Second-generation (2006-2009) PT Cruiser GT car reviews

Updated April 2007 with base model

The PT Cruiser

inside of the 2006 Chrysler PT CruiserThe PT Cruiser was “refreshed” for 2006, with both good and bad results. The turbocharged model gained a substantial amount of power, partly because it was retuned for exclusive duty in the PT, with the loss of the SRT-4. The instrument panel was improved with larger gauges that are easier to read at dawn and dusk, and the Chrysler analog clock was added. On the down side, many changes were made to lower the cost of producing the PT, which, after all, was originally meant to be a fairly low-production vehicle. Rather than equalling the sales of the Neon two-door, at about 35,000 sales per year, though, the PT managed to equal the sales of the Neon itself; and where once it would not have been worth cutting the odd nickel and dime out of production, it is now a very big deal indeed, with over 100,000 PTs per year being made.

Most of the changes were cosmetic. The teardrop headlights were modified so that dual headlights could be integrated into the design; the Chrysler design studios claim that cars of a certain caliber must have visible dual headlights. The dual headlights are, if anything, even brighter than in the first generation, which were already quite good.

The underbumper area redesign is harder to fathom, as it breaks up the general theme of the front end, and we'd assume cost-cutting is the impetus there. The center stack, though, was butchered rather badly; the vents were switched to a cheaper if less effective design, and were moved with a resulting increase in vent noise. The overall look is generally less attractive, but still better than the average car, especially with the right color panels (blue and red work very well; the faux carbon fiber has fortunately been dropped from the GT). The new corporate stereo is also used. The oddball addition is the "towel bar" by the glove compartment, whose utility is questionable and whose appearance is generally disliked; it is also hard to clean if it gets dirty.

Other changes include extra sound insulation, but that only helps if the air conditioner or heater fan is off; rerouting the hoses to compensate for the center stack redesign seems to have greatly increased the noise of the fan, easily overwhelming any noise reductions from extra insulation (the use of cheaper louvers doesn't help). At higher speeds, the difference between generations is not obvious.

The GT model has more tasteful body-colored inserts, with a finer and generally more attractive crosshatch pattern on the imitation carbon fiber. The typeface on the instruments is more in keeping with Chrysler's desired market position, and lends a more upscale appearance; both day and night, it's easier to read. On the other hand, one cannot help but get the idea that the scheme is not very well thought out, overall. There is the noisy-vent situation, the odd blend of white backlighting for the instrument panel and green backlighting for the rest of the dashboard, and the general lack of design cohesion in the interior, a sort of “we didn’t work as hard on this as the Plymouth Truck version.” Perhaps it was seen as being too important to leave to hobby-type decisions, like having old-fashioned outside pushbutton door handles and inside door handles that were originally hand-carved in wood. The dashboard also seems to have moved up, reducing the airy feeling of the original PT. On the whole, though the instrument panel itself is an improvement, the dashboard as a whole is more questionable.

Other interior elements were also mixed. There were bright chrome rings around two vents, a nice improvement. The big steering wheel with the chrome inserts on the GT (not Touring) seemed more elegant and stylish, and the deep two-layer center console was both functional and convenient, as were the dual-sized cupholders.

On the other hand, we really missed the underseat drawer from the previous generation, despite its often finicky nature; it was a good place to dump all the clutter from the glove compartment, which was then free for, well, gloves. In addition, while the seats felt more solid and now have electric fore-aft adjusters, we missed the minivan-style fold-down armrests that were on both driver and passenger front seats of even the old base models. The seats were also firmer and less form-fitting; and on the Touring we rented in 2007, the seats were far too firm, in keeping with the new "park bench" feel Chrysler appears to be striving for.

Our GT test car had a nice chrome package, including popular features such as chrome door ferrules (the grippable lock things) and a chrome gas cap cover that looks just like the aftermarket one on our 2003 GT; the chrome on the exterior is also a nice touch, flashy but not overstated. The Touring model had no such flash, though the dull metal center stack added some tone.

The new stereo is a step down from the older ones, in both sound quality and ease of use; by no means a bad unit, it is only an issue in comparison to the superior Infinity optional in past PTs, which had very clear sound. The ease of use is mainly in the use of electronic push-and-turn audio controls, replacing balance and fade knobs and bass and treble sliders which made rapid changes easy. On the other hand, the optional Sirius Satellite Radio is a nice alternative to the commercial-laden, repetitive music stations or the hate-filled talk stations of the standard airwaves; and, oddly, the stereo seemed noticeably higher-fidelity when receiving satellite radio than playing CDs. The PT also offers UConnect (for hands-free communications using Bluetooth cellphones).

In other ways, the 2006 is very similar to the 2001 PT, including the convenient seating, ease of entry, flexible interior and removable seats, moveable package shelf, easy to reach jack and harder to reach spare tire, surprising interior space and useable cargo space, easy parking (thanks to the very short length), good view of the road (height), wide-opening doors, insanely large turning circle, and surprising convenience.

For more on our driving impressions of the 2006 PT, see the following GT Cruiser car review.

The 2007 Chrysler PT Cruiser Touring Edition

Normally, our cars are supplied by Chrysler, but with cost-cutting and all, we ended up driving the second-generation standard-model PT Cruiser as a rental, with 25,000 miles on it, from Enterprise. The car seemed brand new in every way, without any visible wear, just some dirt on the towel rack. It also drove as though it was brand new, with nary a squeak or rattle, feeling if anything more solid than our 13,000 mile 2003 GT model.

