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2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser review

January 26, 2006 12:00 PM EST | Chrysler , Convertibles , Wagons | Email to Friend | Comments (0)

View large imageA practical car with some Hollywood style, the PT Cruiser can also be fun to drive, especially in turbo form.

Pros
Distinctive styling inside and out, spacious cabin with multiconfigurable rear seats, smooth ride, spirited acceleration on turbo models, reasonable pricing.

Cons
Sluggish acceleration with base engine, awkward seating position for shorter drivers, unimpressive fuel economy.

What's New for 2006
Chrysler's PT Cruiser receives a host of changes for 2006. Exterior styling is revised with new front and rear fascias, as well as new wheel designs. The interior is also freshened with new instrument and door panels, a new console and revised fabrics. The Limited and GT get a six-way power driver seat this year, and all models receive upgraded sound insulation. A 368-watt Boston Acoustics premium audio system is now available. The GT's turbo engine gets a boost in power this year, up to 230 horsepower.

Introduction:
While increasing gas prices have plenty to do with the surging interest in compact wagons, Chrysler's PT Cruiser deserves some of the credit as well. When the PT Cruiser debuted for 2001, its retro-themed styling caused such fervor among buyers that they paid thousands of dollars over sticker to get one. Four years later, the hype has subsided. Thankfully, there is some substance behind the PT's flashy looks, and that's why it remains one of our favorites.

The PT's main strength is its highly functional interior. Up front, the symmetrical layout of the dash and its body-color panels give the car character, as does the classic-looking gauge cluster. Most of the plastics are hard to the touch, but texturing has been used to improve their look. A variety of leather-suede upholstery combinations are available to give the PT an upscale feel. For hauling cargo, the wagon version of the Cruiser excels. Not only is the backseat roomy enough to accommodate adults in comfort, the seats themselves are multiconfigurable. The convertible doesn't offer quite the utility as the wagon, but there is a pass-through from the trunk and the backseat is still plenty roomy for a pair of adults. In the wagon, cargo tie-down anchors, a rear-mounted 12-volt power point and a handy parcel shelf further improve the car's versatility.

Although we've always considered the PT's acceleration, ride and handling above average in its price range, there's no question that the GT's 230-horsepower turbocharged engine provides a much welcome boost in power over the standard 150-horsepower four-cylinder. For 2004, Chrysler made it easier for family buyers to enjoy a little extra power by offering a lower-boost, 180-horse version of the turbo on Touring and Limited models. If you're shopping for a low-priced wagon or convertible that offers extra style and can handle a steady stream of passengers and cargo, the PT is definitely worth a look.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The PT Cruiser comes in four-door wagon and two-door convertible body styles. Wagons come in base, Touring, Limited and GT trim levels. The convertible is offered in base, Touring and GT trim. Base models come with all the essentials, including air conditioning, a CD stereo and power windows, locks and mirrors; and on the convertible, a power-folding top. Touring models add rear headrests, a thermometer and compass, foglights, deep-tint glass, keyless entry, 16-inch alloy wheels and a touring suspension. The Limited ups the ante with upgraded seats (with six-way power adjustment for the driver), side airbags, a moonroof, cruise control and chrome wheels. The sporty GT comes standard with sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch wheels, tuned exhaust and leather seats.

Powertrains and Performance:
The base engine is a 2.4-liter inline four that makes 150 horsepower. It's available with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Optional on Touring and Limited models is a turbocharged version of that engine, which puts out 180 hp. If that's not enough, the performance-oriented GT offers a higher-boost version good for 230 ponies. Turbo-equipped Touring and Limited Cruisers come standard with the automatic, while the GT can take either a manual or automatic.

Safety:
ABS is standard on GT models and optional on all other PTs. Four-wheel disc brakes are also included on the GT; Touring and Limited buyers can pick them up by ordering ABS. Side airbags for front occupants are standard on GT and Limited models and optional on base and Touring models. NHTSA crash test scores for a PT Cruiser with side airbags come in at four stars for all frontal- and side-impact categories, except for rear side-impact protection, in which it earned a perfect five.

Interior Design and Special Features:
Inside, you'll find a spacious and versatile cabin with a retro-themed dash. Taller drivers will find plenty of room to get comfortable, but shorter drivers may not care for the somewhat flat seat design and elevated driving position. The rear seats in both variants are slightly elevated to provide a nice view, and adults will find plenty of head- and legroom. An adjustable parcel shelf makes it easy to secure items behind the backseat in the PT wagon. Remove the rear seats and the wagon boasts an impressive 64.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity.

Driving Impressions:
Equipped with either turbocharged engine, the PT Cruiser doesn't feel like a sports car, but it accelerates smartly once the turbo is spooled up. Apart from a wide turning radius, all PTs are easy to steer, and the suspension consistently soaks up road irregularities, yielding a smooth, composed ride. Body roll is evident during cornering, but the PT can still hustle through the curves at a rapid clip, particularly the GT, which has firmer suspension tuning and stickier tires. Strong, reassuring brakes round out the PT's compliant road manners.

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