2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser

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2003 Chrysler PT Cruiser

This 2003 review is representative of model years 2001 to 2005.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.5
Pros:
  • More scoot from new, turbo engine
  • Surprisingly accommodating interior
  • Retro styling that stands out
Cons:
  • Turbo model's $5,700 premium
  • Hard plastic pieces inside
  • Odd positioning of window buttons

Finally, the Chrysler PT Cruiser has some real scoot.

The gangster-styled small hatchback that has been a favorite with married Baby Boomers adds a second engine choice for the 2003 model year.

The new powerplant—the first turbo in a Chrysler car since the 1990s—has 215 horsepower for less-strained highway travel in the PT Cruiser and an impressive 245 lb-ft of torque for good get up and go, especially around town.

In fact, the 2003 PT Cruiser GT, as it's called, has more horsepower and torque than competitors like the 2003 Pontiac Vibe, 2003 Toyota Matrix, 2003 Mazda Protege5, 2003 Ford Focus (even the SVT model) and 2003 Honda Civic (even the performance-oriented Si model).

Best of all, the new engine doesn't affect the PT Cruiser's accommodating interior space.

Turbo zip with little whine
The newfound power from the PT Cruiser turbo is immediately noticeable and satisfying.

According to some of the auto enthusiast magazines, the turbo powers the compact car from standstill to 60 miles an hour 2 to 3 seconds quicker than previous production PT Cruisers, which only had the aspirated engine.

Note that both turbo and naturally aspirated PT engines are four cylinders with 2.4 liters of displacement.

Chrysler engineers did more than bolt an intercooled, high-output turbo onto the GT. To help ensure durability, the GT's engine comes with new cylinder block, connecting rods, valves, crankshaft and new pistons cooled by racing-style oil jets. Maximum boost is 14 pounds.

Listen carefully as the turbo quickly spools up. The test vehicle, with four-speed automatic with AutoStick that allows the driver to shift forward gears sans clutch pedal, seemed to have no turbo whine, thanks to special acoustic dampeners on the intake system.

Pressing the accelerator, I found the GT quickly rushed off, but in a surprisingly smooth way, without noticeable turbo lag.

I merged easily into traffic and kept up with bigger vehicles with bigger engines, even on uphill highway runs. Sheesh, a pickup truck driver in front of my GT was suddenly in a rage, making nasty gestures. I guess he thought I had come up on him too quickly.

I also noticed that it wasn't quite comfortable for me to use the car's dead pedal, the carved out area for the driver to brace her left foot during aggressive driving.

The base engine for the PT Cruiser remains the 150-horsepower 2.4-liter four that generates a maximum 162 lb-ft of torque. It provides decent power, especially when mated to a five-speed manual transmission, but it's nothing like the turbo's scoot.

Clever, convenient interior
With or without a turbo, the PT Cruiser impresses because it's just so darned practical and flexible inside.

Yes, there's a lot of hard plastic in there.

Driver and passengers sit up off the floor in this vehicle, so there's a better view out than you get in a traditional car. In fact, my legs extended downward, not outward, as I sat in any of the PT Cruiser's five seats.

Go ahead and sit in the back seat. My husband—6-foot-plus—and I did and both of us were quite comfortable. In fact, even with the front seat back on its track all the way, I had 3 inches clearance from the front seatback to my knee.

A third adult in the middle has to deal with a very slight hump in the middle of the floor and sits closely to the outboard riders.

But headroom for everyone is noteworthy in the PT Cruiser. There's a full 40.4 inches for front-seat occupants and 39.6 inches for back-seat riders, which is about on par with what you find in a Vibe, Matrix and, for that matter, some sport-utility vehicles like the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Honda CR-V.

The PT Cruiser surpasses the 39.3 inches of headroom in the Focus front seat and the 38.7 inches in the Focus back seat. The Honda Civic coupe and sedan don't have as much headroom, either.

More cargo space than you'd expect
Cargo room in the PT Cruiser is flexible, right down to the front passenger seatback that folds down flat so long items coming up from the back can rest on it, if needed. This is a feature that's making its way into other vehicles now.

Behind the PT Cruiser's second-row seats, there's 19 cubic feet of space, and closing the tailgate doesn't crush grocery bags because the roofline is high.

Keep in mind those rear seats are removable, too, to allow maximum cargo-carrying capacity of a sport-utility-like 64.2 cubic feet.

Few visual cues on turbo model
The suspension, specially tuned for the GT, and larger, 17-inch tires give a well-planted feel, even as the vehicle dodges obstacles in the road.

Still, the front-wheel-drive test vehicle provided a pleasant ride, not harsh, with road bumps felt mildly. There was road noise from the performance tires, however. Traction control is standard on this powered-up model. So are anti-lock brakes.

Most folks don't seem to notice the minor appearance changes that differentiate the GT from other PT Cruisers. For the record, the grille is lower to help accommodate the needs of the turbo intercooler, and front and rear fascias are body color monotone.

Final notes
Unlike some other small, five-door competitors like the Vibe, Matrix and Suzuki Aerio, the PT Cruiser is not available with all-wheel drive.

Officials at Chrysler hope the turbo model will help draw younger buyers, aged 25 to 35. Median age of buyers of previous PT Cruisers has been around 51. But with the manufacturer's suggested retail price of a PT Cruiser GT just over $22,500 compared with $16,800 for a PT Cruiser with the base, 150-horsepower four cylinder, I wonder how many younger buyers will really spring for the nearly $5,700 higher price.

Be aware that Chrysler recommends pricier premium fuel for the turbo model. And fuel economy isn't as good as it is with a PT Cruiser with naturally aspirated four cylinder.

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BB06 - 8/23/2014 1:07:09 AM