Second-generation (2006+) PT Cruiser and GT car reviews
The PT Cruiser
The PT Cruiser has undergone a number of changes for 2006, mostly dealing with making it look more like a Chrysler and saving money. The most obvious changes are cosmetic, and, indeed, that is probably where most of the action took place, except for the turbo model, where the engine underwent a heavy transformation to improve the power curve and reliability.
The teardrop headlights have been modified so that the dual headlights could be more obvious; the new “scalloped design” is not complimentary, but the current thinking at the Chrysler design studios is that cars of a certain caliber must show that they have dual headlights, and so there we go (the odd look of the Commander’s headlights is another result). The dual headlights are, if anything, even brighter than in the first generation, which were already quite good. The amber-bulbs-with-clear-lenses move on the tail-lights follows aftermarket solutions, though now we might see an market for amber lenses!
The underbumper area redesign is harder to fathom, as it breaks up the general theme of the front end, and we'd assume cost-cutting or turbo cooling is the impetus there. The center stack, though, once again is the result of making the PT into more of a Chrysler and less of, well, a Plymouth Truck, along with (presumably) the need to fit in the new corporate stereo unit; now, the PT has the "Chrysler center clock" to lend an air of elegance and fit in with the rest of the brand’s lineup. The oddball addition is the "towel bar" grab-rail by the glove compartment, whose utility is questionable and whose appearance is generally disliked.
The other changes include extra sound insulation, but that only helps if the air conditioner or heater fan is off; rerouting the hoses to compensate for the center stack redesign seems to have greatly increased the noise of the fan, easily overwhelming any noise reductions from extra insulation (the use of cheaper louvers doesn't help). At higher speeds, the difference between generations is not obvious.
On the lighter side, the new dashboard has much larger, more readable, and more elegant black-on-white gauges; the GT model has more tasteful body-colored inserts, with a finer and generally more attractive crosshatch pattern on the imitation carbon fiber. The typeface on the instruments is more in keeping with Chrysler's desired market position, and lends a more upscale appearance; both day and night, it's easier to read. On the other hand, one cannot help but get the idea that the scheme is not very well thought out, overall. There is the noisy-vent situation, the odd blend of white backlighting for the instrument panel and green backlighting for the rest of the dashboard, and the general lack of design cohesion in the interior, a sort of “we didn’t work as hard on this as the Plymouth Truck version.” Perhaps, because sales of this version were known to be much higher than the last one, cost-cutting took precedence over appearance; or perhaps it was seen as being too important to leave to hobby-type decisions, like having old-fashioned outside pushbutton door handles and inside door handles that were originally hand-carved in wood. On the whole, though the instrument panel itself is a big improvement, the dashboard as a whole is more questionable.
Other interior elements were also mixed. The big steering wheel with the chrome inserts seemed more elegant and stylish, and the deep two-layer center console was both functional and convenient, as were the dual-sized cupholders. On the other hand, we really missed the underseat drawer from the previous generation, despite its often finicky nature; it was a good place to dump all the clutter from the glove compartment, which was then free for, well, gloves. In addition, while the seats felt more solid and now have electric fore-aft adjusters, we missed the minivan-style fold-down armrests that were on both driver and passenger front seats.
The trip computer / compass and thermometer is a full blessing; though it is no longer conveniently located where passengers can see it as well as the driver, it is nice to have the additional features (being able to easily set vehicle options, such as locking behavior and headlight delay; distance to empty; average gas mileage; and elapsed time). The only awkward part of the system, which makes it easy to customize the vehicle to your whims, is the single-button control system. Not only does that make it hard to switch quickly between the compass/thermometer and, say, gas mileage, but it also happens to be placed in a surprisingly awkward place, right behind the steering wheel on the instrument panel. (The photo above shows average gas mileage and compass/thermometer; the black button next to the display is the cycle-through-displays control.)
Our test car had a rather nice chrome package, including popular features such as chrome door ferrules (the grippable lock things) and a chrome gas cap cover that looks just like the aftermarket one on our 2003 GT; the chrome on the exterior is also a nice touch, flashy but not overstated.
The new stereo is a step down from the older ones, in both sound quality and ease of use; by no means a bad-audio unit, it is only an issue in comparison to the superior Infinity optional in past PTs, which had very clear sound. The ease of use is mainly in the use of electronic push-and-turn audio controls, replacing balance and fade knobs and bass and treble sliders which made rapid changes easy. On the other hand, the optional Sirius Satellite Radio is a nice alternative to the commercial-laden, repetitive music stations or the hate-filled talk stations of the standard airwaves; and, oddly, the stereo seemed noticeably higher-fidelity when receiving satellite radio than playing CDs. The PT also offers UConnect (for hands-free communications using Bluetooth cellphones).
