TTAC recently placed Chrysler on suicide watch for the easily correctable fact that vast empty spaces and dealers’ lots are stuffed with Chrysler/Dodge cars, trucks. minivans and SUV's that no one wants to buy. The new Sebring is a far deadlier proposition: a car headed straight for rental car Hell. For a few bills less than our semi-loaded (half cocked?) Sebring tester, you can buy a base Chrysler 300, which, according to Mr. Mehta, has “reinvigorated American car design.” The new Sebring is less invigorating than Vicodin. In fact, I reckon the model only exists because car rental customers are still willin' to take what they get.
Buzzwords like “breakthrough”, “paradigm” and “integration” are management Viagra. They give ignorant execs and clueless PR folk the power to appear talented. But no word sets the flack-talker’s soul afire like “synergy.” And no other word was deployed more often to justify the merger of Daimler-Benz with Chrysler. But what happens when you synergize top-dollar Mercedes underpinnings with Chrysler engineering and sell it for the price of a Camry? I’ll give you 300 guesses.
Why? Why in the world would Chrysler release another gas-guzzling SUV into the domestic market? OK, sure, they probably pulled the trigger on the Aspen before gas crested three bucks a gallon and immolated SUV sales. But why bother? The official website proclaims the Aspen offers “Decadence without shame.” This from a vehicle that gets [an entirely theoretical] 14 mpg in the urban cycle? Whose shame are they referring to? Surely someone should be embarrassed.
When Chrysler unveiled its PT Cruiser in 2001, it was hailed as a fun, versatile retro-mobile. While sales have remained relatively robust, virtually every automaker in the Cruiserweight class has introduced a new or reworked small wagon: the Toyota Matrix/ Pontiac Vibe twins, Mazda 3 and Chevrolet HHR (a.k.a. 'Me-Too Cruiser') among them. Even the Cruiser's parent company has introduced the genre-bending five-door Caliber. Despite the pig pile on PT, Daimler Chrysler has just given the Cruiser its first-ever refresh for 2006. Is this a case of a mortician doing a little touch-up work before closing the casket, or does the PT have longer legs than the fashion police led consumers to believe?
Few would argue that the PT's retrosexual curves haven't held up well– even if fellow Cruisers have long outgrown the whole light-flashing fraternity thing. But up front, DaimlerChrysler's makeover artists have reworked the lower valance to questionable effect. Whereas the original PT's lower reaches looked like an extension of the shield-shaped grille, the new design is at once more conventional and less harmonious; chrome garnishes, scalloped headlamps and new-look fogs creating change for the sake thereof. In our case, the PT's now legendary two-box profile rides on 'chrome clad' nine-spokers (16' alloys with a mirror-finish cap screwed on) and shiny side moldings. Out back, the song remains the same, with new clear-element taillights and a larger chrome (natch) exhaust. The overall effect remains that of a gangster mobile playfully packing cap guns. In the case of our "go for baroque" Electric Blue Limited, chrome ones. (We'll leave the bling-laden '2CK Quick Order Package' unchecked on the order sheet and pocket the $3,200, thanks)
Inside, DCX has given the PT larger, chrome-ringed gauges, round air vents, an 'Oh Shit' towel-bar of a grab-handle and a revamped center stack capped with an analog clock. Our tester's seats were a bit narrower than we recall, though wrapped in upscale cowhide and 'preferred suede' (the best euphemism for "fake leather" we've ever heard). Evidently looking to abandon its cheap n' cheerful reputation, our PT arrived ladled with a bushel's worth of options: power chairs with bun warmers, satellite radio, trip computer, the lot. Some of the Cruiser's middling interior plastics have been retextured, but it's largely the same well-assembled, functional and characterful interior as before. Even if the PT hasn't gotten a Cribs-style makeover, its den is still a fun, funky place to chill, with peerless room, excellent sightlines and a charming, tongue-in-cheek aesthetic unavailable elsewhere at this price point (barring the MINI franchise).
Under its U-shaped clamshell, our PT proffered a 2.4-liter force-fed four-cylinder, yoked to a 4-speed automatic. The PT's 180-horse light-pressure turbo imbues the retromobile with sufficient mid-range power to bob along all day at 80 mph, secreting a little extra in reserve for passing poke. When given Das Boot, the PT's old-skool four-speed slushbox often comes harder and later than a XXX A-lister. As no manual override or DIY option is available with the Limited's powerplant, drivers are encouraged to learn the tranny's tipping point to ensure smooth, swift progress.
