2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser

A retro of ancient London Taxi styling with broad model lineups to capture sales from various market segments, yet assisting its creator to achieve the CAFE requirement.

Background
This car/wagon was acquired as a rental vehicle with 11,597 miles on the odometer at the time of pick up. It stayed with us for two days. We drove approximately 1000 miles. We cruised down from the Bay Area to Los Angeles via the flat and boring I-5 with the only excitement from the Grapevine incline. We also voyaged through various traffic congested Los Angeles freeway. The entire trip in the PT Cruiser was with 2 average size adults. The averaged fuel consumption was 21.8 mpg.

Introduction
This car/wagon PT Cruiser was debuted in 2001 as a 5 passenger truck, even though; it has no resemblance for being a truck. The NHTSA classified the PT Cruiser as a truck due the Cruiser’s flat rear loading floor with the removable rear seats removed. This 2005 model remained the same fundamental architecture since its introduction, and its architecture is derived from the company’s Neon, however, majority of the component has been tweaked for the Cruiser and only the front suspension design is noticeably identical. The Touring Edition we drove is the lower end for the PT Cruiser lineup. Our tester equipped with a cast iron block, aluminum head, 2.4L 4 cylinder DOHC 16 valves engine with balance shafts, pumping out 150hp@5,500rpm, and 162Ib-ft of torque@4,000rpm. This engine is commonly found in the Dodge Stratus, or its equivalents. The tester’s engine is transversely mounted and mated to a 4 speed electronic automatic transmission with overdrive, driving the front wheels without manual shifting feature that is commonly find in most newer cars. Traction is provided by a set of P195/65R15, Goodyear Eagle LS tires. The unibody chassis (PT is the chassis code) supported by independent MacPherson struts suspension with stabilizer bar in the front. The rear is supported by twist beam with coil springs and shock absorbers, in addition with a Watts linkage. Stopping power is generated by front vented disc brakes and drum brakes in the rear without ABS or traction control. PT Cruisers are assembled in Toluca, Mexico.

Impression
When we first picked up the Cruiser, we were a bit suspicious that the car. We haven’t been paying too much attention to the car since its introduction more than 4 years ago. Is this a vehicle that purely for show? And its styling doesn’t really seem compromising in the excitement compartment. The initial driving impression came as the positive strangeness in the driving position, interior ergonomics, and visibility around the car – a little different from ordinary. Distinctive, maybe the word to describe the experience in which also matched its exterior styling. The suspension tuning works surprisingly well with the PT Cruiser’s 3,200Ibs curb weigh. Body roll is unexpectedly acceptably predictable, and the roll is minimal especially for its size, and 63 inch height. The suspensions are refined and transmits proper road feel. The springs, and struts dampen are on the stiffer side for a domestic brand, but we, as the car enthusiasts considered the setting is ideal. The ride is supple; however it may not be perfect. It has a bit too much vibration and harshness than we like. Suspension seems overwhelms when the road is less than perfect at freeway speed and from time to time the rear suspensions appear to be traveling in it own orbit – feels isolated, and reacts differently than the front suspensions’ response, but that can be due to the live axle design. The employed Watt’s linkage (similar to the design on a ’79 Mazda RX7) located in the rear twist-beam axle claims to better control lateral loads and body roll.

Handling is nimble, thanks to its solid chassis. The steering response from the rack-and-opinion is on the precise side of the spectrum with proper feedback thru the wheel when torque steer is not present. While under acceleration at slight turns, the torque steer is very obvious, this required the driver to counter steer to force the vehicle to travel on the desired path. In our particular tester, there is a constant vibration felt thru the steering wheel at all speeds. Steering on center feel is there but it feels artificially done. Turns lock to lock is a short 2.6, offers sporty sedans quickness to turn the front wheels, however, the turning radius is much bigger than what we expected from its shorter vehicle length than the Neon especially in the parking lot. Steering is generally neutral at turns, but the front end plows at its limit – moderate understeer. With the average power output from the engine, a floored gas pedal at corners should still be manageable even under moderate understeering but the torque steering makes it a bit challenging. The tires are quiet, and grips are above sufficient for a Touring Cruiser.

As mentioned, the engine generates only average power. There also is a delay in the throttle response via the cable connected throttle body. It doesn’t equipped with the commonly used throttle-by-wire system where it eliminates the throttle cable. The freeplay is about the first half inch of the gas pedal travel then another quarter inch of downward travel is like snapping the throttle wide open. It can be a bit of a challenge to drive the Cruiser smoothly off the line. However, once the driver adapted to the pedal behavior, it doesn’t seem to be a major concern. Engine revs freely, and provides adequate power around town, but labors at freeway on ramps or inclines at freeway speed. Engine sounds good, but a little harsh in sound when the engine rpm rev pass 4,000rpm, and the harshness can usually be felt on the steering wheel. Engine redline, rev limiter kicks in at 6,100rpm. With the average power from the engine, it is more ideal to keep the engine in the power band. In the Cruiser, the engine seems to be peppier at about 4,000rpm to 6,000rpm.

