2009 Chrysler PT Cruiser: Last in the Line
By Mike Blake, Carlisle Events
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Blending the retro look of the 1930s and 1940s with au current style, the Chrysler PT Cruiser has been the third top-selling product in the Chrysler line since its introduction in 2000. This nostalgic compact wagon has been discontinued by Chrysler but it is still available at local dealerships in a deal-and-steal scenario.
Based loosely on three concept vehicles – the 1994 Plymouth Expresso, 1997 Chrysler CCV and ’97 Plymouth Pronto – the PT Cruiser was originally going to wear the Plymouth badge, but the parent company (Daimler Chrysler) thought better of it as Plymouth was disbanded in 2001.
Designed by Bryan Nesbitt, who also created the similar-in-concept Chevrolet HHR, PT Cruiser’s name has been attributed to several thought processes. The first is that PT stands for the platform on which it is built; the second is that it plays homage to the 1930s line of Plymouth Trucks known as “PTs”; but the best-known reasoning is that PT is initialese for Personal Transportation.
PT Cruiser’s peak sales year was 2001, when Chrysler sold 144,717 of the vehicles. Even as late as 2006, sales figures totaled 138,600, but sales went to 99,585 in 2007 and only 50,910 models last year. In its heyday, they were a popular celebrity car with such luminaries as Tom Hanks, Robin Williams and Cher stepping up to buy. Global sales have totaled more than 1.2 million units since its inception.
This year’s swan-song version stays true to the concept. This compact wagon, called a truck by the NHTSA and an SUV by others, is manufactured at Toluca Car Assembly in Toluca, Mexico, and its design cues still meld the panel-truck feel of 60-70 years ago with avant-garde architecture that includes chrome accents, a body-color spoiler on the rear liftgate for improved aerodynamics, dual-beam flush headlights with scalloped bottom edges and teardrop-shaped taillight lenses all anchored by the signature grille and Chrysler winged badge.
Measuring in at a length of 168.9 inches, width of 67.1 inches and height of 61 inches on a 103-inch wheelbase with ground clearance of 6.0 inches, the 3300-lb. PT has been built for fuel economy, rather than for track performance.
My front-engine FWD test Cruiser was outfitted with a 2.4-liter in-line 4-cylinder engine that brings about 150 horses and 165 lbs.-ft. of torque to the going away party while the optional turbo-4 comes in at 180hp and 210- lbs.-ft. of torque. My ride was mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission. The set-up yielded a zero to 60mph track run in 8.5 seconds and a leisurely 16.7 seconds for a quarter-mile. You can do much better with the turbo, which adds only $1280 to the bottom line.
From a performance perspective, I found the engine to be sluggish but steady – the turbo should erase the hesitation – but several Interstate trips showed the vehicle to be stable and reliable at speed, and 70mph feels the same 50mph does in the driver’s seat. Handling is surprisingly responsive and the car confidently rides larger than it really is, while it is easy to park and drive in tight traffic. Engine noise is prevalent in the cabin, and the PT Cruiser is not an auto-cross vehicle with lots of rear wag in tight turns, but for highways and city driving, the vehicle performs well while still able to turn some heads in its direction.
Rated at 19/24 on premium fuel, my week of testing covered close to 500 miles and achieved an average of 22.2 mpg, doing better than anticipated on the highway and mush less than advertised around town in congested situations.
Inside, you get a spacious, but uninspired cabin with seating for five. Interior measurements come in at a comfortable 39.2 inches of front head room and 39.5 inches in the next row, 53.8 inches of front shoulder room with 53.6 inches in row two, 40.6 front leg room and 40.9 inches in the second row and a maximum cargo space of 76 cubic feet.
The instrument panel features large gauges, standard compass and temperature displays, flush shutoff rotating air vents and a signature Chrysler analog clock. The basic AM/FM stereo with CD player is mounted high in the center stack.
Safety-wise, side airbags became standard for 2009, and PT Cruiser is built with crumple zones, energy-absorbing steering column, Enhanced Accident Response System, interior head-impact protection, knee bolsters and a unique transverse beam in the body structure.
Base prices run $18,000 for the base LX model to $24,510 for the Limited … add $720 for destination and without options you get a vehicle for $18,720 to $25,230. But there are deep discounts available right now.
My Touring trim PT started at $21,500, and came with Soft Blue Pearl paint and a Pastel Gray cloth interior. Heated front seats added $250, anti-lock 4-wheel disc brakes added $625, power moonroof added $795, engine block heater added $35, and with $720 for destination charges, the net MSRP was $23,205, but your local Chrysler dealer is willing to cut to sell and there are thousands in cuts available to serious buyers. Take a last look at an icon at this week’s All-Chrysler Nationals at Carlisle Fairgrounds.
Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.
Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.
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