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Chrysler PT Cruiser Preview

The PT Cruiser is probably the most significant automotive product since the minivan. It achieved an incredible following long before it hit the dealers, at least partly because of its reasonable price range: $16,000 to $20,000. The sole engine, for the moment, is a 150 hp 2.4 from Chrysler's parts bin, connected to either an automatic or manual transmission. A supercharged version is reportedly in the works.

The dashboard has a full compliment of gauges in a faux wood panel. The interior of our test car was light gray leather. The Limited Edition ($20,000) includes air conditioning, power, AM/FM cassette radio with six speakers, automatic 4 speed transmission, and ABS. Options include a power sunroof, roof rack, Infinity sound system, fog lamps, and a touring suspension that includes 16 inch wheels. (Our test car had the touring suspension).

Torque is good, with 162 lb-ft; even at low rpms, the engine feels strong. Towing, however, is out of the question unless you have a very light trailer. Thre transmission is very smooth, and the engine is quiet.

The seats can accommodate cargo or passengers, depending on need.

Gas mileage is about 22 city and 31 highway, very good for a minivan, even a mini-minivan. Europeans may love this car. We averaged about 25 in mixed driving (compare to standard minivans at around 20).

Getting to sixty takes a bit under ten seconds, which is neither too fast nor too slow these days; around the same as an Infiniti G20 with automatic. Handling with the touring suspension is very good, not surprising given it's based on the Neon platform. There was little brake fade.

Controls are logical and sensibly placed, for the most part. The interior is surprisingly large for what is basically a small car.

(Preview: thanks to Curtis Redgap).

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