The PT Cruiser GT: turbocharged cruising - car review

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PT Cruiser fans waited a long time for the turbocharged version, but, to be fair, nowhere near as long as Neon fans - who first started hearing rumors in 1993, and had to wait ten years for the SRT-4. In both cases, the wait was worth it. The turbo 2.4 engine is quiet, smooth, and fast.

The PT Cruiser GT - for some reason, the GT Cruiser name was ignored - is available with either an automatic or a Getrag manual transmission. Getrag has made manual transmissions for most past Chrysler turbos, so this resumes a relationship which ended with the last of the 2.2 turbos in the 1990s.

As with the base engines, the stick has a chrome rod ending in an 8-ball shifter. The shift pattern is a little different, with reverse starting to the left of first, in the German (Getrag in this case) pattern rather than the "reverse-in-sixth" Japanese pattern. It's nearly always easy to find the right gear, though sometimes reverse can be tricky (presumably this gets easier with time). The shifter is smooth without losing its pleasant mechanical feel. The clutch is also easy to operate smoothly.

GT instrument panel

The engine itself is generally quiet, despite a performance-tuned exhaust that emits a deep, power-evoking note. As the four is revved, a low turbocharger whistle can barely be heard under the sound of advancing revs. The engine speed limiter breaks in all too quickly, and rather suddenly, just after hitting the red one in the tachometer - which, perversely, goes about 2,000 rpm higher than the engine itself. We have to wonder what the actual vehicle speed is limited to, with a 140 mph speedometer.

As one might imagine, plenty of power is available from the turbocharged engine, giving the PT speed to match its looks. There are no dead spots, with the relatively large engine giving good torque and power right off idle, and surging forward at higher speeds. The turbo cuts in smoothly, making it seem more like a V6 than a turbo-four, helping the PT to rocket forward. There is just a bit of a surge, accompanied by a very slight whistle, to provide that great turbocharger feeling. Low-end muscle is good enough to get the heavy little car moving nicely until the turbo can kick in.

GT cruiser at night

Many people will find it hard to find enough opportunities to sprint. We found it all too easy to jackrabbit away from stop signs and traffic lights, with the front wheels squealing just a little, often invoking the traction control when there was dirt or water on the streets. The turbo takes a car that is already fun to drive and adds a new element of excitement. It's not an SRT-4, but it is amazingly practical, fun to drive, and sporty, with enough speed and handling for 99% of the population.

Power comes at a price, but economy is still decent for the category, at about 21 city, 27 highway with the stick-shift. The main cost is up front, in the price. The base price is $23,005, with destination charge. That includes antilock brakes and traction control, rear defroster and wiper/washer, fog lights, air, tilt steering, six-speaker CD stereo, floor mats, cruise control, power locks, windows, and mirrors, overhead compass and thermometer, Sentry Key, keyless entry, and an interior lighting package. That's one well-outfitted vehicle for the price, compared with entries from Toyota and Honda.

Although the suspension was modified for the turbo, with low 205/50R17 tires and such, the ride is still pleasant, if not as well-insulated as base models. Handling is excellent, with the compact SUV feeling more like a sports car when whipped around sharp turns. It's far easier to break the wheels free (for a moment) with acceleration than with cornering. Where other cars give a punishing ride for similar performance, the PT stays pleasant. Drive it with restraint, and your passengers need never know about the tiger under the hood.

That brings up an interesting packaging choice: it is hard to know the PT has a turbo from the outside. The legend "2.4 Turbo" is printed on the tachometer (there is no boost gauge) and is on the rear gate, in small chrome letters. The only other indication, other than the low stance, is the large GT on the opposite side of the gate. It’s easy to sneak up on unsuspecting drivers at the light — or to pass them on the highway, when they’re the lane-hogging type.

inside the PT Cruiser GT

On the down-side, premium gas is recommended, and the amount of power combines with front wheel drive to produce no inconsiderable amount of torque steer. (This turns out to be a tire problem with the stock Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires, which can also wear out in as little as a year. Goodyear’s own Goodyear Eagle F1 All-Season — not the normal F1 summer tires — are fine replacements that will solve the torque steer, provide better grip in all types of weather, and last far longer than the stock tires.)

We found the overall package surprisingly pleasant and fun. The engine provides both low end get-up-and-go and high-end woof!, the handling is very good, the ride is not punishing by any means, the interior is quiet, usable, and attractive, and the seating comfortable and user-friendly. The PT GT is, in short, what PT Cruiser fans have been waiting for: a more powerful version of their friendly, fun PT. For a lot of us, it's time to buy.

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