Chrysler says the retro-styled, front-wheel-drive PT Cruiser blends the elements of a sedan, wagon, sport utility vehicle and minivan. Four trims are available: base, Touring, Limited and GT.
For 2006, the high-output turbocharged engine in the GT gets a boost to 230 horsepower, which represents a 10 hp increase. Front and rear fascias have been updated, including a new grille with a winged Chrysler badge and chrome accents, new headlamps with scalloped bottom edges, new round fog lamps, and a new spoiler on the rear roof panel. The 2006 PT Cruiser's interior is new, and includes fresh seat trim and a satin silver-finished instrument panel with larger graphics and an analog clock. A passenger grab handle now sits on the instrument panel, and a new console features a sliding armrest. All radios now have MP3 capability.
The PT Cruiser vaguely resembles a panel truck of the 1930s, overlaid with street-rod styling from the 1950s. Bulging fenders, fender-mounted headlights and taillights, and a tall, wide eggcrate grille help give the PT Cruiser its unique look. Another distinctive feature is its basic stance, which makes the wagon look like it's leaning forward. Built on a 103-inch wheelbase, the PT Cruiser is 168.9 inches long overall and 63 inches tall.
A liftgate-mounted sport spoiler is standard on the GT and optional on the Limited. The potent PT Cruiser GT has a larger, lower grille opening for its air-to-air intercooler. Additional GT features include a large-diameter chrome exhaust tip and all-season performance tires on 17-inch chrome-clad wheels.
Up to five occupants can fit inside the versatile interior. Two bucket seats are installed up front and a 65/35-split, folding rear bench holds three. Outboard passengers have adequate space, but the center rear position is cramped.
Removing the rear seat expands cargo volume from a moderate 21.6 cubic feet to a sizable 62.7 cubic feet. The front-passenger seatback folds flat, leaving enough space to haul an 8-foot ladder. Performance seats, silver cluster gauges and a satin silver gearshift knob are included in the GT.
The base 2.4-liter four-cylinder produces 150 hp. Two turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinders are offered, producing either 180 hp or 230 hp. The 180-hp engine comes only with a four-speed-automatic transmission, but the other power plants can mate with either the automatic or a five-speed manual. The automatic in the 230-hp PT Cruiser GT incorporates AutoStick manual gear selection.
Antilock brakes are standard on the GT and available on other trim levels. Side-impact airbags for the front seats are optional, but a driver's inflatable knee blocker is newly standard.
Imaginative and distinctive styling are the main attractions, but this wagon's roomy and flexible interior keeps buyers interested. Though the base-engine PT Cruiser is far from overpowering, its performance is more satisfying than some critics suggest. Throttle response is rapid, even if the action that follows is a little lackadaisical. As expected, the high-output turbocharged GT delivers responsive performance, even with the automatic.
The PT Cruiser's terrific handling is confident and nimble. This wagon maneuvers with utter crispness and can take corners with impressive speed. Body lean in curves is noticeable, but the otherwise-stable PT Cruiser is exceptionally easy to drive.