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A couple of years after its launch, the PT Cruiser remains a favourite for its practical nature, proving it is much more than a faddish, retro-look model.



2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser Road Test
Retro and modern at the same time

By Bill Roebuck

The new Chrysler PT Cruiser has received so much attention in the press lately that most people who like it have already read about it, so I'll just concentrate here on a few highlights from my driving experiences with it.

The first thing to deal with is whether or not you like the way it looks. A huge number of people like its retro, hot-rod styling. They want one just because of its appearance. A smaller number, but still a lot, seem to dislike the look and are wondering what the fuss is about. Well, there's a lot to like about the PT Cruiser even if you ignore its innovative styling.

The most important advantage of this new Chrysler model is the amazing amount of room there is inside. Sure, it's a small vehicle -- in fact it's 5.2 inches shorter in overall length than a Chrysler Neon sedan. However, its interior volume of 3,420 litres (120 cu ft) is similar to that of a short-wheelbase Chrysler minivan. Overall, it has the functionality of a much larger vehicle, and for me, that's the major attribute of this vehicle.

The second-row, 65/35-split seats flip and fold individually, and come with carrying handles for easy removal. Folded down, they provide a flat cargo area like a station wagon. Chrysler reports you can set up more than 20 different seating configurations. On the Limited Edition model, the front passenger seat back even folds down, making enough room to carry a seven-foot-long ladder inside with the rear hatch closed. That's pretty impressive.

The dashboard also has some nice retro styling touches. The instruments are clear to read and the controls easy to use. The front seats have are comfortable and supportive. They make you feel like you're sitting in a minivan. Rear seat leg room is decent, although shoulder room is tight for three passengers.

Mileage from the 2.4-litre, four-cylinder, 150-hp engine with a five-speed manual transmission is fairly standard -- 11.7 and 8.3 litres/100 km for city and highway driving. It's only a bit less efficient with the automatic transmission. A base model starts at $23,200 and a nicely equipped Limited Edition starts at $27,400.

I found it interesting that the two models drive like different cars. The Limited Edition, with an automatic, handled smoothly, accelerated promptly, and was a pleasure to drive. The base model with the standard transmission was less so. I mainly didn't like the gearing ratios or the shifter in the manual model. The automatic, surprisingly, was more fun to drive. With either configuration, I felt the need for more power. Many people whom I talked to about the car wanted to know if a six-cylinder engine was forthcoming. The answer from DaimlerChrysler is no -- it simply wouldn't fit -- but a turbocharged version of the four-banger is rumoured to be in the works for introduction in a year or so.

The rear storage area comes with a useful, moveable storage shelf that can be shifted into several positions for various uses. I found that the sticky rubber fittings on its sides would easily cause the shelf to jam in unexpected positions. It usually was a bit of trouble to fit it where you wanted it. Another minor nit-pick is that the power window controls are mounted low on the centre console instead of on the doors, but I expect you'd quickly get used to locating them. ABS brakes are optional on both models.

Styling cues aside, there's a lot to like about the PT Cruiser. It's built around a Neon platform, so the handling and roadworthiness are predictable. Its clever seat configurations and expansive cargo capacity make it practical alternative to station wagons and compact SUVs.

© Copyright Bill Roebuck, CarTest.ca 2002.

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