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Chrysler PT Cruiser – everything you need to know

November 9, 2022

In the 1990s, automakers became more mindful of their history. In some cases, this led some manufacturers to even introduce a modern version of an iconic model from their past. Initially in Japan, European and American brands soon followed. Just a few well-known examples are the reintroduced MINI, the Volkswagen New Beetle and, of course, the Chrysler PT Cruiser.

Chrysler PT Cruiser is actually a Plymouth

The Chrysler PT Cruiser begins its life in the form of three concept cars, which are a kind of modern interpretation of Chryslers from the 1930s and 1940s in particular. These are the Pronto Cruizer, the Pronto Spyder and the Prowler. The latter goes into production virtually unchanged and under the same name, the Pronto Spyder becomes nothing and the Pronto Cruizer enters the market in slightly modified form as a Chrysler PT Cruiser.

What the letters “PT” stand for? Several theories circulate about this. At the time, interviews explained “Personal Transport(ation),” but the letters would also stand for Plymouth Truck. That would be the original project name. Plausible, because concept car Prowler also initially came on the market as a Plymouth. However, that brand was disbanded in 2001. Thus, at the last minute, the PT Cruiser became a Chrysler after all.

Production version Chrysler PT Cruiser

The production version of the Chrysler PT Cruiser will enter the market in 2000 for the 2001 model year. The concept car then dried up as a rather tall five-door hatchback. Because of that height, the model is also considered a small MPV. Later, the two-door Convertible will also appear, but not until the 2005 model year. A van version, the Panel Cruiser, did not make it to the production stage.

Although you might not expect it in an American of that era, the engine lineup consists exclusively of four-cylinder engines. Incidentally, this was common in the compact segment back then. Depending on the market, there is a choice of a 1.6-, 2.0- and 2.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine or a 2.2-liter diesel. The latter i available only in Europe and elsewhere. For the regular range, the power is between 85 kW (115 hp) and 105 kW (143 hp).

Sporty: the GT Turbo

A sporty version will also be introduced for the 2003 model year: the GT Turbo. In doing so, the 2.4-liter four-cylinder delivers 160 kW (218 hp) of power thanks to several modifications. As of model year 2006, the power output is even 164 kW (223 hp). With that, the car sprints to 100 km/h in 7.5 seconds. Top speed is capped at 200 km/h. Both not bad for such a car at the time. Furthermore, the GT Turbo has larger rims and brakes and a modified and slightly lowered suspension.

Model year updates Chrysler PT Cruiser

For model year 2006, the Chrysler PT Cruiser is undergoing a facelift. The changes are not too big, but thanks to modified light units and grille, the model still looks a lot more modern. The interior is also being modernized, including a new dashboard and audio system. In addition to a CD player, there are connections for MP3 players, and even Bluetooth connectivity was among the options. All very modern at the time.

PT Cruiser proves unexpectedly popular

The Chrysler PT Cruiser quickly proved to be a success. The automotive journalists who drive it are very enthusiastic and the car is even named North American Car of the Year. Not much later, customers also fell en masse for the unusual model. In fact, in 2006, the millionth unit was produced. When production ceases in 2010, the tally will be as high as 1.35 million units produced. That while Chrysler had expected that at most 25,000 customers would be interested …

No successor after all…

Despite its success, the Chrysler PT Cruiser never received a successor. Within the Chrysler group, the Dodge Caliber can be seen as an indirect successor. Indeed, that too is a tall hatchback (or small SUV, if you will), albeit without retro styling.

Cult and customizing

The Chrysler PT Cruiser is also quickly gaining cult status. Several owners customize the car with additional retro elements for an even more classic look. Chrysler itself is cheerfully joining in with some special editions. There are even the Flame and Woodie packages, with decals for flame or wood imitation. Because of its age, the PT Cruiser is now disappearing from the street scene, but the model still has a loyal fan base.