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2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser
By: Michael Cooney

It's Cool. It's Hot. It's even versatile!
When the PT Cruiser was introduced last year, Chrysler executives were caught off guard by the public's enthusiasm. No doubt about it, Chrysler had a cool-looking, hot-selling new model on its hands. When my visiting college buddy Mike Dale and I picked up 'the Cruiser'for this review and stopped at a gas station to top off the tank, the gentleman at the next pump came over to ask about it. Then the lady cashier came out to offer a compliment. After driving it home, two neighbors and a business colleague asked for rides. Such is the life, I suppose, of the typical PT Cruiser owner.

Trim Levels
PT Cruisers come in three trim levels: Standard, Touring Edition, and Limited Edition. Mine was the Touring Edition, with 5-speed manual transmission. A 4-speed automatic is optional. If you prefer leather seating, you'll want the Limited Edition. The only engine offered is a 2.4 liter, 150 horsepower 4-cylinder unit driving the front wheels.

Exterior View
Chrysler calls its PT Cruiser a "four door multipurpose hatchback."At 169 inches in length, it's about four inches longer than a Toyota Rav4, and roughly five inches shorter than a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. To my eye, its profile most evokes the look of a í37 Ford sedan, which is a favorite among hot-rodders. Some call it "cute"and others "cool,"but most everyone seems drawn to it. The fact that it doesn't fit neatly into any one category shows that its designers were thinking outside the box. Kudos to Chrysler.

Interior Features
Despite its small size, the PT Cruiser offers roominess and versatility because of its intelligent packaging. The rear seats can be stowed in a folded, far-forward position to create a large, cube-shaped cargo area. Behind the rear seats is more storage room, covered by a removable top shelf for hiding your belongings. With the PT's taller profile, adults fit comfortably in the back seats. Its generous legroom is further aided by space available for placing your feet under the front seats. The front buckets are comfortable too, and you sit up a bit higher than in most sedans. Although missing a center console, both front seats feature center and door armrests, so you can prop both elbows up and relax.

Driving the PT Cruiser
For a short car, the PT has a reasonably smooth, comfortable ride. This Touring Edition's wider 205/55R16 tires offered good grip during cornering, and the suspension is firm enough of allow for "sporty"handling. Most owners should find its capabilities more than adequate. Its steering feel was light but accurate. My only complaint was difficulty backing up, with rearward visibility restricted by the rear seatbacks. Depending on your height, visibility may be adequate, so check for yourself.

With 150 horsepower pushing 3,000+ pounds, acceleration is "peppy"but not quick. Carrying a few hundred pounds more than many small cars no doubt lowers its gas mileage rating. My manual transmission version was EPA rated at 21 city, 29 highway mpg while the automatic transmission lowers that to 20/24. In my combination of city, freeway and mountain driving, I averaged 24.1 mpg. That beats most if not all SUVs, however.

Final Word
Because the PT Cruiser is such a versatile car, it could happily fit into many floc's garages. Want an easy-to-drive, easy-to-park runabout? Or a comfortable mini cargo van? Or a fun, easy-to-get-into car to pick up your friends for a night out? The "Cruiser" is ideal for all these lifestyles and more.

This well-equipped Touring Edition carried a sticker price of $20,925 including anti-lock brakes, traction control, side airbags, power moonroof, and destination charges. Subtract $495 if you don't need the "Flame Exterior Accents"(yes, "hot-rod" type flames!) and add $825 if you prefer an automatic transmission. However you equip one, though, just be prepared to give everyone in your neighborhood a ride around the block.