You can no more assess a PT Cruiser Convertible based on its acceleration, ride and handling than you can rate a Harley Davidson Softail on its ability to keep pace with a Honda Blackbird. As a "cruiser", the PT Convertible can only be judged by one metric: its feel good factor (FGF). Do owners run out of milk at odd intervals? Do they name their cars? Do they lower the lid in winter? Yes, cubed. The PT drop top has all the car-isma cruisers crave– and then some.
First and foremost, it's a four-seater. The rag-top cognoscenti know that a convertible's FGF increases arithmetically with each additional passenger. If the rear seats are spacious, the pleasure generated is almost inconceivable. Try. Imagine stashing a couple of best buds in your Chrysler top-down two-door and heading for the beach; sucking on an ice cold Coke and blissing on Ban de Soleil as your crew sing along with the latest Black Eyed Peas hookfest. If that's not a peak automotive experience (and an example of unpaid product placement), I don't know what is.
The Convertible's dramatic styling gives it tremendous cruise-compliant curb appeal. The PT's sheet metal proclaims its idealized intentions without embarrassment or affectation. It's a shame the hood doesn't stow flat; the baby-carriage back end violates the PT's vanitude. Luckily, the St. Louis arch bisecting the cabin draws the eye away from the rear, helping to maintain focus on the PT Cruiser Convertible's flowing lines.
That said, I've never been a big fan of the PT's retro-minded aesthetics. I've seen too many perfectly restored antique automobiles to surrender myself to a pastiche that combines an elegant Chrome Age grill with a 40's panel van. Flipping the PT's lid only highlights the bizarre dichotomy between the art deco prow and the prison wall rear end. I reckon this is one of the only convertibles made that looks better with the top up. Still, to paraphrase Rupert Pupkin, it's better to be a Cruiser for a night than an Impala for a lifetime.
The PT Cruiser Convertible's upgraded interior doesn't quite live up to the exterior spizzarkle. While the level of fit and finish is unassailable– a remarkable achievement given the price point– the all-important center stack has more than a whiff of rental car to it. The radio sets the tone; it's a cheap-looking unit with a digital display harkening back to the entirely wrong era (the '70's). The wet-look plastic surrounding the instrument cluster and sheltering the passenger airbag is a feeble attempt to echo the painted metal dashboards of 50's land yachts. The gauges themselves are typographically bland and slightly too small. Wherever you look, it's quality over flair.
At the risk of contradicting myself, the PT Cruiser Convertible offers dynamic compensation for its plodding interior. The five-speed manual gearbox, for example, is a peach. The shift knob is perfectly positioned, and the transmission swaps cogs with well-oiled precision. The helm has just enough road feel to remind owners that cruising consists of equal parts posing, scoping and driving. The GT's disc brakes lack initial bite and require some committed pushing, but they reward the effort with power and grace.
Which is just as well. The GT's 2.4-liter four-cylinder turbo brings new meaning to the word "overkill". As soon as you crest 4000rpms in first or second gear, the front wheels start slip sliding away. Combine this with body flex and a bit of wheel hop and, well, let's just say it's best to let those 230 horses graze. Pistonheads are advised to buy the less powerful variant and chill.
No problem. A PT Cruiser Convertible in amble mode is Hakuna Matata in-car-nate. In fact, Chrysler should sell a line of Hawaiian shirts to match the Cruiser's color chart (Linen Gold, Cool Vanilla, etc.). Drivers who believe you can't put a price on open-top nirvana– but have to do so anyway– would wear them with pride. And why not? If you're looking for a spacious, well-built, sensibly-priced drop top that makes you drive by store windows to look AT them, rather than THROUGH them, the PT Cruiser Convertible is the ideal fresh air whip, bar none.