Posted on 12/18/02
Vehicle Overview
Chrysler’s retro-looking wagon is available in 2003 with a turbocharged engine, which addresses some complaints about the PT Cruiser being underpowered. Operating with a 14-psi boost, the new engine produces 215 horsepower and 245 pounds-feet of torque — enough power to yield a 0-to-60-mph acceleration time of 7.5 seconds, according to AutoWeek magazine.

As shown at the 2002 New York International Auto Show, the PT Turbo had a larger, lower grille opening for its air-to-air intercooler. Additional features include a large-diameter chrome exhaust tip, all-disc antilock brakes with traction control and all-season performance tires on 17-inch painted-aluminum wheels. A heavy-duty Getrag five-speed-manual transmission is standard on the PT Turbo, and an AutoStick automatic is available. Performance seats, silver cluster gauges and a satin silver gearshift knob are featured. Body-colored monotone front fascias are now standard on the Touring and Limited Edition models, while standard-level Cruisers have new accent-colored bodyside moldings.

According to Chrysler, the front-wheel-drive PT Cruiser melds elements of a sedan, wagon, sport utility vehicle and minivan. A PT Cruiser Convertible is expected in the future, and it will likely debut as a 2004 model.

Chrysler’s retro-looking PT Cruiser vaguely resembles fastback-panel trucks overlaid with street-rod styling from the 1930s. 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 it’s leaning forward.

Five passengers fit in the PT Cruiser’s versatile interior. Two bucket seats go up front and a 65/35-split, folding rear bench holds three. Outboard passengers have adequate space, but the center rear position is cramped for taller folks.

The rear seatbacks lay flat and the entire backseat tilts forward. 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.

Under the Hood
The base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine produces 150 hp, compared to 215 hp for the PT Turbo. Each engine mates with either a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission. The automatic in the PT Turbo incorporates AutoStick manual gear selection.

Antilock brakes are standard on the PT Turbo and optional on other trim levels. Side-impact airbags for the front seats are standard in the Limited Edition and optional in the other models.

Driving Impressions
Only a few cars make a visual statement that’s as strong as the PT Cruiser’s proclamation. Imaginative and distinctive styling may be the main attraction, but the PT Cruiser’s roomy and flexible interior keeps buyers interested. The fact that it’s simply fun to drive is another bonus.

Though the original PT Cruiser is far from overpowering, its performance is more satisfying than some critics suggest. Throttle response is rapid, even if the action that follows is a little lackadaisical. As expected, the PT Turbo delivers some welcome extra energy.

The PT Cruiser’s handling is terrific, confident and nimble. The wagon 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. It seldom encounters a truly troublesome bump or hole.

Reported by Jim Flammang  for
From the 2003 Buying Guide