Without a doubt, some of the most popular and innovative automotive designs of the last two decades have come from Chrysler. Some of them were highly versatile, trend setting vehicles like front-wheel-drive minivans, while others have been radical, envelope-pushing cars like the Plymouth Prowler and the Dodge Viper. But their latest design anomaly, the Chrysler PT cruiser, beats them all. Outrageous retro looks over one of the smartest, most practical interiors ever. Well, that’s the hype. But are the facts just as cool?
Well, let’s cut through the hype and look at those facts. And people will look at you too, when you tool by in a Chrysler PT Cruiser. Its funky, retro styling combines the full-fendered look of American sedans of the 30s and 40s, with the hot rod esthetics of the 50s and 60s. All filtered through a 21st century design studio.
And while the PT may look big, it’s actually quite compact, being loosely based on Chrysler’s Neon. Length is a mere 168.8-inches, but the wheelbase measures 103.0-inches. While width of the PT and Neon are almost identical, the PT is far taller, measuring 63-inches from the bottom of its 15- or 16-inch tires, to the top of its raised roofline, and providing this hatchback’s rear view with a chunky “bread-van” look, which translates into a remarkably roomy interior that, despite the cue-ball shifter on the 5-speed PT Cruiser, is totally modern in function.
Yet the smooth, three section dash still manages to blend easy-to-use Chrysler hardware with a few other retro touches like the hot rod steering wheel that still cleverly hides the air bag and the deep set individual gauge pods. Along with the 5-speed manual, a 4-speed automatic is also available, but without the cue ball funny stuff.
But the real family fun of the PT Cruiser interior comes from its versatility. In standard form, this is a 5-passenger people-mover. But open the rear doors and hatch, and start pulling out the seats, and the PT becomes a cargo hauler par-excellence. All but the driver’s seat can be folded, removed, or both, to make almost all of its 120 cubic foot interior volume available for bulky loads up to eight feet long. If you’re thinking hot rod outside, minivan inside, you’ve got the PT Cruiser concept down cold. An available five-position cargo shelf adds even more versatility, and it even doubles as a picnic table for tailgate parties.
Of course, hauling requires power. And for that, Chrysler equipped the PT Cruiser with the same 2.4-liter twin-cam 4-cylinder that’s standard in their traditional minivans. Ratings are 150 horsepower and 162 pound/feet of torque.
In our 5-speed test PT, we found it to be surprisingly lively for a 4-banger and more than capable of pulling the 3123-pound PT around. But, we can only imagine how much more excitement the GT Cruiser concept’s 200-horse turbo-4 might provide.
Our first turn behind the PT Cruiser’s wheel was in California where custom street rodding was born. No surprise that everyone on the street noticed us, while we were noticing how easy the PT is to maneuver.
Throughout our drive, the PT displayed a solid, predictable side, that’s more minivan than hot rod. The longish wheelbase gives a smooth ride, with relatively little front plow and lean in corners, especially for such a tall vehicle. That’s due to careful tuning of the MacPherson strut front suspension, and innovations in the rear twist beam axle with Watts linkage. Brakes are disc/drum with all-disc, ABS, and traction control available.
It’s a friendly, easy-to-get-used-to package, that leaves plenty of room for modifications by today’s front-drive performance specialists. And we know it will get modified! Are there any guesses as to how long before someone tries to stuff a Hemi V-8 into a lowered PT? Do I hear 15 minutes?
It will happen quick since PT prices leave plenty left over to spend on everything from turbos to fat tires. Base for the 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser is only $16,000, and that’s with freight! Add power accessories, and folding front passenger seat, and pay $17,140. Step up to the top Limited Edition, with 16-inch rims, leather, and a sunroof, and you still shell out only $19,995. That’s serious style for peanuts!
And, like serious style, the PT Cruiser is just too cool to characterize. It’s not car, nor minivan, nor hot rod. But, it is going to be another screaming winner for Chrysler. And, those are the facts, Jack.
Engine: 2.4-Liter Dohc 4-Cylinder
Torque: 162 Lb Feet