BY ANDY ENRIGHT
The fact that the Chrysler PT Cruiser is something of an artful sham hasn't deterred UK buyers from falling over themselves to get behind the wheel of one. Despite being nothing more or less than a Chrysler Neon in a retro outfit, the PT Cruiser has demonstrated that buying a mini-MPV isn't the start of the slippery slope to pipe and slippersville. Used examples are beginning to find their way onto the market, abandoned by those 'early adopters' who've found a newer, fresher bandwagon to throw their money at. Their loss is your gain. A used PT Cruiser makes a very attractive buy.
Models Covered: PT Cruiser - 2000 - to date: 2.0, 2.4, 2.2CRD Mini- MPV [Classic, Touring, Limited]
Chrysler's wacky slice of forties Americana retro wowed the crowds at a number of motor shows before it finally made landfall in the UK in July 2000. Like so many American invasions, the talk was big but the coordination was poor and chronic supply problems initially pushed the price of clean, low mileage examples through the roof. Once the bottlenecks in the supply chain had been eradicated much of the initial customer fervour had passed and UK sales were respectable rather than rabid. Nevertheless, it still does respectable business for Chrysler so used examples aren't too difficult to turn up in your preferred colour/condition/trim combo. Three trim levels are available, Classic, Touring and Limited, all powered by the decidedly modest 140bhp 2.0-litre Neon sourced engine. Hot versions have been repeatedly mooted but have yet to materialise. The manual gearbox proved more popular with UK buyers than the automatic, power already being at something of a premium. In early 2002 a diesel engine was offered. The PT Cruiser CRD used a 2.2-litre Mercedes-sourced unit that generated 119bhp. In April 2003 Chrysler reacted to what many perceived to be overinflated PT Cruiser list pricing by slashing up to £2,000 across the range. Great for those who are looking to buy now, not so good for those owners whose residual values have taken a whack as a result. A Convertible model was added to the range in summer 2004 and towards the end of 2004 the 140bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine had been replaced by a 2.4-litre petrol engine with 143bhp. A hefty facelift towards the close of 2005 saw revised headlamps and bumpers as well as tweaks to the interior. A sporty Route 66 special edition model was launched at the same time. In the middle of 2006, the first right hand drive convertible models put in an appearance.
What You Get
Don't be fooled by the way the car looks in the photos. In the metal, you expect it to be the size of an enormous Chevy or Dodge truck. In fact, it's no bigger than the rival Renault Scenic and Vauxhall Zafira mini-MPVs it will compete against in Europe. You also expect to find a huge, throbbing V8 burbling under the bonnet when in fact, there's usually nothing more than that humble 140bhp 2.0-litre engine you'd find in the little Chrysler Neon. The Neon provides the basic platform for this car - but you wouldn't know that from a glance inside the far more spacious cabin. It's a bit of a shock to climb inside and find that here, things are a lot more conventional - though various efforts have been made to jazz things up a bit. Some of it works - the pool ball-style manual gear knob is a nice touch - but much doesn't. The body-coloured plastic inserts glued around the instruments and on the passenger airbag cover are in dubious taste and the thin four-spoke steering wheel feels a bit cheap. From a practical perspective however - just where you'd expect the car to be at its least impressive - the PT Cruiser is hard to fault. Though there are only two rows of seats, the cabin is extremely well thought out, with no fewer than 26 different interior combinations. For a start, the second row can be removed completely and have rollers to make the task easier (why has no one apart from Chrysler thought of that before?). They split-fold 65/35 and fold flat on the seat cushions when they do so. Even more clever is a parcel shelf that, as well as acting as a security lid for the estate compartment, also has five other uses. You can fit it at three different heights (so your dog can sit above three different sizes of shopping as long as he or she doesn't weigh more than 100lbs). Or you can pull it out and add a central support leg to create a picnic table with its own shelter (the rear hatch opens to a height of six feet). Finally, you can mount the shelf as a vertical load restraint, which saves you having to take it out completely when you've bulky loads. As already suggested, there's a surprising amount of room inside for a car just 169 inches in length - certainly enough for five adults and their luggage. There's 19cuft of space behind the second row seating area, a figure that rises to 64cuft should you choose to clear it. Mind you, thanks to the fold-flat seats, you may not need to: expect to be able to carry an eight-foot ladder or a 2.4-metre-long surfboard should the need arise. All this versatility is thanks mainly to the very upright nature of the design and the way that the interior planners have used seats that will have everyone sitting up straighter than they normally would in a conventional car. Not that this is uncomfortable: the seats themselves are quite supportive and there's more headroom in the cabin than most will ever need. This, together with the glassy design, gives a feeling of spaciousness unusual in a mini-MPV of this size. Rear seat passengers sit a little higher than those at the front, thanks to stadium-style seating. Nice touches include a front passenger seatback that folds forward to become a table for your laptop, a 12V power socket for the kids' Game Boys and a floor box with four cupholders.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
No major areas of concern have surfaced since the PT Cruiser has been on sale, so provided the car has been maintained according to the service schedule, all should be well. Electrical features like windows, door-locks and mirrors should always be checked as it's amazing how expensive they can be to set right if there's a problem. The interior trim assembly on some cars has been somewhat less than exact so make sure everything fits properly and that there are no squeaks or rattles.
(Based on a 2001 PT Cruiser Classic, excl VAT) A full exhaust system will be about £500. Brake pads front and rear are about £60 and £70, a starter motor is about £190 and an alternator around £285. You'll pay around £240 for a new door mirror, roughly £350 for a radiator and about £95 for a replacement windscreen. As for servicing, a major one will be about £200, an intermediate £110 and a minor one, close to £70.
On the Road
On the road, expect the PT Cruiser to sound, ride and handle much like a Chrysler Neon: not that excitingly in other words. Rest to sixty occupies about twelve seconds on the way to a 110mph maximum, so it's rapid enough - and more so in later models where a 2.4-litre version was fitted. Fuel economy is OK, though it drops alarmingly if you specify the rather jerky automatic gearbox. The CRD diesel model rectifies this minor shortcoming, being good for an average of 41mpg. If anybody asks you how it handles just pause, look into the middle distance and mention that it's from the same people who brought you the multi-Le Mans winning Viper. That ought to warn them off for a bit.
You can certainly buy more practical propositions for the asking price of a PT Cruiser but none that offer such a sense of style and such a feel good factor. It's no cruise missile, in fact it's more of a damp squib in the performance department, but when you look this good you won't feel the need to rush things.