It used to be “Punch Buggy,” she explained. ” But now it’s Cruiser Bruiser, and your PT Cruiser started an all-out war in my van.”
A quick glance confirned the presence of a small army of chastised and battle-weary kids in the back of her van.
“Love the convertible,” she fortunately added, otherwise I might have got a thump as well.
This wasn’t the only time the red PT Cruiser GT convertible made an impression during my west-coast vacation. Several people asked about trunk capacity (pretty good), room in the back seat (generous), power (snappy with the high-output turbo engine) and raising and lowering the top (easy with one clamp to turn and one button to press).
At $26,995 in base, Touring, specification, the PT Cruiser Convertible is, DaimlerChrysler happily points out, the least expensive convertible on the market. Even at that price, it’s well equipped and offers the same combination of practicality, style and drop-top fun as the top-of-the-line $31,785 GT Convertible ($35,065 as tested) in which I was causing such a commotion.
But for the extra dollars, you do get several nice features, including a colour-keyed (to the exterior paint) interior treatment for the dashboard, white-faced instruments, two-tone leather seating with matching door panels and trim, 17″ chromed wheels ($650), a six-disc CD changer ($260), heated seats, traction control, and the most powerful of the PT Cruiser’s three engines, the four-cylinder, 220-horsepower, High Output turbo.
My tester also arrived with a four-speed automatic transmission with manual override, which cost an additional $1,320 (a five-speed manual is standard).
With its chrome wheels and brilliantly reflective Inferno Red Tinted Pearl paint, this car shone like a jewel in the bright B.C. sun, looking for all the world like a custom hot rod in search of the local cruise night. Assuming you like the look, its 1940’s inspired sheet metal provides a welcome (or at least, distinctive) alternative to the standard automotive fare with which it shares the road.
With its top down (this one had a taupe top; black is also available) the PT Cruiser Convertible’s “sport bar” becomes visible. It’s also red metallic (also colour keyed) and houses two dome lights to illuminate the cabin, and the shoulder-belt anchor points. Given that the seat belts are attached to it, the sport bar must be strong, and does add structural rigidity, but it’s not designed as a roll bar.
Unlike many convertibles, the PT Cruiser doesn’t sacrifice rear-seat room in order to stow the top. The two back seats are large, and getting in and out of the back is not difficult as the spring-loaded (tip-and-slide) front seats travel well forward. The Edscha-designed top (Edscha also builds the tops for the BMW Z4 and 6-Series convertibles) folds behind the rear seat, and although it stacks, it’s still fairly flush with the lines of the car. Nonetheless, rearward vision is compromised (but not completely blocked) with the top down, but the big exterior mirrors help.
The top lowers automatically, which takes only a few seconds. The windows lower with the top, and the task is easily accomplished when waiting at traffic lights, should you decide to go topless en route. A vinyl boot fits (manually) over the lowered top giving a tidy and aerodynamic effect at the rear, but although this clever boot is easy to install and remove (there are only two snaps) I only used it once, to take pictures of the car. Otherwise it stayed in the trunk (why bother?).
Raising the top is also a simple chore, but the windows don’t close with it. None of the windows have express-up capability, and a single “raise-all” switch would be appreciated.
What the windows do have, however, is powered assist to maximize sealing against the top (this is often found in expensive German sports cars). When you open the door, the window drops just a little to clear the top; when you close the door, the windows push up tightly against the top to prevent air, noise, water, intruding into the cabin.
This technology, along with the thickly lined canvas top, makes for a very quiet passenger compartment with the top up at speed – no flapping, no objectionable wind noise, and no real sense that you’re in a convertible except for the smallish rear window.
Driving at speed with the top down is equally pleasant, the tall windshield and doors creating a quiet cabin experience for the car’s occupants.
The trunk is big enough to fit luggage for two (maybe more if travelling lightly), and space would be maximized by leaving the convertible top boot at home. If you need more room, the rear seats fold and tumble forward, enabling fairly large objects to be transported. Too bad the trunk lid opens upwards, though. You have to bend or crouch to get into the trunk, which is inconvenient. If the lid opened downwards, you could more easily slide things in and out, and maybe use it to sit on.
On the road the substantial seats provide the driver with excellent comfort and support, even over long distances. A hinged armrest is attached to each front seat and is well located to rest your elbow when cruising. Storage compartments are found in the doors, and under the passenger seat, and numerous compartments are moulded into the centre console for cups, bottles, pens, phones and other personal devices.
The steering is quick, the car feels nimble and responsive, the ride is smooth even with the big wheels and low-profile tires, and emergency stops are sure and straight. One complaint concerning handling is the large turning circle, which can make pulling into a parking space, or doing a U-turn, more of a challenge than it should be.
With the top up on a hot day, the air conditioning has to work hard, but it’s eventually effective.
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Performance from the High Output engine is more than sufficient for this vehicle. Put your foot on the gas and the PT Cruiser GT leaps ahead – there’s no power shortage here – but cruising at 70-80 km/h produces an annoying exhaust note that kind of “thrums” in the background.
While the car can be quick, and will obviously use more gasoline when driven aggressively, I’m at a loss to explain the poor fuel economy experienced when operated with a light foot. A 42 litre fill-up after 280 km of mixed city/highway (about 14 litres/100 km) seems excessive to me, but was representative during my week’s driving, which covered approximately 1000 km. I never got more than 400-km out of the tank, and the PT Cruiser GT convertible’s appetite for gasoline was the only major disappointment in an otherwise impressive vehicle.
The PT Cruiser Convertible is well built, tight and solid even over bumpy roads, and offers considerable practicality for a drop-top. Buyers will enjoy the distinctive design and available eye-catching colours. It’s a fun car.
Just don’t get near too many children, or you may get a bruisin’ while you’re cruisin’.
|Price as tested||$35,065|
|Type||2-door, 4 passenger convertible|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||2.4 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves|
|Horsepower||220 @ 5,100 r.p.m.|
|Torque||245 lb.-ft. @ 2,800 r.p.m.|
|Transmission||Four-speed automatic with AutoStick manual shift|
|Curb weight||1,409 kg (3,106 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2,616 mm (103.0 in.)|
|Length||4,288 mm (168.8 in.)|
|Width||1,704 mm (67.1 in.)|
|Height||1,539 mm (60.6 in.)|
|Trunk space||210 litres (7.4 cu. ft.)|
|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|
|Assembly location||Toluca, Mexico|