We had a 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser for eight days, during which we gave many tours of its interior, heard three New Beetle owners say they wished they had waited so they could get a PT Cruiser, and were asked "How do you like it?" by at least two dozen people. People waved to us from the sidewalk, gave us thumbs up from other cars, and nearly walked into telephone poles with their attention focused on the Cruiser. Most of them were astonished that the Cruiser starts at $17,000. Ours listed at $19,000, with a touring package, CD, antilock brakes, traction control, and other goodies. A Sebring can easily cost more, and we're not even going to mention cars like the Nissan Altima, which cannot begin to compete.
The designers focused on many details: the door handles are chromed and old-fashioned, the steering wheel is spoked with a Chrysler emblem in the center, and the gear shift is on a long rod with an eight-ball handle. The instrument panel has three separate circular gauges, with black on beige markings, backlit at night. The dashboard includes two painted metal areas. Wherever possible, old-fangled fittings were used - chrome keyways, pull-up interior locks, etc. We like the overall effect.
The more functional aspects of the car work well, too. The interior is spacious, though the PT Cruiser is actually shorter than the Neon. The roof is high, the seats are comfortable, and the rear seats can be removed or folded forward (a foldable front passenger seat is also an option). Removing the rear seat took about one minute, with no instructions and little effort. The rear doors open wide, allowing large objects (or people) inside.
Our Touring Edition, unlike the Limited Edition, had no heated seats or underseat drawers. However, it did have space (and rails) under the seats for the drawers, which can be purchased cheaply at discount stores, as well as capacious map pockets on the doors and a place for sunglasses.
The spare tire is stored underneath the car, which can be inconvenient though it admittedly saves room inside.
Overall, the PT Cruiser may not be as large as, say, a Chevy Suburban, but it's extremely nimble and the flexible layout and design means that you can use it for hauling people or cargo, even eight foot long boards.
Climbing in is easy, and the seat belts are within easy reach. The front passenger seat could use an armrest - the driver has one. Attaching a child seat in back is not easy, since the seat is contoured for passenger comfort. It is not easy to strap in the seat firmly, despite the convenient tether strap anchors.
The controls are mostly logical and easy to understand. Headlights have a flash-to-pass feature. The rear wiper and washer and rear/mirror defroster are handled from a switch in the center console. The vent control is continuous, which means you can go between the middle vents and bi-level mode if you like.
The Neon-style air conditioning controls lead customers to drive around with the a/c on all the time. On the other hand, with the outside air over 90 degrees, the air conditioner proved itself to be much better than many cars costing a great deal more.
The driving position is high, but visibility is very good except for a small blind spot on the right hand side, towards the back. The windshield is large and gives a feeling of space.
We suspect the Volvo-style center-mounted power window buttons are intended to differentiate the Cruiser from the Neon. The rear windows can only be controlled by two buttons on the back of the center console. This turned out to be less inconvenient than we would have thought. Both the driver's side and passenger's side windows have an express down mode.
The instrument panel can get somewhat dark, but one gets used to the small size after a while.
The center console is handy for holding cell-phones, EZ-Passes, sunglasses, and other paraphernalia. The glove compartment can hold relatively large items. The PT Cruiser's six small change trays are rubbery, designed to hold coins in place even over bumps, so there's no jangling of cash. The cup holders are round indentations in the center console.
There are small cubbies in the rear for storage of small objects. Extra power outlets are part of an option package, as are some lights, the cargo net, and some other options.
Our largest concern is rear visibility. Parking can be difficult when backing up because it is hard to see behind the car. Raising the rear headrests helps, as does folding the rear seats forward. That goes with the territory of the "tall car," SUV, and minivan. The rear pillars are also wider than we would like, for visibility.
The innovative vent system goes a long way toward reducing interior noise. Indeed, our only noise complaint is minor - Chrysler could reduce the wind noise around the front pillars. Wind noise still seems to be lower than in other cars of this price class, including the vaunted Toyota Corolla.
The stereo is very good for a car in this price class, though more demanding listeners would probably prefer the Infiniti system or an aftermarket option.
The engine is a little underpowered for the automatic transmission, but works fine with the five-speed. We found it to be good-to-average compared with four cylinder versions of the Camry and Stratus. Hills were not a problem.
This is not a high-torque, low-rpm force engine, as one would expect from the look of the car. It's fast, but only after it gets revving. Still, heavy insulation makes the engine very quiet.
Acceleration is best when the engine is running over 3,000 rpm. At fast highway speeds, most hills do not require downshifting. The fifth gear is moderately high, but that is good for gas mileage, noise reduction, and engine life.
The car is remarkably quiet, even when approaching redline. We hope critics put on their "Toyota driving hat" when they test it, because we were very impressed by the lack of interior noise. But because it is a Chrysler, we suspect many will seize on any noise that makes it through.
Handling is amazing. On the highway, the PT Cruiser is nice and stable. There is no hint of top-heaviness.
The PT Cruiser handles broken roads well. You feel the bumps in cement roads but they are not jarring and do not cause queasiness. The handling is excellent, but unlike many cars, there is no sacrifice of ride comfort, even with 205/55 tires (on the Touring Edition).
Steering is precise and easy to control. The turning radius is fairly tight. We are still having illusions of being in a larger vehicle when parking and backing up.
To test for computer fault codes, hold in the trip odometer button while moving the key to the RUN position. The odometer reads out the last six numbers of the vehicle ID number (needed for communication with Chrysler customer service), then it reads out fault codes or "no faults". Finally, it moves each instrument panel needle through its paces, turns on all the lights and indicators, and finishes its test sequence.
The only real problems are the tight fit of the engine in the bay, and the flimsiness of the hood prop rod.
The PT Cruiser is an amazing bargain. It combines outstanding style with incredible versatility and driver friendliness. Cars like this come by very, very rarely. Maybe that's why there's a six month long waiting list.
For a review of the 2002 PT Cruiser Woodie, click here.
For a more complete review, with many original photographs, click here.
For the ultimate PT Cruiser web site, click here.
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