- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2004

When an auto manufacturer introduces a hardtop version of a specialty vehicle, it’s only a matter of time until its shell is peeled back. The rate of speed for droptop transformation, however, varies among vehicles. For example, Chrysler’s Crossfire Coupe existed for only one year before a convertible counterpart appeared. Another Chrysler product, the PT Cruiser, spent four years in closed quarters before a sunlit version emerged.

The 2005 PT Cruiser Convertible made its worldwide debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this past January. All the familiar PT styling cues remain — from the short wheelbase to the overly bulged fenders to the “noodle-shaped” front bumper. Both the head- and taillights are angled like accent marks while the trapezoidal grille is juxtaposed against the half-ovoid shaped hood.

PT Cruiser open-air models get two doors and are protected by a roll bar that Chrysler has dubbed the “sport bar.” The unit stiffens the vehicle where normal B-pillars would retain tension. For this droptop, Chrysler opted away from a retractable hardtop in favor of a soft-top that nestles itself inside an external tonneau. The top, however, is electronically powered on all models. Chrysler says exceptional luggage space is preserved, a feature important to PT Cruiser buyers.

The two-tone treatment of the interior differentiates the Convertible from the existing sedan. Although the styling varies from the hardtop version, Chrysler emphasizes “space” when describing the interior.

Considering that PT Cruiser Convertible’s competition includes the Mini Cabriolet, VW Golf Cabriolet, and Mitsubishi Eclipse Convertible, it is no surprise that the 84.3 cubic feet of interior space or the 40 inches of legroom for rear-seat passengers are best in class. The newest PT also leads in the pass-through luggage department, with 13.3 cubic feet available. Rear seats fold in a 50/50 configuration, adding even more space and versatility, when desired. In addition, the seats can be positioned in nine arrangements.

Chrysler offers three trim models, each with a unique engine and transmission combination. The Standard version gets a 2.4-liter in-line four-cylinder engine that creates 150 horsepower and 165 foot-pounds of torque in front of a five-speed manual transmission. Several standard features appear on this base model. Dome lights are set into the sport bar and provide overhead glow, while solar-tinted glass and a rear-defrosting glass window maintain visibility when the top is up. Other goodies include cloth sport seats, that 50/50-splitting rear bench, power mirrors, a “touring-tuned” suspension, body-colored side moldings and front and rear clips

Slide into a Touring model and you immediately enjoy 30 more horses thanks to a turbocharger strapped to the DaimlerChrysler 2.4-liter engine. Output is 180-horsepower and 210 foot-pounds of torque, with all that twist and pull available at just 2,800 rpm. Touring versions drop the five-speed standard shift in favor of a four-speed automatic. However, the manual feel is not lost completely, as Chrysler’s AutoStick allows for clutchless manual shifting. A convertible top boot is now standard equipment, as are 16-inch aluminum wheels, speed control, a security system, fog lights, and a stereo that plays CDs in addition to a wide variety of radio stations.

When maximum sportiness is desired, the GT version is a must. The same 2.4-liter engine is now heavily turbocharged with a resulting 220 horsepower and 245 foot-pounds of torque. Chrysler has named this unit the High Output engine, and has appropriately fitted a heavier Getrag five-speed manual transmission behind it. From the outside, GTs will be recognizable by their chrome-trimmed grille and front fascia, 17-inch painted cast aluminum wheels with all-season performance rubber, and large (2.75-inch) stainless-steel exhaust tip. To live up to this external flair, the suspension has been tightened, while four-wheel disc brakes with ABS provide the stopping force. Vehicle dynamics are also modulated by a low-speed traction-control system.

Inside, GT treatment includes leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power adjustment for the driver’s seat, a silver shift knob, and embroidered floor mats.

Other enhancements include driver and front passenger side air bags and an audio system that plays both cassettes and CDs.

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