No one raved about the original PT Cruiser more than I did when it first hit the road in March of 2000. I thought it was a genuine breath of fresh air, and along with the Volkswagen New Beetle that came before it, and the Mini Cooper that came after it, small, inexpensive cars were cool again.
Chrysler was soon faced with the challenge of keeping the PT Cruiser fresh without investing a lot of money in the product. A performance GT model was followed by some special editions, and then, late in 2004, came the inevitable: the 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible.
Making a convertible version from most cars isn't that hard: Whack off the top. But the PT Cruiser presented a special challenge, because it only came as a four-door sedan. It took a lot of work, and an investment well in excess of Chrysler's original predictions, to pull it off. But it did, and the result was the two-door PT Cruiser drop-top.
Some cars look natural as a convertible, some don't. The PT Cruiser convertible's styling seems a little forced and uncomfortable. With the big hoop between the front and rear seats -- Chrysler calls it a "sport bar" -- a PT Cruiser with the top down looks like a picnic basket.
That said, the whole package works pretty well. The sport bar -- lawyers won't let manufacturers call them "roll bars" any longer, because that name implies protection in a rollover -- does at least stiffen the chassis to the point where there is negligible body shake, even on rough roads or when crossing railroad tracks. And it really doesn't limit access to the rear seats, which are, surprisingly, large enough for adults.
The PT Cruiser convertible comes in three varieties: a base-model convertible, with a 2.4-liter, 150-horsepower, four-cylinder engine; a midlevel Touring, with a 2.4-liter, 180-horsepower turbocharged engine; and the top-of-the-line GT, with a 230-horsepower turbocharged version of the 2.4-liter engine. Prices start at less than $21,000 for the base car, and the GT can top $30,000.
The test model was a Touring, with only a few options. Seats were cloth-covered and comfortable. The top works easily enough: Flip a latch, and an electric switch does the rest.
The base and the GT models offer manual or automatic transmissions, but the Touring comes only with a four-speed automatic. Power was adequate, but this engine, like some other aspects of the PT Cruiser, is showing its age. The engine isn't as smooth as some of the better four-cylinders, and the transmission is a bit jerky.
The GT comes with bigger tires and wheels, and a stiffer suspension, but I thought the Touring's ride and handling were quite good. This is not a sports car but a sporty car, and if that's what you want, you'll be pleased with a PT convertible.