USA Today article
By James R. Healey
Chrysler began developing the PT Cruiser intending to use the platform of the Neon small car, a so-so seller, to create a vehicle with ''got-to-have'' appeal. So many changes to Neon underpinnings were necessary to create the original, 2001 Cruiser that it's not much Neon underneath. So, Chrysler got less bang for its sharing bucks than hoped.
But the idea's still alive on a smaller scale. Chrysler's in-house hot-rod group developed a rip-snorting four-cylinder engine just begging for high-performance applications. That 2.4-liter, 215-horsepower, turbocharged, four-cylinder now sits beneath the bonnets of two dissimilar machines with opposing personalities: Neon SRT-4 (Test Drive, Feb. 7) and the PT Cruiser GT Turbo, our victim this week.
Beyond the obvious difference in looks, the distinction is that SRT-4 is a high-spirited party animal that has the bright paint and bold airfoil to look the part. PT Turbo (Chrysler's preferred moniker) is the soul of refinement, at least as that description is applied to economy vehicles. The engine that snaps and cackles in the Neon is a distant but major presence in the Cruiser.
Floor the PT Turbo's gas pedal and you get about the same result as in the Neon: stirring acceleration. The great thing about the engine is that it is able to deliver usable power at lower speed, unlike many turbocharged engines. That's partly because it displaces a fairly hefty 2.4 liters, and partly because the tuning favors power at common-sense speeds.
The test Cruiser was a color that Chrysler calls inferno red tinted pearl coat (c'mon). And the tester had chromed alloy wheels. Those two cosmetic tricks made the Cruiser a treat for the eyes.
Inside, leather upholstery, a sunroof, fancy stereo and other coddling features made the Cruiser GT Turbo a luxury vehicle. The styling, by the way, is what modern designers think a customized, 1930s Ford delivery sedan would look like.
PT Turbo uses a German Getrag five-speed manual, pricier and smoother than the New Venture Gear transmission in the Neon SRT-4, which grinds gears now and then. The Getrag's a robust box, used with diesel-power Cruisers sold overseas.
The PT Turbo's optional automatic comes with Auto Stick manual-shift mode, which isn't included on lesser Cruisers.
One very happy upgrade is handling. PT Turbo's sport suspension minimizes the tendency of the Cruiser's rear end to suddenly hike up and over in tight corners. Unfortunately, the big tires boost the turning circle to an unwieldy 42 feet, about like a full-size pickup's.
The Cruiser is designed to be spacious and practical -- sort of a mini-minivan (it even uses some Chrysler minivan parts) -- so it's easy to get into and out of, and fairly comfortable inside. Headroom and legroom are adequate to generous. But the back seat's not terrifically comfortable for long-legged grown-ups. The middle rear seating slot has a proper lap-shoulder safety belt, but no safety headrest.
Rear seats flip-fold and remove fairly easily, to open a yawning 64 cubic feet of cargo room. The back of the front passenger's seat folds flat forward, opening room inside for a ladder or lumber.
Leather feels a bit thin, but that could be an illusion. Controls are convenient but not classy.
Cruiser enjoys multiple identities. You probably look at it and see a car. The great tally masters who record vehicle sales and must categorize everything as something call Cruiser a sport-utility vehicle, even though four-wheel drive isn't available (a major disappointment and a bigger drawback during winter storms like those that socked the Atlantic coast recently). The government classifies it as a light truck, because of the removable seats and SUV-like stubby front and rear body overhangs.
In addition to the strong engine and smooth transmission, the fuel economy's decent, the quality score's good and so are the crash-test results for the '03 model.
If you like the look and don't need four-wheel drive, it's pretty hard to find a reason not to buy the GT Turbo.