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2003 Chrysler PT Cruiser and PT Cruiser Turbo Compact Hatchback Wagons

MSRP Range: $16,500 to $23,000

Invoice Range: $15,500 to 21,500
Price Quote

MSRP As Tested: $22,690

Versions: Touring, Limited, GT (PT Turbo)

Vehicle Category: Compact Wagon

Engine Location: Front Engine

Drive Wheels: Front-Wheel Drive

Engine As Tested: 2.4-liter, Dual Overhead Cam, Inline 4-cylinder, 150-horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 162 lb-ft torque at 4,000 rpm. Optional 2.4-liter, Dual Overhead Cam, Turbocharged Inline 4-cylinder with 215-horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 245 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,600 rpm/

Transmission As Tested: 5-Speed Manual or optional 4-Speed Automatic.

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 5-Speed Manual - 21/29. 4-Speed Automatic - 20/25. 5-Speed Manual with Turbocharger - 21/27. 4-Speed Automatic with Turbocharger - 19/25.

Standard Safety Features: Driver and front passenger, front, 4-wheel power disc brakes.

Competition: Ford Focus Wagon, Kia Rio Wagon, Mazda Protege5, Pontiac Vibe, Subaru Forester, Subaru Impreza Wagon, Suzuki Aerio Wagon, Toyota Matrix, Volkswagen Jetta Wagon, Volvo V40.

CHELSEA, Michigan -- A sea of asphalt on a skid pad at DaimlerChrysler's vast vehicle test facility in Chelsea, Mich., is the spot where multiple variations of Chrysler's wild PT Cruiser park side-by-side for inspection.

This five-door wagon looks like no other vehicle, a boxy body tipped forward like a dragster with exaggerated fenders and a chin-out grille plus massive roll of sheetmetal wrapping the top-heavy rump.

Stylists at Chrysler devised the original two-door version as a design exercise, then showed it off at the Geneva Auto Show in 1998 as the Pronto Cruizer. The form-follows-function concept revolved around a tall vertical package for maximum interior space and multiple purposes, with the exterior warped as a contemporary tribute to classic car forms of earlier eras.

Reaction to the Cruizer showcar from the public and media was so forceful that marketing wizards at Chrysler developed a case for a Cruizer market and in 2001 a production version rolled out of a Chrysler assembly plant in Mexico as a multi-purpose vehicle under the banner of PT Cruiser -- as in Personal Transportation Cruiser.

It was an immediate hit, so popular in fact that customers stood in lines to add their names to lengthy waiting lists at dealer stores.

The only criticism leveled at the original PT Cruiser came from automotive writers who mused that a more powerful engine option would be desirable to pit the Cruiser's wild body stance against some real get-up-and-go power.

Now, two years after the debut of the original Cruiser, Chrysler answers those power critics by expanding the series to add several styling variations plus a muscular version called PT Turbo.

It totes a turbo-charged 2.4-liter four-in-line engine scored for high output and rated to 215-hp at 5,000 rpm and 245 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm. More than 90 percent of the peak torque is available between 2,300 to 5,000 rpm.

Also aboard is either a five-speed heavy-duty manual shifter by Getrag of Germany or an optional four-speed automatic with Chrysler's AutoStick, which brings shift-it-yourself choices like a manual.

Four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock brakes (ABS) and a traction control system (TCS) are standard on PT Turbo, along with a suspension tuned tightly for sporty action and a performance exhaust with large-diameter exhaust tip dipped in chrome.

Fire it up and PT Turbo growls in a throaty purr that sounds as cool as it looks. Punch the throttle and it pounces on pavement. Run it around a track and it surges on command in a clean rush to speed.

PT Turbo appears in a monochromatic scheme with body-color fascia and a larger and lower front air port.

It rolls on 17-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels painted in silver and capped by P205/50HR17 all-season tires.

Despite the bold package styling in a radical look that defies categorizing, the interior design scores as the Cruiser's most inventive aspect. With 26 defined positions for the seats and a flat cargo floor, the space becomes a canvass for personal expression.

The internal structure is tall, which accommodates seats that rise high like chairs and creates voluminous space with access through four wide and deep doors plus the flip-up rear gate.

Headroom is generous even for tall passengers and so is the legroom for front and back seats. Up front, there are two buckets separated by a console, and in back a firm bench makes room for three riders.

For PT Turbo, conventional buckets are replaced by a pair of performance seats with strong side bolsters. The driver's seat also makes manual lumbar adjustments.

Instruments cluster in a gauge package trimmed with a silver-faced finish. Included is a tachometer and speedometer notched to 140 mph.

More touches of silver flash through the cabin, with a painted shift ball on the manual transaxle stick and a silver bezel ringing the automatic's apparatus.

A limited-edition variation of PT Turbo drenched in Tangerine Pearl Coat paint goes by the label of PT Dream Cruiser Series 2.

While it totes the high-output turbo engine of PT Turbo, Dream Cruiser also carries a body-color spoiler at the tail, plus chrome bodyside moldings, a power moonroof and 17-inch wheels in chrome.

Production will be confined to 7,500 units.

PT Cruiser for 2003 also divides into trims called Touring and Limited Edition, plus the standard version.

These Cruisers carry a twin-cam 2.4-liter four-pack mustering 150-hp at 5,200 rpm with 162 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm.

Standard is a five-speed manual transaxle transmission, with a four-speed automatic optional.

Hot new colors for 2003 range from Electric Blue Pearl Coat to Onyx Green Pearl Coat.

Further, a new package of chrome accents for Touring and Limited decks the Cruiser with touches of chrome inside and out. This version is called the Chrome Cruiser. It features a bold grille in monochrome body color with horizontal chrome bars plus front fascia with chrome stripes. Chrome molding also wraps the circumference of the vehicle and there's a chrome-plated fuel filler door, 16-inch chrome-clad wheels and flashy exhaust tip.

Inside, the chrome theme continues with brushed silver front door scuff plates, a chrome shift bezel for the automatic transaxle post and chrome cap on the shift lever.

Price points for PT Cruiser's variations fit in a range between $17,000 to $27,000. MSRP for the PT Turbo comes to $22,290.

PT Dream Cruiser is $26,475 with manual transaxle tranmsission and $26,915 for the automatic.

The Chrome Accents option for PT Cruiser tallies to $1,270 on Touring Edition PT Cruisers and $595 on the Limited Edition.


Where Built: Mexico

Seating: 5

Number of Rows: 2

Crash Test Ratings:

  • NHTSA Frontal Impact/Driver Crash Test Rating: ****
  • NHTSA Frontal Impact/Passenger Crash Test Rating: ****
  • NHTSA Side Impact/Front Seat Crash Test Rating: ****
  • NHTSA Side Impact/Rear Seat Crash Test Rating: *****
  • NHTSA Rollover Resistance Rating: ****
  • IIHS Frontal Offset Crash Test: Untested

Length in Inches: 168.8

Warranties: 3 years/35,000 miles bumper-to-bumper, 5 years/100,000 miles corrosion, 7 years/70,000 mile powertrain (has deductible), 3 years/36,000 miles free Roadside Assistance.

Weight in Pounds: 3,108

Towing Capacity in Pounds: 1,000

Maximum Payload Capacity in Pounds: 865

Gas Tank Capacity in Gallons: 15.0

Destination Charge: $590