- The Washington Times - Friday, August 24, 2001

It's difficult not to love Chrysler's PT (Personal Transportation) Cruiser. Although personal tastes vary and you may not be able to picture yourself driving one on a daily basis, seeing one on the road probably still makes you smile. Enough of you do see yourselves behind the wheel to keep the factory operating at full tilt and still not able to keep up with the demand.
That, of course,makes the beleaguered folks at DaimlerChrysler smile. For a corporation that has not had an abundance of good news during the past 18 months, the PT Cruiser is a welcome ray of sunshine.
Much of the Cruiser's appeal is in its retro styling. The exterior nails the essence of the late thirties and early forties look. All that's missing are running boards. Then again, more modern design cues such as the integrated bumpers, flush glass and cat's-eye headlamps are also evident. Its a pleasant mixture of yesterday and today.
Like Volkswagen's New Beetle to which it is sometimes compared, the Cruiser packs a ton of space in a seemingly small package. The Cruiser is longer and taller than the New Beetle, translating into even more interior room. Taller passengers will appreciate the abundance of headroom; however, the real news here is the Cruiser's generous rear legroom. Even with a taller driver behind the wheel, rear seat passengers can stretch out a bit.
Not content to simply maximize interior space, the PT Cruiser designers have also engineered in uncommon versatility. Chrysler claims when equipped with the fold-flat front passenger seat, 26 interior configurations are available.
The 65/35 split rear seat not only has a fold-down seatback, but also tumbles forward. Either or both sections can also be removed. Both have handles, easing the task of carrying them. Although the larger section weighs in excess of 60 pounds, they can be extracted quite easily.
The rear cargo floor is flat. Opting for the fold-flat front passenger seat gives the Cruiser the ability to haul 8-foot two-by-fours with the rear hatch closed. Enhancing the cabin's versatility is the multiadjustable/removable rear shelf panel.
While five occupants are feasible, four are more comfortable when all the seating is in place. More like minivan seats, the Cruiser seats are rather high, providing a better view of the road. Wide door openings make for easy entry/exit both front and back. A one-piece, lift-up hatch provides a huge opening to the cargo area. Also like the New Beetle, the Cruiser carries its exterior color inside the cabin. A body-colored panel surrounds the large gauges directly in front of the driver.
The audio system controls are conveniently placed atop the easy-to-use, round-knob, ventilation-system controls. Every vacant space seems to have been used for storage. This is a well thought-out interior package.
Beneath the PT Cruiser's wide hood churns Chrysler's well-tested, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine. This can be a bit of a disappointment to those hoping for performance equal to Cruiser's street-rod looks. Producing 150 horsepower and 162 foot-pounds of peak torque, this four-banger urges the Cruiser to 60 mph from a standstill in a leisurely 10 seconds or so. When equipped with the silky smooth five-speed manual gearbox, the Cruiser delivers a satisfying amount of fun.
My last PT Cruiser tester was armed with the $825 four-speed automatic. Yawn.
Fuel economy is somewhat less than might be expected based on the Dodge Neon, which uses the same engine and some of the same mechanicals. Weighing in with roughly 600 more pounds than its distant Dodge cousin, the Cruiser has earned an Environmental Protection Agency mpg rating of 20 in the city and 25 on the highway. Compare that to Neon's 28 and 35 mpg. Cruiser's mpg numbers, though, are on a par with the Honda CR-V, which offers similar interior room and less aggressive acceleration.
Nimble and solidly connected to the pavement, the front-wheel-drive Cruiser handles more like the Neon than a small SUV. The ride is a blend of comfort and handling neither too soft nor too stiff. Steering response is swift. Although its powertrain seems better suited to highway trekking than the fits and starts of busy urban errand running, it is ideal for close-quarter maneuvering.
Zipping around crowded parking lots or squeezing into narrow parking spaces are child's play. And, it can haul home enough groceries to keep John Boy and all his kin around the dinning room table for six months.
Priced to move, the PT Cruiser has a base sticker of $15,935; however, the bottom line can swell rapidly by making just a few checks in the options column. Standard features include dual air bags, power-assisted steering, rear window washer/wiper, air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, six-speaker AM/FM stereo/cassette and power windows.
My test Cruiser had the $4,685 option package with 29 additional features including power moon roof, cruise control, power door locks, leather seating, dual power outboard mirrors and keyless remote entry with anti-theft alarm. Anti-lock brakes bundled with traction control, the automatic transmission, upgraded audio system with CD player and heated front seats added another $2,615 to the total.
Adding on the $565 delivery charge while deducting about $820 in assorted option package discounts brought the price as tested to $22,415.


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