The automatic transmission is controlled by a shifter with a ball-and-button handle, the button being used to shift out of Park, and the ball resembling the manual shifter. The transmission was unobtrusive and well behaved, doing exactly what we wanted with no fuss and always in the right gear at the right time; if not for the power-sapping nature of a standard fluid automatic, we would have felt it to be just about perfect.

The engine was quiet unless revved high, when it became rather loud and raucous. Normally there was no need for the engine to rev high; but we did floor it (unnecessarily) to merge onto Route 51. Acceleration was neither exceptionally good nor exceptionally bad, but the sprints could be quicker. Getting from 0-40, the critical area, was easy, and highway-speed passing was fine as well. Overall, we agree with those who say the PT's acceleration is good enough even with the automatic - and we were carrying a full load of four passengers and luggage. The driver does have to be willing to put their foot down! If more is wanted, the GT delivers more, with a vengeance.

Steep hills did not present much of a problem; a two-block-long 30% grade required only steady pedal pressure, and accelerating just a little more pressure, followed by a downshift. The engine as always sounded a bit rough when in higher revs, but there was ample power. Despite what some have said, this is by no means an Escort or Chevette; the sprint times aren't great, but they also aren't bad, and the low-end power of the engine means that ordinary driving feels better than sprint times would indicate. Highway driving was easy with plenty of passing power (and not much wind noise) at 65 mph.

Cornering remains good with a surprisingly nimble feel for such a tall vehicle; though it is no doubt not quite as nimble as the Mazda3, which we noticed adopted the PT's basic styling but not its high stance, it is also far more capable around turns and curves than it looks. Ride remains pleasant, moderately firm but not too firm, and capable of damping down most road shocks.

The quietness of the PT was surprising, and showed that effort had been put into reducing wind noise. The main change, most likely, was a switch to heavier but better insulating glass. This increased the weight, but reduced the noise. The second generation is certainly quieter than the first, by a noticeable margin. The window switchgear on the 2007 Touring is more impressive than the 2001 or 2003 equivalents, and the front cupholders were given flexible inserts to hold smaller cups or cans.

We found the climate controls to be a bit more difficult to use, with a downgraded feel, than the originals, but they make more sense now, with a conventional on-off button for the air conditioner rather than the ex-Neon "up for a/c, down for vent" system. Most other controls were identical to the original.

The GT Cruiser

The PT Cruiser GT, with a high-output 230 hp turbocharged engine, really feels and sounds more like a V8 than a turbo-four. Unfortunately, it also drinks gasoline like a V8, at least with the optional four-speed automatic.

While power has increased only a little on paper since the first generation, the engine feels as though the entire operating range has had a serious torque boost. From the start, the automatic-transmission GT is full of power, ready to test the traction control at a moment's notice. There is good torque and power right off idle, without the previous generation's obvious turbo kick-in (and turbo whine). The engine has a performance-tuned exhaust that emits a deep, power-evoking note at idle and at speed. 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.

Chrysler boosted the engine with a new cylinder block and head design changes, as well as a stronger crank and piston cooling by oil jets. The turbocharger, which could tend to overheat in the first generation GT, is now both oil and water cooled; it is integrated into the exhaust manifold.

There are, surprisingly, no dead spots in full-out sprints, with the transmission apparently better tuned to the engine (or vice versa); the main limit to acceleration seems to be traction from the front tires, with full-out launches restricted by the traction control. 0-60 acceleration appears to be about 7 seconds with the automatic - good but not supercar (indeed, slower than a Camry V6); on the other hand, on the highway, you get about the same punch as you do from the stoplight. This engine doesn't need to be wound to 6,000 rpm to get power.

The automatic was usually gentle and well-behaved, though sometimes it could get caught by surprise on acceleration or deceleration and lurch around a little. This is probably not an issue to be concerned about, because the automatic learns as it goes along, and this type generally gets confused by being in the press fleet, whether made by Chrysler or Toyota. Chrysler automatics in privately owned car and even rental cars seem to fare better than those in the fleet.

The suspension has been greatly improved, with cornering seeming as capable, if not more so, than the prior GT model, but with better cushioning and less of a stiff feeling. Although the suspension was modified for the turbo, the ride is pleasant, if not as well-insulated as base models. Handling is excellent, with the compact SUV feeling like a 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 (well, unless they aren't deaf — that exhaust does make itself known).

Torque steer is present, especially at launch, but is easily controlled, with only mild understeer. Under full throttle it wants to go straight, an admirable tendency.

Power normally comes at a price, and in this case, it's both initial cost (the turbo option adds quite a bit to the price, raising it to $23,000) and gasoline. The GT with automatic is supposed to get 19 city, 26 highway, according to the EPA; according to the on-board computer, we never beat 16 mpg in the city, and got about 18 highway. Of course, our car was a press fleet model that probably was flogged badly during its break-in period, and only had 2,400 miles on it; based on our past experience with recent Chrysler engines, gas mileage should go up. It's also possible that our trip computer was simply dead wrong, since we didn't go through that much gas. The turbo requires higher octane fuel.

The GT includes four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, traction control, and all-season performance tires on large chromed wheels, not to mention side airbags, a power sunroof, leather, and a number of other options — including of course the turbo and accompanying heavy-duty sport suspension. 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 GT is expensive, but you can get many less appealing packages for much more money; and the 2006 takes a bit of the edge off the suspension and adds to the power, making it more attractive (if you can afford the gasoline).

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