Used Chrysler PT Cruiser review: 2000-2003
June 18, 2005
Chrysler trod a different styling path with its retro turn in the late 1990s. It was a calculated gamble to revive its flagging brands by tapping into a nostalgia craze, particularly in America where cars like the Dodge Viper, Plymouth Prowler and Chrysler PT Cruiser were met with wild enthusiasm.
Chrysler designers unashamedly looked to the 1930s for their inspiration for the PT Cruiser. They'd wowed show crowds with their modern interpretation of the American hot rod with the Plymouth Prowler, which for a time revived interest in the Plymouth brand, and the Cruiser was conceived to do the same thing for Chrysler which was also struggling to appeal to younger buyers.
The designers' stated aim was to produce a car with the external dimensions of a small car and the interior space of a much larger vehicle. The key to the Cruiser's appeal is its clever interior which, in a matter of a few seconds, can be converted from a one-passenger cargo carrier to a full five-seater family wagon. It's all thanks to its seats, which can be moved, folded or even removed.
In total, Chrysler claimed there were more than 25 possible seating configurations. While Americans could buy a Cruiser with a 2.4-litre engine, export markets had to make do with a smaller 2.0-litre unit.
The 2.0-litre engine was a double overhead camshaft fuel-injected unit with four valves per cylinder which put out 104kW at 5600rpm and 186Nm at 4400rpm. Buyers could choose from a five-speed manual or four-speed auto. Performance was adequate for a small car, although looks suggested it was a performer.
Its ride was comfortable, it handled predictably and with precision, and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS ensured it stopped well. Chrysler offered the Cruiser in two models, the Classic and Limited. Included in the Classic were dual frontal airbags, air-conditioning, remote central locking, power windows, CD player, traction control and power driver's seat height adjustment.
Add to that front side-airbags, chrome alloys, suede/leather trim, front fog lights and a leather-wrapped wheel and you had the Limited. Anyone who felt particularly nostalgic could add one of a number of graphics kits Chrysler offered. These ranged from stripes and scallops to flames.
In the shop
Early cars are approaching the first major service that will require a timing belt change, so be aware of the extra cost of that service. Generally the Cruiser seems to give little trouble, the engine and gearbox stand the test of time quite well.
Take a look under the oil filler cap for signs of sludge that would indicate missed services, also remove the oil dip stick and check the state of the oil in the sump.
The oil should be clear, not dark or with obvious contaminants. When driving, observe the automatic transmission for heavy shifts or flaring during shifts and make sure the manual shifts smoothly. Also on manuals make sure there's some free play at the top of the clutch pedal travel, and that the clutch fully releases. Inspect the interior for signs of damage from commercial use.
The Cruiser has a well-proven chassis package with four-wheel discs, along with ABS and traction control for crash avoidance, and an array of airbags for protection in the crunch.
All models feature front airbags for the driver and front seat passenger, and the Limited has front side airbags for added protection of driver and passenger.
The bottom line
Worth a look if you need a versatile vehicle, but its flashy styling means you must be able to stand being in the spotlight.