In other ways, the 2006 is very similar to the 2001 PT, including the convenient seating, ease of entry, flexible interior and removable seats, moveable package shelf, easy to reach jack and harder to reach spare tire, surprising interior space and useable cargo space, easy parking (thanks to the very short length), good view of the road (height), wide-opening doors, insanely large turning circle, and surprising convenience.
For more on our driving impressions of the 2006 PT, see the following GT Cruiser car review.
The GT Cruiser
The PT Cruiser GT, with a high-output 230 hp turbocharged engine, really feels and sounds more like a V8 than a turbo-four. Unfortunately, it also drinks gasoline like a V8, at least with the optional four-speed automatic.
While power has increased only a little on paper since the first generation, the engine feels as though the entire operating range has had a serious torque boost. From the start, the automatic-transmission GT is full of power, ready to test the traction control at a moment's notice. There is good torque and power right off idle, without the previous generation's obvious turbo kick-in (and turbo whine). The engine has a performance-tuned exhaust that emits a deep, power-evoking note at idle and at speed. The turbo takes a car that is already fun to drive and adds a new element of excitement. It's not an SRT-4, but it is amazingly practical, fun to drive, and sporty. (The following photo is of the GT model, but the Touring is almost identical, save for cheaper seat fabrics.)
Chrysler boosted the engine with a new cylinder block and head design changes, as well as a stronger crank and piston cooling by oil jets. The turbocharger, which could tend to overheat in the first generation GT, is now both oil and water cooled; it is integrated into the exhaust manifold.
There are, surprisingly, no dead spots in full-out sprints, with the apparently better tuned to the engine (or vice versa); the main limit to acceleration seems to be traction from the front tires, with full-out launches restricted by the traction control. 0-60 acceleration appears to be about 7 seconds with the automatic - good but not supercar; on the other hand, on the highway, you get about the same punch as you do from the stoplight. This engine doesn't need to be wound to 6,000 rpm to get power.
The automatic was usually gentle and well-behaved, though sometimes it could get caught by surprise on acceleration or deceleration and lurch around a little. This is probably not an issue to be concerned about, because the automatic learns as it goes along, and this type generally gets confused by being in the press fleet, whether made by Chrysler or Toyota.
The suspension has been greatly improved, with cornering seeming as capable, if not more so, than the prior GT model, but with better cushioning and less of a stiff feeling. Although the suspension was modified for the turbo, the ride is pleasant, if not as well-insulated as base models. Handling is excellent, with the compact SUV feeling like a car when whipped around sharp turns. It's far easier to break the wheels free (for a moment) with acceleration than with cornering. Where other cars give a punishing ride for similar performance, the PT stays pleasant. Drive it with restraint, and your passengers need never know about the tiger under the hood (well, unless they aren't deaf — that exhaust does make itself known).
Torque steer is present, especially at launch, but is easily controlled, with only mild understeer. Under full throttle it wants to go straight, an admirable tendency.
Power normally comes at a price, and in this case, it's both initial cost (the turbo option adds quite a bit to the price, raising it to $23,000) and gasoline. The GT with automatic is supposed to get 19 city, 26 highway, according to the EPA; according to the on-board computer, we never beat 16 mpg in the city, and got about 18 highway. Of course, our car was a press fleet model that probably was flogged badly during its break-in period, and only had 2,400 miles on it; based on our past experience with recent Chrysler engines, gas mileage should go up. It's also possible that our trip computer was simply dead wrong, since we didn't go through that much gas. The turbo requires higher octane fuel.
The GT includes four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, traction control, and all-season performance tires on large chromed wheels, not to mention side airbags, a power sunroof, leather, and a number of other options — including of course the turbo and accompanying heavy-duty sport suspension. We found the overall package surprisingly pleasant and fun. The engine provides both low end get-up-and-go and high-end woof!, the handling is very good, the ride is not punishing by any means, the interior is quiet, usable, and attractive, and the seating comfortable and user-friendly. The GT is expensive, but you can get many less appealing packages for much more money; and the 2006 takes a bit of the edge off the suspension and adds to the power, making it more attractive (if you can afford the gasoline).
The base price of the GT is a full $23,445 (the non-turbo versions are much lower), including the four-speed automatic; that includes a huge range of features, including antilock four-wheel disc brakes with traction control, power moonroof, trip computer, rear defroster, wiper, and washer, power windows, doors, locks, and driver's seat, tilt wheel, garage door opener, six-speaker CD, cruise, remote, security alarm and locks, chrome-clad aluminum wheels, and fog lights. That's a hefty set of options, though some would forgo many of them to get an affordable pavement burner. Even so, when we compare the PT Cruiser to just about any SUV, we have to say you get a lot for your money, in both a highly enjoyable vehicle and a highly useful one.
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