This is a wagon? Certainly, Chryslers retro-look PT Cruiser looks nothing like traditional station wagons of the past or like any other wagon or vehicle on the market today. Instead, it vaguely resembles several fastback panel trucks and sedans of the 1930s, laden with overtones of street-rod styling.
Chrysler has dubbed the front-drive PT Cruiser too cool to categorize not just for its unique look, but also because it melds elements of a sedan, wagon, sport utility vehicle and minivan. Because it has four side doors, a rear liftgate and a car-based platform, cars.com lists the PT Cruiser as a wagon but acknowledges that it stands apart from the regular wagon crowd.
When the PT Cruiser went on sale in March 2000 as an early 2001 model, eager buyers flocked to dealerships to snap up the first copies and they were willing to pay well above the sticker price. Chrysler announced that it would build about 180,000 units per year, and demand remained high for months. Sales have tapered off since then, so prices should be more rational at Chrysler dealerships.
To keep up the sales momentum, marketers needed to give the PT Cruiser some extra fire. For 2002, Chrysler is offering a set of tone-on-tone flame accents that are said to be rippling over the hood and front fenders of its retro-look wagon. Made of vinyl, the flames are applied after painting.
Stylists have also been pondering the countless customized PT Cruisers that have been constructed, many of which have appeared at the annual Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) show. It is rumored that Chrysler is considering an optional turbocharged power plant for the Dodge Neon-based PT Cruiser, which is a likely reaction to complaints by some that the stock engine is underpowered. Production of a PT Cruiser convertible, which appeared at the New York Auto Show in April 2001, isnt likely until at least 2003. The company was also considering a two-door panel van, but that will probably not be produced.
Three separate versions of the PT Cruiser are available for 2002 Base, Touring Edition and Limited Edition. These replace last years equipment groups. New standard equipment includes passenger armrests, a CD player, front-passenger under-seat storage bin and a release handle that allows backseat occupants to open the rear liftgate in case of an emergency.
By the fall of 2002, Chrysler plans to boost production at the Toluca, Mexico, plant by 80,000 units, and another plant in Ganz, Austria, will be making PT Cruisers. With both plants fully operational, output could top 300,000 vehicles per year.
Bulging fenders, fender-mounted headlights and taillights, and a tall, wide eggcrate grille help give the PT Cruiser its unique look. Another distinctive feature is its basic stance, which makes the wagon look like its leaning forward.
Measuring 67.1 inches wide and 168.8 inches long overall, the PT Cruiser is 4 inches shorter than the compact Dodge Neon sedan. It sits on a 103-inch wheelbase and stands 63 inches high, which makes it 7 inches taller than the Neon.
Five passengers fit in the Cruisers versatile interior. With an official capacity of 865 pounds, however, four stout folks just may take it toward the limit. Two front bucket seats go up front, and a 65/35-split, folding rear bench holds three. Taller passengers have adequate space in the four outboard seats, but the center rear position is cramped for anyone taller than about 5 feet 8 inches.
Rear seatbacks lay flat. The entire backseat tilts forward or may be removed for additional cargo space. Removing the rear seat expands cargo volume from a moderate 19 cubic feet to a sizable 64.2 cubic feet.
An optional front-passenger seatback also folds flat when desired, leaving enough space to haul an 8-foot ladder or a surfboard. Unfortunately, the cargo area isnt wide enough to carry a set of golf clubs crosswise.
Under the Hood
A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine produces 150 horsepower and mates with either a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission.
It is odd that one federal government agency classifies the PT Cruiser as a truck, while another consideres it a car. In any case, it meets all passenger-car safety requirements. Antilock brakes and side-impact airbags for the front seats are optional.
Only a few cars make a visual statement thats as strong as the PT Cruisers proclamation. The wagons imaginative and distinctive styling may be the main attraction, and it is appealing, but the Cruisers roomy and flexible interior keeps buyers interested. The fact that its simply fun to drive is another added bonus.
Though the PT Cruiser is far from overpowering, its performance is more satisfying than some critics have suggested. Throttle response is rapid, even if the action that follows is a little lackadaisical. Because the PT Cruiser is comparatively heavy, its engine can struggle in hilly terrain if the vehicle is fully loaded. Even in less-demanding situations and depending on road speed passing power is a bit on the sluggish side with the automatic, but it is brisk with the manual shift. Still, it keeps up easily with ordinary traffic.
The PT Cruisers handling is terrific, confident and nimble. The wagon reacts not like a minivan or truck, but more like a well-balanced, tautly fitted machine. It maneuvers with utter crispness and can take corners with impressive dispatch. Body lean in curves is moderate, and the stable PT Cruiser is exceptionally easy to drive. As for ride comfort, it seldom encounters a truly troublesome bump or hole. This vehicle eases past plenty of pavement imperfections and remains in control even when the going gets rough.