Chrysler PT Cruiser(2001)

PT CruiserChrysler's new PT Cruiser has three significant attributes. First and foremost is its looks. It's a head turner. Nothing else on the road looks like it, and many people really seem to love it. Its second attribute is its practical interior. It's basically a tall station wagon with lots of variations on seating positions and cargo capacity. And third, it's cheap. The list price of the PT Cruiser is below--almost shockingly--$20,000. On the flip side, it's about as exciting to drive as a Dodge Neon, which is to say "not very." So don't buy one for navigating those twisting roads.

Styling

The PT is a retro-style station wagon that reminds folks of a 1940's Ford gangster-mobile, and it's not for the self-conscious. Drive down the street in the PT Cruiser, and everyone will stare at you. Who's doing all the staring? Ah, good question, Grasshopper. We noticed that most of the unconditional approval and envy came from the over-40 crowd--specifically, the male, over-40 crowd. This is an important consideration if you happen to be a male over 40, and want your car to attract the attention of someone other than another male over 40. Most of the women in their 20s and 30s looked slightly bewildered by this car.

While the VW Beetle tends to be a chick magnet, the PT Cruiser is more of a Chuck magnet. So keep that in mind.

Driving Experience

PT CruiserAs a driver's car, the PT Cruiser is fun to look at. It may look like a hot rod, but it certainly doesn't drive like one--it drives like a heavy compact car. And for good reason: under that tapering, retro hood is a run of the mill, four cylinder, 150 horsepower engine. It's enough to get the car around, but it's not very exciting. And because the PT looks like such a hot rod, my guess is that most people will be disappointed because their expectations for performance will be too high.

The PT's suspension was unexciting. The steering feel was pretty numb, the car leaned a bit in turns, and cornering in general was pretty mediocre. Think of a minivan, and you'll have the handling characteristics about right. It is front wheel drive, however, so it should provide decent traction in rain and snow. Antilock brakes and traction control are an option.

We weren't all that crazy about the shifter for the five-speed manual transmission. It looks very cool, with a long stick topped with a retro white shift knob, but it had a very long throw, which made shifting tedious after a while.

Interior

This is a tall vehicle, 7 inches taller than the Neon it's based on, so the interior feels roomy. The seats are high up off the floor, which makes for a bit of a reach to the pedals, but adds to the spacious feeling. It's the same trick the Ford Focus and Toyota Echo use, adding height to increase roominess, and it works.

The PT we test drove had the optional leather upholstery, which we found to be plenty comfortable.

PT CruiserStorage is very good. The seatbacks of the front passenger seat and both halves of the 60-40 split rear seat fold flat. You can remove half or all of the rear seat, and there's a package shelf that also serves as a table, in case you suddenly get the urge to throw a tailgate picnic. Chrysler says there are 26 ways the interior can be configured, and we'll have to take their word for it, because we ran out of fingers while we were counting. (Tommy got to twenty, and would have made it to twenty one, but for an old war injury.)

Visibility is mostly good, although the large "D" pillars, between the tailgate and the rear side windows, create fairly sizable blind spots. It's form over function there.

One bit of bad news: the PT Cruiser had one lousy crash test result--twostars out of a possible five, on the driver's side, after a head-on crash.How did Chrysler respond--by announcing improvements to the PT's design,perhaps? Not exactly. They chose to criticize NHTSA's decades old process,and instead proclaimed that head on collisions aren't all they're "crackedup to be," if you'll pardon the expression. In fairness to Chrysler, theremaining 3 results were either 4 or five stars.

The standard bells and whistles include AM-FM stereo cassette player, power windows, air conditioning and a height-adjustable steering column. Side air bags are an option.

Ergonomics

Ergonomics are generally very good, although we have to admit that we're puzzled by the decision to locate the front window switches in the middle of the dashboard. What's the deal with that? When you want to roll a window up, or down, your brain has to say, "Okay, the window is over here, so I'll move the hand in the entirely opposite direction to get at the switch." Continuing this odd design concept, you'll have to reach behind you, and between the front seats, to operate the rear windows.

Reliability

Like most Chrysler products, we don't expect the PT to be a pinnacle of reliability. We would expect the PT Cruiser to comparable to the Dodge Neon, in terms of service and maintenance. But, unlike the Neon, the PT is going to be harder to work on. Thanks to the narrow nose design, there's a lot less room in the engine compartment--and the Neon wasn't exactly spacious, to begin with. If Chrysler decides to go ahead and offer the PT with a larger engine, or a supercharger, then the PT will be awfully hard to work on.

In its favor, the PT actually felt pretty well put together. Unlike some other Chrysler products we've driven over the years, this one didn't sound like parts were about to fall off every time we went over a bump.

Overall comments

PT CruiserThe PT has a cars.com target price of $18,300, which is wishful thinking, at least at the time of this writing. Seeing a big demand for PT Cruisers, what did those thoughtful Chrysler dealers do? Brew more coffee for the waiting crowds? Not exactly. They ratcheted up the price, like good car salesmen, of course! (In fact, when NHTSA wanted to crash test two PT Cruisers, they had to pay ten grand over list price from a friendly Massachusetts dealer.) We're sure the hoopla will die down--and bring the price down with it--before too long--especially after people read our review.

The PT Cruiser's reason d'etre is its looks. It's unlike anything on the road. Chrysler is creating its own class of vehicle here that offers an alternative to small wagons, small sedans, and even mini SUVs like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.Unfortunately, the PT is not a fun car to drive. It's boring car to drive. Most of the money was put into the design. But, if you like the way it looks, and feel like you can handle the other inadequacies, then go for it. After all, it's cheap. At least it will be cheap in a few months, when demand eases up and Chrysler dealers stop charging people ATP: Additional Toupee Payments.

View cars.com review on this vehicle.


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