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.
Shortly into our test, we noticed the Cruiser was gulping quite a bit of oil: four quarts in the first four months. We thought this unusual for a mass-produced four-cylinder and scheduled a precautionary dealer visit. The dealer performed an oil consumption test and was unable to diagnose any problems. Soon after the visit, oil use slowed to about a quart every four months. Our hunch is that the piston rings were breaking in and eventually the abnormal consumption would slow or cease altogether with time. Moreover, adding oil to the Cruiser proved a difficult process, the result of poor oil-cap placement. The cap is flush with the hot valve cover and surrounded by hoses, which could cause unavoidable burns to unsuspecting hands.
Our tester's key fob seemed to have a mind of its own: Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. At first, we thought it was a low battery, but before we even had a chance to replace it, the fob started working again--strange. This scenario continued intermittently throughout our time with the car.
Senior Road-Test Editor Chris Walton noted that the front bottom of the PT's power-operated driver seat couldn't be adjusted low enough for his preferred driving position; a few other staffers agreed, feeling they were sitting too high in the car. Otherwise, gripes about the interior were few, but those that did arise were pointed out time and time again. Many complained about the hard-to-use stereo unit (small, illogically placed buttons make presets and tuning stations overly complicated), center dash-mounted power-window buttons (assuredly a cost-saving measure), and low-grade plastic on the shifter boot, driver's armrest, and parking-brake lever.
On the other hand, much praise was paid to Chrysler's design flair and attention to detail displayed by the interior's body-color dash inserts, suede seat inserts, substantial-feeling door handles, user-friendly Toyota-like cruise-control stalk, and the cue-ball shifter knob.
A few high-mileage trips, one to Las Vegas, another to the High Sierra, proved the Cruiser a suitable highway car capable of storing lots of luggage and gear, especially with 60 percent of the back seat removed. And though not a sports car per se, the PT's confident, communicative handling manner, and general fun-to-drive feel were universally praised.
Although the Cruiser's initial wow factor has faded, the PT remains an attractive, versatile family/cargo hauler with a value-packed price attainable by most new-car buyers. Consumers voted with their wallets and saw fit to drive about 145,000 PTs off of dealer lots in 2001 alone--that made it DaimlerChrysler's best-selling vehicle in 2001, and our year-long evaluation confirmed why.
What's New, Changed, Different
Our biggest complaint about the Cruiser--lack of power--has been addressed for '03, and in a big way. Chrysler has turbocharged and intercooled the 2.4-liter to create a new, even sportier, and decidedly faster PT model. The PT Cruiser Turbo cranks out 215 horsepower and 245 lb-ft torque--impressive for a forced-induced four-cylinder. It comes standard with 17-inch wheels, a performance-tuned suspension, and monochromatic paint. When ordered with the four-speed automatic, the Turbo is the only PT available with Chrysler's AutoStick sequential shift control. Since the introduction of the PT, Chrysler has offered numerous "special models," including some that feature either flame or woodgrain-looking (woodie) decals. In '02, Chrysler offered the first in a series of limited-edition models, dubbed the Dream Cruiser Series 1, which featured unique Inca Gold paint. Look for another Dream Cruise soon. PT production was increased by 80,000 units in '02, helping Chrysler meet continuing world-wide demand.
From the Logbook
"Now that the novelty has worn off, how does it sit? Still interesting in a quirky way, pleasantly oddball, nicely executed in many areas (interior space and ride/handling), but, golly, it's slow, with a terribly overworked engine." --Kevin Smith
"Tight in stock form, but exudes a solid amount of performance potential. I love spending less than $15 per fill-up." --Mark Williams
"I have to push the four-banger harder than I'd normally be inclined to--based on the aural feedback of the engine--in order to respect its urban acceleration ability. Once I keep the revs up, the engine seems adequate, after all." --John Matthius
"Pop quiz: What do you get when you cross a '36 Ford Tudor Sedan with a Dodge Neon? Answer: The hottest looking retro rod anyone can afford. No matter where you go, people stare at the PT like it's a Ferrari." --Scott Mead
|2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser|
|Drivetrain layout||Front engine, fwd|
|Engine type||I-4, DOHC, 4 valves/cyl, iron block, alum head|
|Hp @ rpm||150 @ 5500|
|Torque @ rpm||162 @ 4000|
|Transmission||5-speed manual (4-speed auto opt)|
|Suspension, front; rear||MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; beam axle,trailing link, Watts linkage coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|Brakes, front; rear||10.9-in vented disc; 8.7-in solid disc, ABS|
|Wheels||16x6.0, cast alum|
|Tires||205/55HR16 Goodyear Eagle LS M+S|
|Curb weight, lb||3200|
|Cargo capacity, cu ft||19.0-64.2|
|Fuel capacity, gal||15.0|
|0-60 mph, sec||8.6|
|1/4 mile, sec/mph||16.6/82.3|
|Braking, 60-0 mph, ft||123|
|600-ft slalom, mph||62.7|
|Avg test mpg||18.9|
|Problem areas||Excessive oil consumption|
|Non-warr cost||$118.94 |
|Price as tested||$21,725|
|Current value, whlsl/retail||$14,695/$18,450 Per Kelley Blue Book|
|Airbags||Dual front (std), front side (opt)|
|EPA mpg, city/hwy||20/26|
|Range, city/hwy, miles||300/439|
|Basic warranty||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|Powertrain warranty||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|Recalls||Child restraint, fuel-line fittings|