2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
This 2005 review is representative of model years 2001 to 2005.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
I admit the Chrysler PT Cruiser has lost its luster.
When it debuted as an eye-catching, retro-styled, compact, four-door hatchback in 2000, there were long lines of buyers and lots of buzz.
But three years later, annual U.S. sales of 107,759 were down more than 25 percent from the peak sales in calendar 2001, and several other retro-styled cars, such as the Volkswagen New Beetle and Ford Thunderbird, had suffered sales declines, too.
Still, if you're a budget-conscious convertible buyer, don't let this stop you from taking the new-for-2005 PT Cruiser convertible out for a test drive.
The new PT is the lowest-priced open-top auto on the market with a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of just over $19,400 at its introduction. And the top is mostly power-operated.
The next lowest-priced, four-seat convertible is the 2004 Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible, which starts at just under $21,000, and the two-seat Mazda Miata MX-5 roadster starts at just under $22,000.
Notable highlights of the PT convertible: It has four usable seats that sit up a bit from the floor, allowing passengers to enter and exit more easily than they can in many other convertibles where seats rest close to the floor.
And the PT convertible's "sport bar"—a metal structure behind the front seats that helps provide a solid, rigid ride—adds a stylish touch when the fabric top is down.
Looks belie engineering changes
So, it appears the extensive engineering that was needed to create a solid-riding, shake-resistant convertible off the PT platform isn't really easy to discern.
But, as Larry Lyons, vice president of small vehicle product team engineering at DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group said, the PT convertible "is not a coupe with a top chopped off."
To make the convertible, officials said they changed the PT hatchback from the windshield pillars on back.
They added new "smart glass" windows that automatically lower a bit when doors are opened, then rise back up when doors close in order to retain good sealing against the fabric top. These windows first debuted years ago on luxury convertibles.
Engineers took away two of the PT hatchback's doors. The convertible has two long doors, instead.
They strengthened the rear seat structure, re-tuned suspension components and designed the novel sport bar that extends, wing-like, above the rear seat area.
Besides contributing to the car's rigidity, this bar also serves to direct air over and beyond the rear seat for less wind buffeting for passengers.
Many similarities with hatchback hardtop
But as expected, because of reinforcing need to help make the car rigid without its top, the convertible is heavier than the hatchback hardtop by at least 150 pounds.
So, while the base 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four cylinder engine producing 150 horses and 165 lb-ft of torque can make the car feel a bit anemic, it's good to know you don't have to go all the way up to the top-level GT model with high-output turbocharged engine to experience a pleasing ride.
The midrange Touring Edition convertible with optional 2.4-liter turbocharged double overhead cam four cylinder does just fine, producing 180 horses and 210 lb-ft between 2800 rpm and 4500 rpm.
There are two available manual transmissions, but even the four-speed automatic transmission does an acceptable job in managing the power delivery.
The ride is zippy even if the power doesn't come on instantaneously. There was a bit of a lag in the test cars when I'd press the accelerator and seek to move aggressively.
Note there's a second, more powerful turbo—a 220-horse, high-output turbocharged, 2.4-liter four with 245 lb-ft of torque between 2400 rpm and 4500 rpm. It's available only in the convertible GT model. But it requires premium fuel, according to Chrysler.
Fuel economy isn't great in the small PT convertible. With 180-horse turbo and automatic tranny, it's rated at a rather ho-hum 19 miles a gallon in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway, Chrysler says. At least this turbo needs only regular unleaded.
The PT convertible is not offered with a V6 or V8. These kinds of engines are the only ones offered in the Ford Mustang convertible.
Meantime, the New Beetle and Miata each offers two four-cylinder engines, one turbo and one not.
Cowl shake minimized
I looked for the characteristic convertible shudder as I traversed road bumps and found precious little evidence of it. This is especially true when the top is up on the vehicle.
Just about all I saw was a bit of shake at the rearview mirror when I went over bumpy railroad crossings. When I hit sizable road bumps, it felt like the whole car hit them solidly. There wasn't a sensation that the bump jiggled through the entire vehicle structure.
The front-wheel-drive test car rode on standard 16-inch wheels and tires. There was some wind and road noise, but nothing that prevented me from conversing with passengers, even with the top down.
And the top is easy to put down. There's one manual chore inside: Grabbing hold of a circular handle at the front of the roof and turning it to release the two latches at the windshield.
Then, it's merely a push of a button, and the "smart glass" windows drop a bit—or all the way, depending on which detent you've activated—and the fabric top, with glass rear window, folds down and stows at the back.
Note the boot, or cover, for the top must be hauled out of the trunk and installed manually. There are two snaps to hold it in place. But even with the boot on, the top sort of sits up at the back of the vehicle and doesn't allow a clear rear view. Indeed, the top's "floating bow" design was selected because when the top goes down, it doesn't reduce trunk space.
The mechanical process reverses when you put the top up, and either way, takes about 10 seconds.
Rather, they're up a bit, with the second-row seats up even higher than the front ones for a theatre seating effect.
But I noticed that the rear seats sit on a tall ledge that rises from the floor and the plastic attachments for the seats were always the first things I saw when I climbed in back there.
Still, all riders in the PT convertible have a sense that even if it's difficult for them to see around vans and trucks in front of the vehicle, they're not scraping along the pavement, either.
When the top is on, the large rear window pillar blocks the driver's view out to the back and side. And the sport bar as well as sizable front head restraints curtail the views for back-seat riders.
But one noteworthy item is how Chrysler engineers were able to provide map lights for rear-seat passengers. The lights are installed in the underside of the sport bar. The rear-seat map lights worked well during the test drive and are an industry first for a convertible, company officials claim.
Looking for the window buttons? They're in the center stack of the PT dashboard, not on the doors.
Yes, it's retro
The same gauges, with retro-like chrome surrounding rings, are there, too. But the bustled-at-the-back fabric top—also a throwback, it seems, from earlier cars—put me off.
It looks a little odd, for one thing. For another, I wondered whether dirt and debris could collect back there.
The PT is one small car that doesn't come with a small-car, "beep-beep" horn. Its horn sounds more like that of a larger auto. But there's a lot of weatherstripping on the doors and windows of this car, and on the test vehicle, it looked as if it had been installed in a sort of ham-handed manner.
Rear-seat headroom of 36.4 inches is less than the 37.2 inches in the New Beetle convertible.
The New Beetle has more front headroom, too, and each time I was in the PT convertible driver's seat I noticed how low the fabric roof came down to join with the top of the windshield.
Frankly, with the driver's seat adjusted up a ways for me to drive comfortably, I felt as if the roof was located at my forehead.
Note the PT convertible's front and rear headroom also is less than what's in the PT hatchback. At 60.6 inches tall, the convertible is shorter than the 63-inch-tall hatchback.
But the convertible has a 7.4-cubic-foot trunk, rather than the 21.9-cubic-foot cargo area that's behind the rear seats in a PT hatchback.
There's no liftgate on the convertible, either. Instead, the trunk lid only opens to a low, horizontal position, so I found myself bending over to look inside and grab things from the trunk.
But the PT convertible's fold-down-and-tumble rear seats can expand cargo space to a commendable 13.3 cubic feet, enough for as many as two golf bags.
Besides the PT convertible, the automaker also has a new Chrysler Crossfire open-top roadster.
Note that the convertible market in the U.S. is relatively small—just 300,000 sales per year.