I love the magic of convertibles. Chrysler's 2005 PT Cruiser
convertible gets more attention than virtually any car in its price range. Two of the
hardtop Cruiser's four doors were dropped for the ragtop version, so it remains a
practical and stylish alternative to the mundane look of minivans.
When you drop the top and start the engine, they delightfully make
you forget about things like mortgage payments, jerks at work, leaky faucets, and the IRS.
Convertibles are designed for fun - nothing more, nothing less.
So when Chrysler delivered a ragtop version of its oh-so-practical
PT Cruiser for a test drive, I was left scratching my head. Inside, the PT Cruiser
convertible has colored panels that are painted to match the body. It makes the car look
almost like a custom hot rod.
As expected, it had a soft top that folded down with the push of a
button, plus the PT's famous retro-styled front end. But at the same time, it looked oddly
like a minivan with a square roof, lots of headroom, and a big cargo area behind the
fairly roomy back seat. It's stylish, I thought, but how could something that looks like a
drop-top delivery van be any fun to drive?
Easy. Give it a turbocharger, a manual transmission and a bright
purple paint job. With this setup, it turns out the ragtop PT was almost as much fun to
drive as a two-seater sports car, just not in a squeal-the-tires-and-race-through-traffic
kind of way. Instead, it was the kind of fun where you put on James Dean sunglasses, smile
real big, and slowly cruise around town to see how many heads you can turn.
But this PT Cruiser doesn't just turn heads. It could strain every
neck at a chiropractic convention. Overall, it has a more friendly, youthful personality
than the standard four-door Cruiser. And it gets much more attention.
It looks truly stunning, especially with the top down, where it
shows the undeniable influence of classic American hot rods. The front end is identical to
the hardtop PT's, but everything from the windshield back is new to allow for a two-door
body and space for the big top to fold away.
Unlike most attention-getting convertibles the PT Cruiser is fairly
practical. The front seats are very roomy, and even the back seat has a surprising amount
of space. The rear cargo area is big enough for most uses, but it can be a pain to load
and unload because the rear hatch opens straight back, blocking your access.
If you like the PT convertible for its style and practicality - and
those are great reasons to like it - then you'd be perfectly happy with the base drop-top
model with a $19,995 sticker price.
That's no typo. Less than $20 grand will buy you a convertible
Cruiser that gets more attention than some Ferraris. Of course, the base model comes with
a relatively wimpy 2.4-liter engine that makes 150 horsepower, barely enough for the
portly PT when you choose an automatic transmission.
But if you're willing to pay a little more and want some extra
performance, a turbocharger can boost horsepower to 180 with the 2.4-liter engine. But the
ultimate Cruiser is the GT model with its high-output, 220-horsepower engine and a
starting price around $28,000.
The test Cruiser, a GT version with a five-speed gearbox, was more
than just fast. It was a rocket capable of spinning its tires at will and embarrassing
teenage boys when stoplights turned green. Nobody needs a PT Cruiser that fast, but it
sure is fun. And in this car's case, fun doesn't have to come with the unwelcome baggage
Why buy it? Few cars that look this stylish cost this little. It
starts under $20,000, and it gets plenty of attention on the road because of how cool it
looks, and it's also surprisingly practical.