A Good FIRST Impression
The Chrysler PT Cruiser makes a pleasant enough first impression. If you're inclined to appreciate "retro" styling then you're likely to find this little truck*, yes, the PT Cruiser is technically a "truck", appealing, neat, or...ummm...cool? Chrysler made a splash with this thing back "in the year 2000" when the world was still in awe with the gee-golly-wow-cool "New" Beetle. Retro was in back then, baby. That Beetle was based stylistically on the iconic "People's Car". For more on the subject of retro styling, class, please google the 1990 Mazda Miata, 1994 Ford Mustang, 2005 Mustang, 2008 Dodge Challenger, 2003 Chevrolet SSR, the list goes on and on.
The PT Cruiser, JSYK, the PT stands for "Personal Transport" (can't make this stuff up), at its most elemental, is a tall, front wheel drive sedan powered by a large 4 cylinder engine. That big (2.4 liter) engine sums up perfectly what the 'Cruiser is all about; good or at least decent first impressions. Tap the gas and the Cruiser takes off pretty good. "Whoa, this thing is zippy!" Get out into freeway traffic and attempt to pass a semi and that buzzy four does you no favors. "Whoa, what's wrong with this thing?"
The "Little Engine That Could Not" habitually decides to take a siesta at the most inopportune moments. Fuel economy, according to contemporary road tests, is a middling 22 mpg. For a car, sorry, truck, of this size I would think you'd want more miles per dino. Especially considering the overall lack of chutzpah coming from under the bonnet.
Same with the handling. In a straight line the PT Cruiser is fine. It behaves well exhibiting no bad behavior. However, make it squirm to the tune of accident avoidance, road cones or light post stanchions in an abandoned parking lot and it unapologetically howls like sick goat. This cheeky little cutie ultimately ain't no fun, boys. It's under tired (tires and wheels are way too small), underpowered, soft, feels tippy when pushed around and generally feels like it's going to fall apart when tossed around aggressively.
Dealerships won't let you test drive their cars as aggressively as I drive cars on my little obstacle course behind the office building WGAR is located in. Having sold cars I can tell you first hand the last thing they want is for you to push one of their wares to the limit. First, they'd think you're a maniac and secondly they'd think you're a maniac. And that's too bad. Because only when you make things less than ideal for cars, sorry, in this case a truck, can you see it for what it ultimately is or, as is the case of the Chrysler PT Cruiser, what it's not.
*The PT Cruiser was classified as a truck in the U.S. by the NHTSA for Corporate Average Fuel Economy "CAFE" calculations. Chrysler specifically designed the PT Cruiser to fit the NHTSA criteria for a light truck in order to bring the average fuel efficiency of the company's light truck fleet into compliance with CAFE standards.
pictures and words by charles connolly