LAUNCH REPORT:

Chrysler PT Cruiser review

by Ross Finlay (30 June 2000)

Chrysler PT Cruiser.

So it goes on sale here next week, wafted across the Atlantic on a tidal wave - if not entirely of hype, then certainly of almost uncontrollable enthusiasm. Production of the Chrysler PT Cruiser can't keep anything like up with the barrage of orders from Americans wanting to drive one, but will its way-out appearance and Marx Brothers mixture of styling cues have the same effect in the UK?

You have to hand it to Chrysler for being the only major manufacturer prepared to put some of its most outrageous concept cars into production. And you have to hand it to the sobersides in Stuttgart for going along with ideas from Auburn Hills which must have struck some of them as absolutely crackpot - until they saw the sales returns.

Apart from anything else, the Cruiser shows that the emphasis in DaimlerChrysler isn't always on the dominant European partner.

What we have here is a car which combines styling elements of an American hot rod, a London taxi, an NYPD paddy-wagon and, especially when you see one all in black, the last transport for the dear departed.

Many of its dimensions, and the relationships between them, are like nothing else on the market. But does this machine have pzazz! You don't have to follow Chrysler's explanations about demographics and psychographics - run that one past me again, will you? - to realise that a lot of people are bound to love this car. Similarly, another lot of people will think it's the stupidest thing they've ever seen, and wouldn't want to be found dead in a ditch with one.

Faint warning bells may have been heard here about the right-hand drive Cruisers being produced in Mexico. But quality control on the launch cars seemed fine. There was good exterior finish and neat panel fit, and there were no complaints about the interior presentation.

Plus point number one is that this is a very roomy car for its overall length. Plenty of elbow room in the front seats, and rear passenger space which would probably be class leading, especially in headroom, if you could find an existing class that might accommodate the Cruiser. And with all of that there's generous luggage space too.

You can fold the back seats or take them out altogether to get a bigger load floor. And Chrysler says that, if you fold down the front passenger seat, there's enough space to take an eight-foot ladder, as one does, and still shut the tailgate.

There's loads of retro stuff in the interior, and here you have to bear in mind that the PT Cruiser is essentially a pastiche. You get what might be a '50s plastic gearlever knob, and what might be '50s metal fascia panels, but they're made of 2001 lookalike material. Don't get too fussed. It's all a game, really.

The big snag about the appearance of the PT (Personal Transportation, it says) Cruiser is that it looks as if it would certainly cut a dash on a city-centre prowl, but might respond with all the finesse of a suet pudding when taken for some swift motoring on bendy roads.

Relax, folks. Dynamically, Chrysler is several steps ahead here. The Cruiser may not look like any kind of sports saloon, but it's a light and agile car to drive. With the long wheelbase and the wide track, you can barrel it through the bends. There's a slick gearchange, the ride quality is eye-openingly good, and the car wafts smoothly and quietly on main road runs.

The fact that Chrysler's launch test route included not only miles of main road and motorway going, but also a dash across the Horseshoe Pass to Llangollen, showed that it's confident about the Cruiser's abilities.

Performance? The engine is a slightly modified Neon-style two-litre. Manual transmission cars get to 60mph in around 9.6 seconds, automatics in a fairly dreary 12.4. I'd save the £800 extra they cost. There's 140bhp on tap, and the engine seems to rev more sweetly than the Neon's. It doesn't feel very torquey low down, but once you get it spinning it will shove the Cruiser along pretty briskly for its size. Top speed is around 118mph.

Prices? The range starts with a Classic at £14,995 and progresses via a Touring to a Limited at £17,195. All models have twin front airbags, side airbags, power steering, air-conditioning, a six-speaker sound system, heated and pull-in door mirrors.

The Touring and Limited add ABS and traction control, cruise control, front foglamps and a roof panel with outside temperature gauge and compass. You get leather/suede seats in the Limited, and they're well padded, with strong lumbar support.

How do these prices compare? Well, there's nothing really to compare them with, but on an international level it's worth pondering the fact that North American customers don't pay anything like as much as we will.

335stars

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