We averaged about 22 mpg, an acceptable if uninspiring result given a hooligan's right foot. Either way, there's little wrong here that an up-to-date gearbox couldn't fix. Well, perhaps we'd take a reworked exhaust. As it is, Cruisin' soundtracks are best left to the discs in the six-puck stereo, because the engine's tune isn't nearly as playful as the vehicle it motivates.
Grab the (too thin) pseudo-banjo-spoke wheel, pitch the PT hard into a bend, and the front-driver's Goodyear Eagles wash out with Woolite-like predictability. Given its humble (and elderly) underpinnings — MacPherson strut (front), twist-beam/Watts link (rear) — the Limited acquits itself very well. But like a too-staid 'steady,' our touring-suspended PT proved a companion merely tolerant of questionable behavior. A more aggressive tread pattern than our tester's milquetoast footwear would go a long way towards improving the PT's fun-to-drive quotient, as might a slightly lowered ride height (the Cruiser's stance is a bit 'high-boy' for our tastes). Admittedly, its brakes haul 'er down with repeatable predictability, though we're at a loss as to why anti-lock supervision remains an option box unchecked on a $23k example.
The PT's dynamic pitfall is its epic turning circle. While hardly an issue when lazing along the interstate, it's a remarkably tough sell in tight parking lots. We suspect it's a packaging hurdle brought about by its pointed retro prow. However, given the its small footprint, it bears repeating: turning the PT round about its axis is a little… round about. Let's face it: the Cruiser has always romanced buyers with the curves of its fenders, not those upon which it travels. Yes, the Little Chrysler That Could remains flawed, but improbably enough, well… the kid stays in the picture.
[Chrysler provided the vehicle reviewed, insurance, taxes and a tank of gas]
The Pacifica is the original crossover, launched by Chrysler before sky high gas prices turbocharged the entire genre. The Pacifica combines the utility of a minivan (without the stigma of actually having to drive one), the raised seating position of an SUV (without getting dirty looks from drivers with "Proud To Be Vegan" bumper stickers) and the handling of a sedan (without the fuel efficiency). While it may not have everything it needs to roust suburban schleppers from their SUV's, the station wagon stilts is still the original and best shot over the SUV's bow.
In keeping with its multi-tasking mission, the Pacifica doesn't look like anything else on the market. With its dramatic belt line diving from back to front, the forward-leaning Pacifica's sheet metal has all the style of a Sinatra fedora. The details are equally compelling. Unlike its minivan competitors, the crossover's 17" wheels fit the wheel wells. The door handles aren't refugees from a bottomless parts bin. The bright work is deployed sparingly and with taste. In short, the Pacifica is the first pentastar product in a long time that doesn't look like it was designed by committee.
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.
I love horsepower. I love the feel of it lingering underfoot, ready to explode into neck-snapping, stomach-churning, tire-shredding violence. I love the sound of it: the blend of Fortissississimo bellowing and heavy metal madness. I love the power of it, the ability to make “ordinary” machines look as if God grabbed their rear bumpers and yanked them backwards. Sure, my passion for accelerative overload is infantile, dangerous and about as politically correct as a 1920s minstrel show. But at least it isn’t impractical or expensive. Well, not anymore.
Every now and then a car comes along that turns convention on its head. Cadillac's CTS-V is a perfect example. Who would have thought that the foremost proponent of the floaty-drifty school of handling would produce a sports sedan with sharper reflexes than a BMW 5-Series? The Chrysler 300C is another case in point. The last thing you'd expect from Daimler Chrysler, a traditional Detroit automaker with German masters, is a bad-ass gangsta-mobile.
The 300C was built for a drive-by shooter. Its narrow, high-set windows look more like gun slits than casements. Its gigantic "egg crate" prow projects a distinct air of physical menace. Slab sides, sharp creases and sheer bulk complete the "urban assault vehicle" design theme. Not to put too fine a point on it, what player wouldn't want to roll up in a car with such stylish malevolence?