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All About the Chrysler PT Cruiser

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Summary

Designed to be flexible and versatile, the PT has very good handling, usable cargo space, a comfortable cabin, and more style than all German cars combined.

North American PTCruisers come with a single engine, the 2.4 liter used in base minivans. It provides sufficient, though not thrilling, power. Europeans have a Mercedes 2.2 diesel option, and a base 2.0 liter engine borrowed from the Neon. A turbocharged version is expected in 2002 as a 2003 model, but recent rumors indicate that it will be sold as a luxury item - that is, with a high price tag - if it is built at all.

Concept vehicles, such as the Plymouth Pronto, were used to explore designs. The final Chrysler PT Cruiser is 168.8 inches (4.3m), shorter than the Neon; yet, the interior volume is 120 cubic feet (3.4 cubic meters), about that of a full-size sedan. The seats are high to give "command of the road."

The automatic transmission is, like all Chrysler automatics (except the one in the Neon), adaptive and electronic - it learns about your car and how you drive, and adjusts itself accordingly. Add that to the engine's break-in period, and you have a vehicle that gets more powerful over time. (It can take about three or four days of driving before the transmission figures out your driving style and adjusts to it). However, it requires special transmission fluid - Dexron won't do.

All PT Cruisers are built in Toluca and Graz, Austria.

Awards

The Cruiser has garnered many awards, including Car and Driver's Ten Best, the North American Auto Show's Car of the Year, and many others.

The Chrysler PT Cruiser is Motor Trend's Car of the Year (see the January 2001 issue). The manual PT gets from 0 to 60 in 8.6 seconds, which is nearly a half second faster than the vaunted Honda Civic EX. Braking is very good, with the Cruiser going from 60 to 0 in 120 feet - (the Civic required over fifteen more feet). The skidpad and slalom rating are identical to the little Civic.

The Neon controversy

Is the PT Cruiser really based on the Neon? Most people who ask that think of the Neon mainly as a poor quality, noisy, rattlebox. (For opinions on the first-generation Neon, click here). The second-generation Neon, though, is solid. There's no shame in being based on the Neon.

Stu in Georgia wrote:

Believe it or not, the company that produced 1,611 variations of the K Car did NOT use the Neon under its PT Cruiser...

The early Pronto concept cars were based heavily on the Neon's floorpan and mechanicals, but as the Pronto evolved into the PT, Chrysler found that it just couldn't get the Neon platform to work with the twist beam axle and Watts linkage. So, someone logged onto the CAD station and whipped up a new platform, which borrows from Mopars past and present, but shares very few parts-bin bits with them.

See, Chrysler wanted the PTC to be utterly cavernous inside, and a couple of clunky shock towers intruding behind the rear seat a-la Neon would have compromised cargo capacity. Also, the PTC was designed to be marketed as a "truck," and having a minivan style rear axle would make it easier to convince the feds that it wasn't just a funky station wagon. (The Georgia title to my PTC says "VAN" in the Vehicle Type catagory, and it wears a light truck tag.)

I'd look for Chrysler to find other uses for its "tall wagon" platform... perhaps the PT will spawn a race of sub-minivans, a convertible, or even a retro pickup...

We argue that the PT Cruiser is based on the Neon, but with extensive changes (not unlike the Caravan-Reliant relationship). The flat floor pan was deliberately chosen to make the Cruiser into a light truck, which are given lighter fuel economy restrictions. The Watts-twist beam axle was a fortunate discovery based on the need (as Stu said) to avoid having shock towers robbing space. This unique arrangement led to far better handling.

Look around the Cruiser, and you'll see lots of parts from the Dodge parts bins - but also lots of unique parts. We don't know how they got away with it, but the designers seem to have gotten more resources than Chrysler beancounters usually allow. The result is a far better vehicle than one would expect from the process.

Inside

Pretty good storage space for a Neon-based SUV
Chrysler PT Cruiser rear hatch

A 65/35 split folding rear seat can be folded forward in two positions or removed to reveal a flat floor. An optional front passenger seat can be folded completely forward for use as a table top, or to provide enough space for an eight-foot ladder. With the seat upgright, there is a rear storage compartment with a shelf panel that can be placed in five different positions, or removed entirely. It is similar to, and more versatile than, the panel in the Nissan Quest/Mercury Villager.

Chrysler PT Cruizer instrument panel

The instrument panel's color panels coordinate with the exterior body color, where possible (some colors simply would not look good!). Bright-ringed circular gauges are recessed into the instrument pane. The two-toned interior is grey and taupe. The final production model, unlike the car in this picture, uses an eight-ball shifter. It may be possible to replace the exterior-color panels in time.

Standard features

The standard Chrysler PT Cruiser includes air conditioning, cassette player and six speakers, power one-touch-down windows, a split removable folding rear seat, multi-position rear shelf panel, adjustable steering column, and child seat restraint anchors.

The Limited Edition also includes a touring suspension, leather front seats, fog lamps, side air bags for front occupants, overhead console, power moon roof, speed control, fold-flat front passenger seat, sunscreen glass, power heated fold-away mirrors, theft deterrent system, remote keyless entry, power locks, 16" wheels, and underseat trays. Paradoxically, the Limited Edition appears to be the most popular choice.

The Plymouth controversy

Many thought PT ("personal transportation") stood for "Plymouth Truck," partly because early Plymouth Trucks were designated "PT" (other Plymouths included the PB, PC, and PD).

While the Cruiser would look at home next to the Plymouth Prowler, we were told that it became a Chrysler to make Chrysler more attractive to younger people. It would also save on nameplates, since there was no Plymouth outside the US. Do we believe this? Maybe.

A Plymouth PT Cruiser would certainly have rescued Plymouth. It would have been good for Chrysler as a whole, because the Plymouth line could have been restyled along the lines of the Prowler and Cruiser - can you imagine sales of a Dodge Dakota and Dodge Caravan with PT Cruiser styling? Instead, Chrysler is stuck with a dual personality, the guppy-nose look and the hot-rod look, and Plymouth is gone forever.

International Cruisers

The PT Cruiser has been very popular in Europe, with demand far outstripping supply (as in the US). Neil Mitchell, though, noted that the base 2.0 liter engine is not up to the task - at least, not without the help of a computer upgrade:

I have a UK spec PT Cruiser Limited Auto, with the 2.0L engine. If you think the 2.4L is sluggish, try the 2.0L which runs like a snail with the a/c running and from a standing start and is not much better with the a/c off.

So I contacted my dealer here in the UK and they acknowledge the problem but flat out refuse to implement TSB 18-18-00. They gave me a whole set of technical mumbo jumbo which means nothing to me. When challenged to explain in English, I simply got the same message repeated to me, but louder!

Click here for more information on the Europe-only Street Cruiser Series 1 and European PT Cruisers in general.

We have lots of Chrysler PT Cruiser car information. Site directory. PT Cruiser Forums. Repairs.

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