What was tested? 2007 Chrysler PT Cruiser Touring Edition ($23,730).
Options: Floor mats ($30), automatic transmission ($825), 2.4-liter engine ($1,280).
Price as tested (including $640 destination charge): $26,505.
The roof on modern cars doesn't merely serve as a metal umbrella to protect you from the wind, rain and muck from the road. It's also an integral piece of the car's structure, giving it strength like the flying buttresses on a medieval cathedral or -- perhaps more accurately for some cars -- the second layer of your toilet paper. When you chop the roof off an average car, you instantly transform it from a solid piece of metal into a flaccid lump of room-temperature Jell-O.
That's exactly what happened when Chrysler decided to make a topless version of its retro bread van, the PT Cruiser.
This car looks incredible with the top down, that's for sure. But when you drive it over railroad tracks or down a bumpy country road, it twists and contorts like a belly dancer who lives on a diet of malt liquor and crack cocaine. The windshield bends one way and the passenger seat bends another. Hit a pothole just right, and your rear-view mirror looks like it's just bounced into Canada.
And that's why, by the end of my week driving the PT Cruiser, I'd re-christened it with a different name. It was the Pity Cruiser.
If Chrysler can find a way to make this car more rigid, it would be a gem. It's got the modern-classic look that makes the PT an automotive icon, but it also has the wind-in-your-hair, bugs-in-your-teeth feeling that makes convertibles so fun. It's the perfect car for driving to the beach with surfboards hanging out the back and "Good Vibrations" blaring on the stereo. That also happens to be the perfect background music for hitting speed bumps in this car.
Despite the Play-Doh chassis, you've got to give Chrysler credit for bringing a cool convertible to market at a great price. It costs about the same as a Miata -- my test car cost around $24,000 -- but you get a lot more practicality for the money.
The convertible PT has only two doors, as opposed to its four-door sibling, but it does have a nice, big back seat. It even has a decent size trunk for grocery runs.
The power-operated top is fairly easy to get up and down. To lower it, you simply twist a handle and press a button to make it fold away and tuck behind the rear headrests. Raising it is just as quick and easy, making it simple to raise the top at a redlight if necessary.
Inside, the PT convertible is just as funky and cool as the outside. It has body-color panels, lots of chrome and a nifty, ball-shaped shifter that gets a lot of attention. It doesn't, however, have the kind of quality you'd expect from a new sedan. Bits of plastic wiggle and bend, never quite fitting right, making it a perfect match for the PT's floppy frame.
Unlike most convertibles, the Pity -- excuse me -- PT Cruiser would actually make a good commuter car because it's fairly quiet at highway speed. You don't have nearly as much wind noise or annoying rattles like you find in most low-priced convertibles. It also offers a good combination of performance and fuel efficiency with a choice of small, four-cylinder, turbocharged engines that make 180 and 240 horsepower.
In fact, there's not much to dislike about this car other than the way it feels over bumps. It's a shame Chrysler engineers didn't add more than 150 pounds of strengthening material to make it more perfect on the road.
Pros: It has classic American style with wind-in-your-hair fun. It's a lot more practical than a Miata for about the same price.
Cons: When Chrysler chopped the roof off, it made the chassis flop like a Bassett hound's ears.