After a few years in the doldrums, it could be argued that it was time for Chrysler to spice things up a little – and they certainly did just that with the arrival of the PT Cruiser.
The Cruiser came to market in 2000 and was immediately bracketed as one of those cars that you either love or hate. Drawing on the looks of its forebears of the 1930s, its retro styling took Chrysler to another level in terms of its kerb appeal. In the intervening decade since it hit our streets, we have become used to this retro design aesthetic but at the turn of the century, the Cruiser was certainly a departure from the norm. Only the enduringly popular Beetle and the lesser-known Plymouth Prowler sported this look – the Mini Cooper hadn’t yet hit the showrooms – but the Cruiser was to mark a return to the classic car style.
Something of a hybrid in more ways than one, the PT Cruiser is part station wagon and part compact city cruiser. But despite its innovative styling, the PT Cruiser delivers perhaps less under the bonnet than it does to the discerning eye, and it is largely for this reason that its time has run its course. With sales slowing, particularly here in Australia, Chrysler has announced the end of its production. But for those whose passion has been lit up by the innovative PT Cruiser, perhaps its halt in manufacture marks the beginning of a new era – that of the PT Cruiser as a bona fide collector’s item and sought-after classic car of the future.
The PT Cruiser came to market with a 2.0L engine, which it shared with its smaller, compact sibling, the Neon. This was coupled with a 4-speed automatic gearbox, which in all but the most gentle of cruising traffic leaves you feeling that it is in need of a boost. A 2004 makeover served to improve matters somewhat, with the replacement of the 2.0L with a 2.4L 4-cylinder engine. It is worth making the stretch to the later model year if you are thinking of investing in your own PT Cruiser.
The question has often been asked as to why Chrysler didn’t fit a more powerful V6 engine, but the answer is sadly that the Cruiser was a victim of its own supreme styling – there simply wasn’t the space left under the bonnet to accommodate more power. The front-wheel drive layout makes for decent handling, though it would struggle to set the world alight.
Later models offer a choice of three specs – the Grand Tourer, Limited, and Touring, each with the 2.4L V4 engine and either 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission.
One key benefit of the front-wheel drive layout is that it allows for more room in the cabin, making the Cruiser the ideal choice for families or those looking for more flexibility in their interior layout. This flexibility is something that Chrysler has mastered perhaps better than any of their competitors. Like the Grand Voyager, which offers over 200 distinct interior furniture layouts, the Cruiser offers plenty of options for folding the seats here, there, and everywhere and wedging in a fair old chunk of gear.
Safety aspects on these models were pretty good for their time and stand up fine against their competition on the market today. Front and side air bags, traction control and ABS (anti-lock braking system) all help to ensure security and safety in the event of a collision or uncomfortable driving conditions, and cruise control features on all but the earliest models.
The PT Cruiser is almost in a class of its own, making it hard to pitch it against direct competition. That said, if you are thinking of buying one, there will almost certainly be others that you would consider adding to your shortlist.
For looks alone, the Volkswagen Beetle must surely be up there, along with the Mini Cooper for cute, retro styling. The Renault Scenic competes in terms of size and is equally lazy off the lights, though it appeals to the modern end of the market rather than the retro. The Holden Zafira is probably the best example of a similar car of its time, and its 7-seat option may be enough to clinch it if space and flexibility really are an issue.