Chrysler PT Cruiser 2001 Road Test

Tue, 08 Jan 2002

For the rest of 2001 at least, shrinking violets need not apply. Because the Chrysler PT Cruiser is one car to be seen in and, believe me, everyone will be looking at you. There simply isn\'t any other production car like it anywhere except the car that spawned it, the Plymouth Prowler.

If you\'re into the look of a classic customized 1940s\'sedan delivery\' with styling a bit like a Ford Prefect on steroids, then this is the car for you. It doesn\'t grumble and growl like a hot rod, though, because there\'s no big-displacement V8 under the bonnet. Instead you get the same 140bhp two-litre twin-cam four as the Chrysler Neon, driving the front wheels through a tight-shifting five-speed manual or four-speed automatic box. Soon Chrysler hopes to offer Mercedes Benz\'s excellent 143bhp 2.2-litre CDI diesel engine which will hugely improve on the 28 mpg overall I got.

But the whole point of the Cruiser is it looks great, drives well and is also a practical, everyday MPV. It\'s obviously not as spacious for passengers as something like a Citroen Picasso, nor is the boot space anything like as big. But it runs the Renault Megane Scenic very close, and actually betters it by having three proper seats across the back, each with its own lap/diagonal seatbelt and more legroom. Other practical features not shared by other MPVs include huge black bumpers capable of absorbing quite a severe knock, and electric folding door mirrors which make garaging the beast that bit easier.

The front seats are actually very comfortable. The steering is pleasingly direct. The handling and roadholding are very good up to a point and better even than the Picasso. It may not be in the same league as class leaders like the Ford Focus and Mondeo, but it runs them close enough to be a sensible alternative. You don\'t have to sacrifice handling to have the most noticed car on the block.

If you want to turn it into a mini-van, the back seats lift out completely, leaving a flat floor and bags of room. But somehow I can\'t see this happening much unless a local plumber wants to get noticed. There are all kinds of racks available for the top to carry anything from a plumber\'s drain pipe to a more appropriate (imagewise) surfboard.

Two criticisms: because the column stalk (like the engine and gearbox) come from the Neon which doesn\'t have a rear wash/wipe, the rear wash/wipe switch on the PT is a dashboard afterthought. And the turning circle is h u g e.

I did around 1,200 miles on a four-day European trip and grew to love the thing. So did everyone else I met. Every member of my wife\'s hugely extended family wanted a ride in it, so we did Amsterdam, s-Hertogenbosch, Alkmar, Lisse and quite a lot of other places. It cruised well, never missed a beat, never gave the slightest twinge of discomfort. You can actually run what looks like the world\'s least practical style statement of a car without any serious downsides. So the PT Cruiser is going to win friends in all age groups.

Like the VW Beetle, it\'s built in Mexico, but that\'s where the resemblance ends (sorry, VW, brave try but I just don\'t rate the Beetle at all). Could well be that the Cruiser\'s toughest competitor will be BMW\'s next \'must have\', the extremely desirable new MINI. But in the meantime the Cruiser is the car to have and if I had the money I\'d have one.

(Added 25-5-2002: Have now driven the new PT Cruider 2.2CRD and can confirm that it pulls more strongly than the 2.0 petrol engine and is a more relaxed \'Cruiser\'.)

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