2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser

George Saitas

It's easy to be dazzled by outward appearances. Witness the puzzling popularity of Britney Spears. Witness the glitzy glamour of Las Vegas. Witness the rapture caused by the Chrysler PT Cruiser's debut at the 1999 Detroit auto show. Chrysler's announcement that it would start production in the spring of 2000 caused a traffic jam at dealerships as potential buyers queued up to place their orders. Eager customers anxiously waited months for their cars to be delivered.

0205 Chrysler Pt Cruiser 01

We weren't so easily blinded, however. We placed our order and, our anticipation tinged with a healthy dose of skepticism, awaited the arrival of our Four Seasons PT Cruiser. Yes, the PT was striking (in a 1937 Ford/London taxicab kind of way), but we wanted to see whether this cute little toon car could endure twelve months in the hands of our hard-driving staff. We knew that Chrysler's reputation for quality, especially in brand-new models, had been sketchy. We knew that underneath the sheetmetal lived some of the underpinnings of the humble Dodge Neon. We wanted to find out if this Chrysler worked as well as its cutting-edge design promised.

Right out of the gate, it became obvious that the PT's retro sheetmetal, while its most noticeable feature, actually distracted us from what is the vehicle's strong point: its overall packaging. Road test coordinator Monte Doran detailed the car's merits in the very first logbook entry: "The PT is an ingenious exercise in packaging. The exterior is fairly petite, and as a result, the vehicle is easy to wheel around. Yet it feels enormous in-side. The tall roof line and straight sides make for a large, open greenhouse. The cargo area is very spacious, particularly so because the clever package shelf effectively doubles your rear floor space."

0205 Chrysler Pt Cruiser 02

In fact, the PT's overall length is only 168.8 inches, so it takes up less room in the garage than would either the Ford Focus or the Neon, yet the numerous configurations (twenty-six, according to Chrysler) create a cargo capacity that rivals those of sport-utes and minivans. The rear seats can be folded down, flipped up, or removed. The front passenger's backrest can be folded forward to make room for long items such as an eight-foot ladder, and not only is the cargo shelf height-adjustable, but it can be removed and used as a picnic table or as a carrying tray for messy items such as outdoor plants.

The PT's seats were almost unanimously praised for comfort and ease of entry and exit. Chief copy editor Wendy Keebler lauded the high seating position: "Visibility from a vehicle is very important to me, and the high-feeling position helps enormously." After a trip from New York to Detroit, motor gopher Tony Quiroga declared: "The PT's seats are so comfortable, I could sit in them all day." We trust Quiroga on that, as he logged more consecutive miles behind the wheel of the PT than anyone, with a round trip to California to go along with the New York trek.

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