2007 Chrysler PT Cruiser Cabrio 2.4i (USA)

Even Chrysler are probably somewhat surprised at the enduring success of the PT Cruiser. This retro-styled vehicle has now sold well over a million examples, and when the model was threatened with obsolescence as part of Chrysler Corp’s pruning of their model range in a desperate effort to save costs, the clamour to keep it in production was just too great to ignore. Not all models did survive unscathed, though, with the GT models and the Convertible being discontinued some months ago. These cars have proved quite popular in the US rental fleets, so it was not a complete surprise to find at least one lingering convertible left in the Hertz parking lot at Los Angeles airport. I decided to seize what could be my last chance to test this car out.

The test car came with the standard 2.4 litre, 4 cylinder engine, which develops a mere 150 bhp. Coupled with a 4 speed automatic transmission, I was not expecting a particularly rapid vehicle, and I was proved correct. The PT Cruiser is decently brisk, well able to keep up with the traffic flow, but in so doing, it requires you to work the engine quite hard. The motor is decently smooth, but it is noisy if you hold on to the gears, and it leaves you longing for the extra 30 bhp of the turbo model. The gearbox changes very smoothly between the gears, but again, I can’t help feel that an extra gear would make all the difference. It’s a thirsty car, too. I struggled to make even 20 mpg in the sort of typical test route to which most of my Californian test cars are subjected, which was very disappointing. I was not really expecting the car to be that much fun to drive, and here perhaps my expectations were slightly lower than reality. For sure, it understeers, but the steering is quite positive and light, and the handling feels quite secure. On the swooping bends of the Angeles Crest Highway, the car was far from outclassed, and was quite fun to drive. I was disappointed at the frankly appalling turning circle. Why a car without the sort of quick turns from lock to lock like an Alfa should be quite so unwieldy, I am not sure, but I always to make special allowance for the extra space needed when manoeuvering, which was, frankly, annoying. The wheelbase of the convertible is the same as the regular 5 door model, but the changed body structure associated with having the roof cut off, means that the ride was not good. Although reasonably comfortable on billiard-table smooth roads, it was somewhat bouncy on the less than perfect surfaces that dominate in Los Angeles. No issues with the brakes, though, despite the punishment that they got on the Angeles Crest Highway


Since this is a convertible, and I was in California, I drove the PT Cruiser with the roof down pretty much all the time. Even in the dark. Lowering the roof is easy. There is a large central latch to twist, then you put the ignition on, press the dash mounted button, and electric motors do the rest. All side windows are also lowered, but these can all be raised with a single switch in the middle of the individual ones for each window. The reverse process is undertaken to close the roof, except here the motors lower the side windows just enough to clear the arriving roof mechanism. You do, however, need to remember to close them fully after the roof is latched in place. All round visibility is massively better with the roof down, though there is not a lot you can see directly behind you, as the hood sits high on the rear deck. With the roof up, there is actually reasonable visibility through the surprisingly large rear window. Over the shoulder visibility is quite limited, though, because of the small side windows. With the roof down, but the side windows raised, there is no real buffeting, and the cabin proved decently warm even after dark when the temperature had plummeted. Having said that, I did drive on the freeways with all windows down, without any issue.

The dash continues the retro styling theme of the outdoors. Of course, it is made of modern materials, but the effect of the body coloured plastic basis for the dash is not bad, and the fact that the other plastics are typical Chrysler Group hard, but here it seems to matter less than in their more mainstream products. There is a huge steering wheel, again redolent of the era, and all part of the impression that this is not the same as a modern hatch or convertible. The gearlever is a thin stick with a round plastic knob on it, again reeking of 1940s style, just as Chrysler intended. Modern equipment is confined to a fairly rudimentary stereo system, air con and a series of chimes when you open the door with the lights on or the key still in the ignition. Nothing fancy, for sure.

The PT Cruiser Cabrio is definitely no more than a four seater. Access to the rear seats requires some care, even when the roof is lowered, as there is a sizeable roll bar under which you must pass. Once installed, there is a surprising amount of space for just 2 people. First impressions are that you are going to sit quite high, but the backrest is quite inclined, so you do end up sitting in the car and not on it. In many ways, the same feels true up front. There was no height adjuster on the seat of the version I tested, but it was still easy to get a good driving position, and the seat itself proved comfortable. I was less enamoured of the hard “A” frame headrest which sloped forward a bit. I thought these items had largely died out in the 1990s.

Because the canvas roof sits up high, over the boot area, there is actually a reasonable amount of luggage space. It is not that easy to get to, though, with a small opening, and you need to bend low down to get at it. There was ample space for my suitcase and Laptop bag, with probably space for a second of each.

The rear seats can still be folded down, but the space through the bulkhead is quite limited, presumably as this is part of the extra stiffening for the car. If it is, then it is not sufficient, as there is still ample evidence of how flexible the whole body is, every time you go over a significant bump. Having said that, there were no squeaks and rattles even though the test car was nearly 18 months old and had covered 24,000 miles. In the cabin, an average sized lockable glovebox is augmented with door pockets, and deep centre cubby behind the handbrake, a couple of cup holders and a deep slot under the air con controls.

When I collected the PT Cruiser Cabrio, the rental car agent told me that I would be “the coolest person out on the roads”. Whilst one could debate whether that is really true, I think it does sum up this car. You probably buy a PT Cruiser Cabrio because you like the style and the image. A potential owner is going to care far less about the other static and the dynamic attributes, good or bad, so to some extent, it does not matter whether this car is really any good or not. I started the test with a pretty low expectation, it has to be said. I concluded it was not as bad as that. The ability to drive it with the roof down helped, for sure. I’d never choose one myself, but I can see why some people did. Like all fashion items, though, the product life tends to be quite short, before people want to move on to something new. Whether Chrysler will repeat the PT Cruiser with a follow on model or not remains to be seen.

2009-11-20 18:23:34

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