The base PT Cruiser has been criticized for not offering the performance to match its cruise night appearance. On paper, the 2.4-liter/150-horsepower DOHC inline four sounds like a strong offering in the compact class, but in a tall vehicle weighing over 3100 pounds it is merely adequate. If the body looked like a more traditional wee wagon, not a complaint would be uttered. But it doesn't... Enter the 215-horsepower, turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder, bringing a feisty personality to go along with a full catalog of available Mopar dress-up accessories. Not only does the PT Turbo boast a 65-horse gain over the PT, but torque twists 83 more lb-ft, for a 245 total. Enthusiasts, your pocket retro rocket has arrived.
The engine can be paired with a Getrag five-speed manual or a four-speed AutoStick automatic transmission that invites manual up/down shifting. Our test model had the stick shift and a willingness to race through the gears, with a more satisfying, positive shift action than expected from the tall lever.
Power surges as the engine revolutions climb in turbo fashion. Acceleration is swift off the line, and relatively exciting from a rolling start. The engine screams once past 4000 rpm, limiting max thrills to brief seconds at the upper end of the tachometer. Around town, there is a faint turbo whine that is ready to become a muted song with deep throttle application. Dynamically, the PT has a heavy, unperturbed demeanor that conveys confidence. The car understeers predictably at its heightened limits and serves as the most capable PT Cruiser model. Being behind the wheel is like driving an automotive secret. Today, these cars blend into the motoring landscape, but the PT offers a much more engaging driving experience than the original model and certainly more than your neighbor would guess.
So, what could make this Chrysler more appealing? Like the New Beetle, the PT Cruiser appears to be on the downward slope of its trend-fueled popularity curve, ensuring attractive deals on this compact street rod. A delightful, fun, affordable machine, the PT Turbo delights from bumper to bumper.