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PT Cruiser is still cool transportation

March 26, 2004|by KEN CHESTER, JR./Motor News Media Corporation

Affordable personal transportation has never been so cool. Launched in July 2000 as a 2001 model, the Chrysler PT Cruiser continues to win converts and fans with an exterior that is a cross between a 1930s-style sedan and a "surfing safari" beach wagon/panel van.

According to the nameplate, "PT" stands for "Personal Transportation." It is retro chic in a modern sort of way. For 2004, the word is power as Chrysler introduces another version of its versatile 2.4-liter 16-valve SMPI four-cylinder engine. Consumers looking for performance may now choose between the standard 150-horsepower engine, the new 180-horsepower turbo or the high-output 220-horsepower turbo prime mover. Gearbox choices include the standard Getrag five-speed manual with overdrive and a four-speed automatic with overdrive.

Built at DaimlerChrysler's Toluca, Mexico, assembly plant, the Chrysler PT Cruiser is one fun vehicle to drive. It's available in Base, Touring Edition, Limited Edition and GT models. The automaker continues the PT Cruiser phenomenon of customization with an expansion of the Chrome Accents Group option initially introduced in 2003.

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The Chrome Accents Group includes bright pedals, leather-wrapped steering wheel with Satin Silver painted spokes, chrome/body-color front fascia, chrome body side moldings, chrome exhaust tip, bright fuel filler door, chrome door lock knobs, front-door sill scuff plates with bright winged logo inserts, a chrome shifter bezel on automatic-transmission vehicles and a Satin Silver shift ball.

On the road, the new 180-horsepower engine/four-speed automatic is very responsive and zippy at speed. Power flows like fluid all the way to redline. Despite all this torque, the PT Cruiser always feels safe and grounded.

Suspension hardware that makes this control possible includes an independent front suspension utilizing MacPherson struts, asymmetrical lower control arms, coil springs and link-type stabilizer bar. The rear setup comprises trailing arms, a solid twist beam axle, Watt's linkage, coil springs and gas-charged shock absorbers. The result is a dynamic chassis exhibiting very little body lean at speed in the twisties.

Inside the cabin, it becomes quickly obvious this interior is the fruit of many hours of computer calculations. The driver enjoys a commanding view of the road. The placement of displays and controls is excellent. The interior is most likely the best use of space I have seen in any type of vehicle.

This maximum use of all available space means storage pockets in doors and the back of the front seats. With the rear seats carrying passengers, there is still 21.9 cubic feet of usable space. The 65/35 split rear seats are of the fold/tumble/remove variety that allow consumers "limitless versatility."

With the rear seat removed, the PT Cruiser has a total of 64.2 cubic feet of available cargo space. A clever rear security cover/divider maximizes its usefulness. The PT Cruiser also sports a power point at the rear of the vehicle.

Quick vehicle stats

Wheelbase: 103; overall length: 168.8; width: 67.1; height: 63.0 - measurements in inches.

Engine: 2.4-liter four-cylinder SMPI 16-valve - (base) 150 hp at 5,100 rpm and 165 lbs-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm; (turbo) 180 hp at 5,200 rpm and 210 lbs-ft of torque at 2,800-4,000 rpm; (high output turbo) 220 hp at 5,100 rpm and 245 lbs-ft of torque at 2,800-4,500 rpm.

Transmission: Five-speed manual with overdrive; four-speed automatic with overdrive.

EPA fuel economy: (base) - 21 city/29 hwy., (manual), 20 city/25 hwy., (auto.); (turbo) - 19 city/25 hwy.; (high output) - 21 city/27 hwy., (manual), 19 city/25 hwy., (auto). While all three versions can run on unleaded regular, the company recommends 91 octane for the 180-horsepower turbo and 93 octane for the 220-horsepower high-output engine.

Cargo capacity: 64.2 cubic feet with rear seat removed and front passenger seat folded.

Safety features

Dual front air bags, Sentry key theft deterrent system and dynamic side-impact protection. Touring adds power programmable door locks with central locking, security alarm system, remote keyless entry and fog lamps. Limited adds front seat mounted side-impact air bags. GT adds four-wheel disc brakes with performance anti-lock and traction control.

Warranty

Basic: 3-year/36,000 mile, bumper-to-bumper

Powertrain: 7-year/70,000 mile

Corrosion: 5-year/100,000 mile

Roadside assistance: 3-year/36,000 mile, 24-hour

Pricing

The base Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for the 2004 Chrysler PT Cruiser starts from $17,395 for the base up to $25,365 for the GT. Destination charge adds $590.

As tested

2004 Chrysler PT Cruiser Touring Edition

Exterior color: Cool Vanilla clearcoat

Interior color: Dark Slate Gray

Tires: Goodyear Eagle LS

Tire Size: P205/55R16

Base price: $19,170

Destination charge: $590

Chrome Accents Group: $1,295

ABS/traction control: $825

Four-speed automatic transmission: $825

2.4-liter turbocharged engine: $1,280

Power moonroof: $695

Power driver's seat adjustment: $100

Rear spoiler - body color: $150

AM/FM/CD changer (6-disc): $300

Total as tested: $25,230

Copyright 2004, Motor News Media Corporation

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