2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser

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2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser

This 2002 review is representative of model years 2001 to 2005.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

Distinctive styling, good roadability and roomy interior make PT Cruiser attractive to many.
Pros:
  • Distinctive
  • Roomy
  • Fun to drive
Cons:
  • More power needed with automatic transmission
  • Odd power window control locations
  • Notchy climate controls

Is the party over for the Chrysler PT Cruiser?

Probably not for awhile, although DaimlerChrysler began offering a $1,000 rebate for it for the first time early in 2002. That shows the PT Cruiser no longer is the hot number it was a year or so ago.

This writer has driven experimental convertible and hot-rod versions of the PT Cruiser at DaimlerChrysler's proving grounds in Michigan, and they stand a good chance of being produced to keep the PT Cruiser on vehicle buying lists.

Still, there's nothing quite like the current solid, roomy PT Cruiser. Introduced in March 2000, it was designed during the adventuresome days of the old Chrysler Corp. and remains as uniquely styled and practical as ever. No other production vehicle looks remotely like it.

New Features
As for the current version, DaimlerChrysler is offering a newly available $22,605 Dream Cruiser Series 1 trim with Inca Gold paint, unique chrome wheels and textured leather upholstery. There are also new $895 woodgrain body appliques to give all trims the look of classic "woody" station wagons of the 1930s and 1940s.

Also newly offered are 1950s custom-car-style vinyl flame decals that ripple over the hood and front fenders. They cost $495 and nicely set off the PT Cruiser's retro styling.

The Dream Cruiser version is a limited-edition trim. High-volume versions of the front-drive PT Cruiser come in Base, Touring Edition and Limited Edition trims, starting at $16,200 and going to $20,265.

Well-Equipped
Even the Base model is well-equipped, but the Touring Edition and Limited Edition (along with the Dream Cruiser) trims have more equipment. They also feature sharper handling because they have larger wheels and wider tires.

Practical Retro Design
The PT Cruiser essentially is a tall station wagon with enough versatility to be called a hybrid vehicle. It has a tall, fat-fendered exterior with a high roofline and upright windshield—just like popular 1930s American sedans.

The retro styling makes sense and shows that pre-World War II stylists knew a thing or two about occupant "packaging" in that seemingly ancient automotive era. For instance, the tall body and chair-like seating also found in 1930s cars allows easy entry and good room for four to five tall adults with all seats in their normal positions, although the PT Cruiser is considerably shorter than a Dodge Neon.

Versatile
Cargo space with all seats in place is modest. But the PT Cruiser's middle name could be "versatility" in that it has fold/tumble/removable seats that allow more than 25 seating configurations.

You can even create a flat loading surface long enough for an 8-foot ladder. And a multi-position removable shelf panel can be put at the same height as the folded rear seatbacks; it's handy during chores such as grocery shopping.

Fun to Drive
Happily, the PT Cruiser is as much fun to drive as it appears to be. The turning circle is wide, but steering is quick. It's nimble and the brakes do a good job—although buyers should get the $790 anti-lock all-disc brake setup that is accompanied by a traction control system. The ride is comfortable, thanks partly to a fairly long 103-inch wheelbase.

Front-seat side airbags cost $350 for Base and Touring Edition trims, but are standard on the others.

Upscale Interior
The interior has a surprising rich look for a vehicle from the old Chrysler, which wasn't known for upscale interiors. However, controls are a bit notchy and front cupholders are too low. Oddly, the power window controls are on the center of the dashboard and at the rear of the center console.

Anyway, other new stuff for 2002 includes—finally!—a front passenger-side armrest, AM/FM/CD sound system and a front passenger underseat storage bin. Not to mention what DaimlerChrysler calls a "rear-seat trapped occupant release handle" Steel Blue Pearl Coat is a really cool new color.

The Base trim is offered with a new, optional Power Convenience Group that contains such items as remote keyless entry and power door locks. The Touring Edition includes popular features previously offered in the Touring and Luxury Touring option groups, and the Limited Edition adds a driver's lumber adjuster.

More Power Needed
The rigidly built PT Cruiser feels delightfully solid. However, more power would be nice. The 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine is smooth and generates 150 horsepower. That's enough for lively acceleration with one passenger and no load—as long as the vehicle has the standard, smooth-shifting 5-speed manual transmission. However, downshifts to third or fourth gear are needed for good 65-75 mph passing times.

Add the optional ($825) 4-speed automatic transmission and acceleration becomes lazy, partly because the PT is rather heavy at 3,108 to 3,190 pounds. A V6 would be an especially welcome option for automatic-transmission models.

Poor Fuel Economy
Fuel economy with the manual is an estimated 21 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway. It's 19 and 25 with the automatic, which is poor for a vehicle with such tight exterior dimensions. At least owners can use 87-octane gasoline.

The PT Cruiser offers a lot for the money. But some may want to wait for the convertible or higher-performance versions.

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BB06 - 9/19/2014 1:02:26 PM