Part car, part truck and entirely different from everything else on the road, the 2001 PT Cruiser went on sale in March 2000 and was an instant hit with buyers.
PT stands for personal transportation, and Chrysler describes it as too cool to categorize because it has elements of a sedan, wagon, sport utility vehicle and minivan. Because it has four side doors, a rear liftgate and is built on a car-based platform, cars.com lists the Cruiser as a wagon albeit one that stands well apart from the crowd.
Chrysler says it can build only about 180,000 per year, and some of those will be exported. So far, production has not kept up with demand in the United States. Currently available with front-wheel drive and a four-cylinder engine, future options may include four-wheel drive and a turbocharged or supercharged engine.
The retro-styled Cruisers bulging fenders, tall, wide grille, and fender-mounted headlights and taillights make it look different than all other wagons and SUVs, at least those built after about 1935.
At 169 inches overall, it is 6 inches shorter than the compact Dodge Neon sedan, but at 63 inches tall is 7 inches taller.
The Cruiser has a versatile interior with seats for five, including two front buckets and a 65/35-split rear bench that holds three. The rear seatbacks lay flat, and the entire rear seat tilts forward or can be removed for more cargo room. A front-passenger seatback that folds flat is optional.
Chrysler says the PT Cruiser can carry a maximum of 865 pounds, so the weight of occupants may limit capacity to four. Even so, taller passengers have adequate space in the four outboard seats, but the middle rear seat is cramped for anyone over about 5-feet-8-inches tall.
Removing the rear seat expands cargo volume from 19 cubic feet to 64, enough space to squeeze in a large-screen television, according to Chrysler engineers. With the optional folding front passenger seat, there is room for an 8-foot ladder or surfboard. However, the cargo area isnt wide enough to carry adult-size golf clubs horizontally.
Under the Hood
A 150-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine teams with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The PT Cruiser weighs nearly 3,200 pounds before options are added, and the engine struggles with this weight in hilly terrain. Passing power is slow to arrive with the automatic transmission.
Though classified as a truck by the federal government for safety purposes, the PT Cruiser meets all passenger-car safety standards. Antilock brakes and side-impact airbags for the front seats are optional.
The styling attracts buyers, but the PT Cruisers roomy, flexible interior may be what makes them love it. It makes sense as a third or fourth vehicle for a family hoping to make a statement, and it makes even more sense for a single person who wants space, versatility and head-turning styling at a reasonable price.
Because demand is so high initially, most dealers are charging well above suggested retail for the PT Cruiser. Wait until next year, after 180,000 or so models are on the road, and transaction prices should come down.