2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser
Like the Mazda Miata and Volkswagen Beetle, Chrysler’s PT Cruiser is a feel-good sort of car. It’s hard not to be in a bad mood when driving one, because there’s just something about the little retro-commuter that makes people smile. The PT may not be as universally adored as the Miata, but it’s a great companion. The tall body, good road manners and versatile cargo-carrying ability make it the perfect break from the ordinary when it comes to mundane day-to-day tasks.
For 2006, Chrysler has given the PT Cruiser a quick redesign, with a revised front and rear that give it a bit more of a family resemblance to the rest of the Chrysler lineup (Remember, the PT Cruiser started life as a Plymouth, before that brand’s demise).
The PT Cruiser has had a makeover, it’s true, but it’s a very subtle and minor one. The revisions to the exterior and interior seem so right that it’s almost impossible to notice them without comparing the new car to the old. The grille is changed, with chrome accents and a Chrysler badge, and the PT Cruiser’s face has been reshaped slightly. Round foglamps have been added in the front bumper as well. We did notice that the PT Cruiser’s headlamps seemed to illuminate the road with less efficiency than those of most modern cars.
Inside, window switches have been relocated, though they’re still centrally mounted. Body-colored panels spruce up the dash, and give the interior a more upscale look. A handy, large center console with a sliding armrest is new. The shifter is floor-mounted with a long lever reminiscent of classic cars. Seating is comfortable for four and adequate for five in the tall, narrow interior, and the view out the windshield reminds you that you’re in something different. Visibility through the narrow windshield isn’t poor, just different from that of the average economy car. It’s quieter over the road than before, thanks to improved sound deadening. The PT Crusier’s forte is carrying stuff, of course. The high roof and multi-configurable seats (the rear seats fold flat, tumble forward and are removable) allow this relatively petite car to swallow a variety of cargo. With the rear seat removed, there are over sixty cubic feet of space back there. It’s a pleasant surprise in comparison to other boutique vehicles, which tend to be useless for anything but looking cute. When the PT Cruiser’s cuteness has worn off, it can still swallow a decent-sized television.
It may be priced like an economy car, with an MSRP of just $14,210, but the PT Cruiser can be equipped quite nicely. An MP3-capable, subwoofer-equipped sound system is on the options list, as are leather seating surfaces, a sunroof and keyless entry.
The only time PT Cruiser drivers won’t be too happy is during passing maneuvers. All of the available engines are 2.4 liter units with DOHC 16-valve construction. The naturally-aspirated base engine is on the weak side with only 150 horsepower, and we recommend the turbocharged engines instead. The standard-output turbo gets an additional 30 horses, and the extra power makes the PT Cruiser tolerable. No PT Cruiser is going to be considered particularly fast by serious enthusiasts; even the 230-horsepower, high-output PT Cruiser GT Turbo we drove didn’t feel much quicker than a standard Ford Focus. A choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions is offered, and is a big decision. Like in many smaller cars, the stick is the better choice as it allows the driver to make proper use of the available power. Automatic drivers will have to give even a turbocharged PT Cruiser a lot of boot before feeling the results. The PT Cruiser GT Turbo, with its Getrag five-speed, is snorty enough to be entertaining.
The PT Cruiser doesn’t drive like an SUV, but it does feel tippy in corners. The suspension is similar to the system that served well in the Dodge Neon for many years, with MacPherson struts up front and a twist-beam rear axle. It’s a capable, simple setup that’s well suited to the PT’s mission in life. Much of the sensation of instability can be traced to head toss. Because of the taller seating position, passengers are going to feel like the body is rolling more than it is. It’s not comfortable, but the PT Cruiser isn’t as unstable as seat-of-the-pants impressions make it seem at first. Brakes are four-wheel discs with optional anti-lock brakes and low-speed traction control. In spite of the TC, the PT Cruiser is less adept at slogging through snow than most of its conventionally-styled competitors.
For that matter, what does the PT Cruiser compete with, exactly? On one hand, there are boutique cars like the New Beetle and the larger Chevrolet HHR. The PT’s natural enemies also include less stylish do-alls like the Toyota Matrix, Pontiac Vibe and Suzuki Aerio. Ford’s Focus wagon and even the boxy Scion xB fall in the range as well. Against this varied bunch of competitors, the PT Cruiser matches up nicely, offering comfortable seating, excellent cargo ability and a relatively low price.
All specs are for the 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser.
Length: 168.9 in.
Width: 67.1 in.
Height: 63.0 in.
Wheelbase: 103.0 in.
Curb weight: 3152 lb.
Cargo space: 21.6 cu.ft. (seats up); 62.7 cu.ft. (seat removed)
Base price: $23,445
Price as tested: $26,475
Engine: 2.4 liter DOHC 16-valve turbocharged four-cylinder
Drivetrain: four-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive
Horsepower: 180 @ 5200
Torque: 210 @ 2800-4000
Fuel capacity: 15 gal.
Est. mileage: 19/26