2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible GT. Click image to enlarge
Story and photos by Paul Williams
Scottsdale, Arizona – The long awaited convertible version of Chrysler’s PT Cruiser emerges as a fun, yet surprisingly practical alternative to the distinctive PT wagon.
Due in Canada in May, in time for top-down driving, the two-door convertible is quiet and roomy and looks good from nearly every angle. And not just in styling – Chrysler promotes the $26,995 base model as the least expensive convertible in the country.
The drop-top version comes three years after a styling concept was introduced at the New York Auto Show, and should help to revive interest in the original PT Cruiser, which has waned in the sales charts since its spectacular debut in 2001. The PT Cruiser wagon is expected to get some appearance revisions for 2006.
2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Touring convertible. Click image to enlarge
What Chrysler calls the “heritage styling” of the PT Cruiser seems perfectly suited to a convertible treatment. With the top up, the roofline is lower than the wagon, and the backlight is raked forward to produce a sleek look. This gives the convertible a distinctively different profile when compared with the wagon, although its identity is still very much PT Cruiser.
With the top down, an obvious design element is the sport bar, located between the front and rear seats. Giving the vehicle a somewhat “targa” look. Dennis Krosek, DaimlerChrysler director of vehicle development, says the bar was initially included simply because designers felt it looked good. After researching the car’s aerodynamics in a wind tunnel, they realized that by slightly modifying its position and shape, the sport bar could reduce wind turbulence in the car, especially for those in the rear seat. The sport bar features two dome lights to complement the standard interior lighting, and anchors the seat belts for the front seat passengers.
Chrysler executives were quick to point out that this device is not a roll bar, although it does contribute to the car’s structural integrity.
The styling is least successful when viewed from the rear, but that’s a trait shared by many convertibles.
Dennis Krosek, DaimlerChrysler director of vehicle development. Click image to enlarge
The PT convertible is built at the Chrysler Group’s Toluca, Mexico factory where the PT Cruiser wagon is assembled. It uses the same exterior body panels and powertrain as its hardtop sibling, but 50% of its parts are unique. A key difference is the stiffened, reinforced body structure that Mr. Krosek says “eliminates annoyances and issues typically associated with convertible vehicle design.” By these he means the tendency of some convertibles to flex when driving over railroad tracks or other road surface irregularities, and increased weight that affects performance.
Adding stiffness was achieved without significant weight penalty, Mr. Krosek told auto writers at a press introduction here. In contrast to the Volkswagen New Beetle, for instance, which adds 159 kg to achieve its convertible version, the PT Cruiser convertible only adds 68 kg. On the road, the extra weight is not noticed and the vehicle feels rigid and solid.
With a suggested retail price of $26,995, the Touring Convertible offers the PT Cruiser’s standard 2.4-litre, DOHC four-cylinder engine that generates 150 horsepower. This model comes with a five-speed transmission, 16″ aluminum wheels, premium cloth seats, compass/temperature readout in the rear-view mirror and a CD player with six speakers. Available options include a 180-horsepower turbocharged engine ($1,500), four-speed automatic transmission, anti-lock brakes, navigation system and chrome wheels.
Alternatively, the $31,785 GT Convertible supplies the high output 220-horsepower turbo engine with a Getrag heavy-duty five-speed manual transmission, traction control, sport suspension, 17″ aluminum wheels, anti-lock brakes, heated leather seats with contrasting coloured inserts, chrome grille accents and side airbags. Available options include a four-speed automatic transmission with “auto-stick” sequential shifter, navigation system, six-disk CD and 17″ chromed wheels.
The three-layer top is notable for its quality and fit. It consists of a layer of insulation between an inner liner and an outer, canvas surface. In order to reduce wind noise in the cabin at speed, the vehicle uses what Chrysler calls “smart glass” technology, similar to that found on BMWs and Porsches. This technology slightly drops and raises the windows when opening and closing the doors, thus maximizing the seal between glass and convertible roof.
The automatic top raises and lowers in 10-11 seconds, and simply requires the driver to twist a centrally located handle and press a switch to perform the action.
A form-fitting and aerodynamic convertible boot is supplied to cover the top when it’s down.
Chrysler executives are proud of the car’s ability to comfortably seat four passengers. The company’s engineers placed an emphasis on rear-seat roominess, and ease of entry and exit. Comparing the PT Cruiser Convertible to Volkswagen New Beetle and Ford Mustang convertibles, they cite additional 25-centimetres in rear seat legroom over those cars.
As in the PT Cruiser wagon, the rear seats fold and tilt forward, producing considerable cargo room. In this configuration, two full-size golf bags can easily fit lengthwise into the car.
One of the most impressive features of the PT Cruiser convertible is the quietness of the interior at speed. With the top up, even at 120 km/h, both wind noise and road noise were barely evident, and the quiet cabin equalled or bettered most sedans.
With the top-down, there’s little turbulence in the cabin at highway speeds, even with the windows down. Passengers can easily conduct a conversation or listen to music. With the top down and the windows up, the climate control system effectively provides heating or cooling to front-seat passengers.
Both turbo engines offer good power and passing ability. However, the high output (220-hp) version definitely has more snap, especially with the automatic transmission. In contrast, the horses in the lower output turbo engine sometimes seemed reluctant to gee-up with the auto box.
If you’re in the market for a PT Cruiser with the standard, non-turbo motor, my experience is that the five-speed transmission will provide the best performance.
When driving in town, or when parking, you’ll find the turning circle in the PT Cruiser wagon is wide, and not surprisingly this doesn’t change with the convertible. One culprit is the choice of available 17″ wheels, but these are very much in character with the car. Plan on using your three-point turning skills with this vehicle.
Chrysler has selected some striking colours for the convertible, which can be ordered with contrasting coloured tops and interiors. Deep metallic red or blue with light grey top and interior were particularly effective combinations, as was the triple black GT with its chrome grille and wheel accents.
Chrysler executives say that buyers for the PT Cruiser Convertible will be determined more by psychographics than demographics. In other words, they expect people from a broad age spectrum to be interested in this vehicle, especially those looking for a car that’s as much about fun as it is about practical transportation.