Not since the '92 Viper Showcar has a domestic manufacturer created such a buzz-worthy new product as the PT Cruiser. This Neon-based, so-called "segment-busting" vehicle first appeared at the 1999 Detroit Auto Show and went on sale in spring 2000 as an '01 model. Consumers quickly got a lesson in economics as high demand for the PT resulted in a rash of nationwide dealer markups, with less-than-ethical types asking as much as twice the PT's $16,000 base price. The Toluca, Mexico, plant, which manufacturers the PT, was finally able to meet demand just about the same time Motor Trend named it the 2001 Car of the Year--automatically qualifying it for our One-Year Test fleet.
Our Silver Metallic PT Cruiser started with a base price of $15,935 and was optioned with Chrysler's $4685 Customer Preferred Package. It consists of over 25 goodies and gadgets, the most notable of which are leather, height-adjustable seats with suede inserts, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, side airbags, a power moonroof, 16-inch chrome wheels, "touring" suspension, a fold-flat front passenger seat (for extra-long cargo), power heated mirrors, keyless entry, and two 12-volt power outlets (front and rear). This package earns a PT those chrome "Limited Edition" badges. We also checked the boxes for ABS and traction control ($790), heated front seats ($285), underseat storage drawer ($25), engine-block heater ($35), and an upgraded AM/FM cassette/CD/equalizer ($225). Subtract $820 for Chrysler's Customer Preferred Discount and add $565 for shipping and destination charges, and our cool-as-can-be Cruiser rolled out the door for $21,725--a strong value-for-dollar proposition.
A more suitable name for this tall wagon might have been PT Clever, due to its countless seating/cargo configurations. Senior Feature Editor Scott Mead noted five ways to arrange the interior cargo space. "This makes it the perfect vehicle for families or small businesses. You can strip out the rear seats and have a long, flat load floor or pop them in to seat five comfortably."
Our tester was equipped with a standard five-speed manual that allowed us to squeeze every ounce of torque and horsepower out of the busy 2.4-liter/ 150-horse I-4. Most editors agreed that engine power was just barely adequate, and some even complained the car was underpowered (fortunately, a turbo with 65 more horsepower is offered for '03). A few of our staffers also discovered the hard way that the shifter doesn't like being yanked. On more than one occasion, this dragstrip maneuver caused the white cue-ball to fly off the shifter stalk and into the back seat, leaving the driver with nothing but a chrome stalk to stir the gears. The knob pops back on easily enough, however.