When passing, going up an incline or at a freeway on ramp, there is the rpm range the engine is in. So, the harshness can be a bit annoying at times. The engine in the PT Cruiser is dated, where it consisted of the basic engine architecture since its introduction in 1996, it has none of the commonly used gadgets like variable valve timing, & drive-by-wire throttle body. The unexcitement from the 150hp engine to propel a 3,200Ibs car proven by the relatively slow 10 second 0-60mph acceleration time. We are also disappointed at the PT Cruiser’s average fuel consumption. The fuel consumption range from 19.9 to 26.4mpg, we were expecting a slightly better fuel consumption on a 2.4L engine. However, with a closer analysis explained the close to 7mpg fuel mileage differences is greatly contributed to the PT Cruiser’s coefficient of drag; at 0.38. The Cruiser got the best fuel mileage from the relatively slower Los Angeles freeway with vehicle speed rarely passed 70mph. The worst fuel mileage was from the free flowing I-5 section where vehicle speed consistently at 85-90mph. That demonstrated on how the PT Cruiser’s not so efficient styling in aerodynamic that demolished the fuel mileage at higher speed.

The 4 speed automatic transmission upshifts at ~5,800rpm. The floor mounted shifter seems long, but the classic cue-ball shifter is a joy to operate providing the shifting slot feels high quality and clear. Transmission is smooth, and shifts actively even in D. The electronic programming has been setup nicely. At “1” slot, where the transmission will hold in the 1st gear until you hit the rev limiter for a spit seconds, then it will automatically upshift in 2nd gear smoothly and hold in that gear until the rev drop down to where it can downshift within the powerband of the next lower gear. The logic in the program of the “1” position is surprisingly good – when leave the shifter at “1” seems to be as efficient as the models with manual shift mode. Transmission is leaky at 11,000 miles on the odometer on our tester. There was a recall on 2001-2004 PT Cruisers because of power-steering fluid leakage and causing potential engine compartment fire. “NHTSA claimed that the safety defect is caused from contact between a high-pressure power-steering hose and the automatic transaxle differential cover”.

The Touring Edition provided sufficient amenities for a long journey road trip. Air condition cools down the roomy interior efficiently. The interior presents with ample storage area. Road noise and wind noise is there, but well within acceptable level and not as annoying as the engine noise. The stock 4 speakers sound system provides good quality sound, and decent bass. We have no problem in finding our desired driving position, the seat and steering adjustment allows good adjustment, but we were hoping the steering has telescopic adjustment; however the distance between the driver to the pedals, steering wheel, and center console buttons are all within reach. The front seats are generally supportive. The PT Cruiser also provides good visibility in front, marginal in the rear and it has blind spot at rear corner of the driver’s side – the rear view mirror is blocked by the head rest of the driverside rear seat, and the side mirror doesn’t pick up that corner, we would wish for a pair of slightly bigger side rearview mirror. Gauges are easy to read regardless day or night.

Switchgears are very self explanatory, and intuitive – extremely user friendly and simple to use, but its location can be randomly placed – the rear hatch window “mist” required a separate button located low on the center console. The power window switches is located high up on the center console by the vents, it is a little awkward at times, but it is a smart cost saving approach because the driver and passenger can both get access to the switches, instead of the commonly done approach of placing one switch on each front door, and have a master switches that control the rear doors in either the driver side front door or the center sole. The small knobs on the vents that allow you to adjust the airflow is hard to use, it should be properly marked. We pull, push, and twisted initially in attempt to see how it works. How the ignition key release is a bit confusing at first since the ignition switch is not marked and has no release button.

Overall Impression
Scoring System:

Performance & Acceleration: 6
Comment: Average around town power. Labor at incline, freeway entrance and passing. It deserves more power.

Drivetrain: 6
Comment: Smooth, and smartly programmed transmission. A slightly thrashy engine.

Handling & Cornering: 6.5
Comment: Nimble handling with confidence. Torque steer!

Brake Feel: 6.5
Comment: Solid and refine in operation. Rear brakes lock up too easily.

Brake Feel: 6.5
Comment: Solid and refine in operation. Rear brakes lock up too easily.

Ride Characteristic: 7
Comment: Supportive ride. Rear suspensions can be felt isolated.

Interior Comfort: 8
Comment: No complaints.

Workmanship: 7
Comment: Fairly well put together car in domestic brand standard.

Functionality: 8
Comment: User friendly. Slotted between staton wagon, and compact SUV segment.

Technology: 6
Comment: Engine is a little dated with basic packages throughout the car.

Afterthoughts
National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) classified the Cruiser as a light truck due to the removable backseat and flat cargo floor. However, the EPA classed it as a car. Since NHTSA supersedes EPA so the Cruiser is classified as a truck. In which, benefited DaimlerChrysler’s CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) requirement for trucks. A smart move by DaimlerChrysler on purposely designed the removable backseats and flat cargo floor. CAFE is a regulation regulated by NHTSA and EPA to monitor the average fuel economy of cars and trucks that is manufactured for the U.S market, the manufacture has to meet the set average fuel economy for its car fleet, and the truck fleet. With the car based 4-cylinder, high sale volume, the PT Cruiser as a truck in the DaimlerChrysler’s truck segment that can greatly lower the average fuel economy in DaimlerChrysler’s truck lineup where it is full of large displacement, gas sipping V8s. END