Remember when the PT Cruiser first hit showrooms in 2001? Back then, you couldn't touch one for MSRP and even if you could, you'd probably have to wait three months for it to come in. The public can be a ravenous entity, as fickle as they are passionate. Yet where once you had to add your name to a waiting list just to get a test-drive, today you'll find the PT Cruiser lined up in rows, just waiting to be negotiated at $500 over invoice.
To keep wet the public's appetite and bring the Cruiser some much needed muscle, Chrysler has introduced a new beast to the line up, one that may very well see the return of the PT waiting list. The PT GT (or PT Turbo as most call it) employs a turbocharger to endow the curvaceous Cruiser with the moves to match its retro hot-rod styling.
The PT turbo starts its life as an ordinary PT. Its conventional front-wheel drive layout is attached to a unibody frame sporting a McPhearson strut suspension up front and trailing-arm twist beam axle with Watts linkage in the rear. This suspension set up is not uncommon and provides a cost-effective way to balance great handling with a smooth ride. The PT Turbo gets a beefier shock/spring setup as well as more aggressive 17-inch wheels with wide P205/50HR17 all-season performance tires. This suspension takes what was already a very competent performer and turns it into a level-cornering monster that eats lesser cars for lunch.
The PT Turbo's rowdy new personality can be linked directly to its new-found power source: a 2.4-liter turbocharged engine that kicks out a whopping 220 horsepower. The new engine gets beefier rods, pistons and crankshaft and features a larger exhaust for better breathing. Though this is Chrysler's first attempt at turbocharging the PT, the company has a long history of building high-output, small displacement turbos, starting all the way back in the early 80s with such demon children as the GLH Omni, Shelby Lancer and Dodge Daytona Turbo. The PT Turbo is forged in the same mold as these earlier cars, employing a high-pressure turbo that rockets the PT from 0 to 60-mph in a shade over seven seconds (that's with the five-speed manual.)
The PT's brawny muscle shows up early in the rpm band. From the instant you floor the accelerator, the PT Turbo begins to pull like a pack of eager sled dogs let loose at the Ididarod starting line. There is no turbo lag here and you can easily spin the front wheels from a standing stop. Once the tires find their grip, the PT Turbo is catapulted forward with such determination that you'll quickly find yourself running out of first gear. There is very little torque steer, a pleasant surprise for such a powerful front-drive car. There seems to be a good deal of low-end torque as we didn't feel the need to downshift when climbing steep grades or attempting leisurely passing maneuvers.
Besides the marvelously smooth shifting five-speed manual (our favorite) you can now opt for an automatic transmission with the Autostick manual shift feature. A first for the PT line, this transmission offers drivers a bit more sporting feel without the use of a clutch pedal. With the Autostick, you simply tap the shift lever sideways to change gears.
Beyond its mechanical differences, the PT Turbo also exhibits some external styling cues that separate it from the base PT. A monochromatic paint job covers a new front fascia and grille and continues back along the side skirts and body molding to the rear of the car. You'll also find a bold set of five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels tucked snuggly into the PT's wheel wells. They look so right on the PT that once you've seen them, every other wheel choice will look oddly undersized.
Inside, the highly versatile PT interior is given the star treatment, with silver-faced instruments, sport seats with better side bolster and thigh support and a powerful high-end audio system that can be equipped with satellite radio or a six-disc in-dash changer. With the PT Turbo, you don't have to give up any of the base PT's legendary interior volume. There is still ample head, hip and legroom for passengers both front and rear, not to mention such cool features as the adjustable rear shelf table, perfect for tailgating or beachside lunches.