2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser

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2003 Chrysler PT Cruiser

This 2003 review is representative of model years 2001 to 2005.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Strong new turbocharged engine gives new life to versatile model.
Pros:
  • New turbocharged engine
  • Roomy
  • Unique styling
Cons:
  • Average performance with standard engine
  • Limited cargo space with all seats in place
  • Odd power window switch location

The 2003 PT Cruiser finally gets enough power to match its racy look with a new, long-overdue turbocharged engine. Finally, we've some decent power here.

The High Output "turbo" engine is a revised version of the standard 150-horsepower 4-cylinder engine and kicks out 215 horsepower and far more torque. The result is better punch off the line and faster merging and passing. The 0-60 mph time drops to 7.2 seconds from a rather slow 10.7 seconds for the standard PT Cruiser.

That's with the turbo engine working with a $290 4-speed automatic transmission. A standard heavy duty 5-speed manual gearbox will be offered in December 2002 and will give the turbocharged PT Cruiser livelier acceleration, although the automatic is responsive and has a decent manual shift feature.

Top speed jumps from 105 mph to an electronically limited 120 mph, which makes the 140-mph speedometer marking emphasized by DaimlerChrysler seem like auto show biz. Which it is.

Turbocharged Engine
No V6 fits in the PT Cruiser, so DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler division had to go with a power-enhancing turbocharger. However, the old Chrysler Corp. put many turbo engines in cars because it didn't have the money for new engines, so it knows enough not to just slap a turbocharger on the 2.4-liter PT Cruiser engine.

The turbo engine got such things as redesigned cylinder block and cylinder head assemblies. Also, the crankshaft is stronger and new pistons are cooled, racing style, by oil jets. The turbocharger promises to have a long life because it is oil- and water-cooled.

The performance-tuned exhaust system has a large-diameter chromed exhaust tip and exhaust note that is pronounced but not annoying enough to make older buyers seem like hot rodders.

The small, low-inertia turbocharger is integrated into the exhaust manifold and allows smooth, linear performance with no annoying turbo large or torque steer. There also is no turbo "whine." The unknowing might feel that there is a good V6 under the hood.

Good Fuel Economy
Fuel economy doesn't dip much with the turbo. It's estimated at 20 mpg in the city and 25-27 on highways with the standard engine and 19-20 in the city and 25-26 on the highway with the turbo engine.

The star of the $16,670-$24,495 2003 PT Cruiser line is the flashy $22,365 PT Turbo trim, but there also are Base, Touring Edition and Limited Edition trims without a turbocharger.

The PT Turbo has a more buttoned-down sport suspension to provide sharper handling than regular versions of the retro-looking PT Cruiser crossover vehicle, which resembles a modified car from the late 1930s and early 1940s.

The PT Turbo has heavier duty 4-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock and traction control systems. The racy 5-spoke cast-aluminum 17-inch wheels are larger than the 15-and 16-inch wheels on PT Cruiser trims with the regular engine. They allow the PT Turbo to wear 50-series tires.

Unique Styling
The average person might not notice, but the PT Turbo has such things as a body color front fascia with a larger, lower grille to feed more air to the turbo intercooler. A body color rear fascia has a larger exhaust opening. And new body color side moldings provide a "dipped" look to enhance the PT Turbo performance appearance.

The PT Turbo front seats provide especially good lateral support and wear a unique cloth fabric. Also offered are leather-trimmed seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Unique silver-faced cluster gauges are on the instrument panel, which is covered with an attractive "Shadow Dot" pattern material on a silver background. The console area has a special bright silver treatment.

The weak point of the PT Cruiser always has been its small, unrefined engine. While adequate in town, it allows only average 65-75 mph passing times. It works best with the manual gearbox because the automatic transmission soaks up some power and slows acceleration, especially with two or more occupants or in hilly country.

But the PT Cruiser's special look, practicality, versatility and comfort have kept it popular. It has a reputation for remaining solid despite long, hard use.

But special options that enhance the PT Cruiser's appearance such as flame decals that were popular with 1950s car customers and woodgrain body appliqués that recall Chrysler's classic 1940s wood-panel models can go only so far to maintain a high amount of interest in this vehicle. Thus, the turbo engine is sorely needed.

Versatile Seating Configurations
The PT Cruiser is shorter than some cars, but its interior space rivals that of a large sedan and even some sport-utility vehicles. About 25 seating configurations are allowed by the fold/tumble/removable seats, although there isn't much cargo space with all seats in place.

Entry and exit are easy with the tall body, low floor and chairlike seats. But the recessed dashboard gauges often are hard to read. And power windows controls are awkwardly placed; those for the front windows are on the dashboard and those for the rear windows are in the front console.

Front cupholders are too low, and some major controls are notchy. Climate controls are large, but sound system controls are small.

Special Wheels
Special wheels are a big deal on unique looking vehicles such as the PT Cruiser. So new 15-inch bolt-on wheel covers with bright lug nut caps now are standard on the entry level PT Cruiser, as are accent color bodyside moldings. The Touring Edition gets new 16-inch cast aluminum wheels, along with new body color front and rear fascias. The Limited Edition also has new body color fascias.

All PT Cruiser trims are generally fun to drive and worth a good look, but the turbocharged engine really makes this vehicle come alive.

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BB04 - 9/22/2014 7:16:13 AM