Perfect for cruising

It's cold outside, but spring is on the way. And, hopefully, so is the new ragtop version of Chrysler’s PT Cruiser.

We say ‘hopefully’ because Chrysler’s US brass still haven’t decided whether or not to offer this versatile four-seat cabrio in the UK in right-hand-drive form, despite Britain being Europe’s biggest convertible market. That decision depends largely on reaction to the 50 left-hookers Chrysler will bring to the UK later this year to test the waters.

To us, it’s a no-brainer. This new PT is a proper four-seater with the most rear legroom in its class – a whopping 254mm more than the VW Beetle Convertible.

It also comes with a standard power hood that drops in 10 seconds flat; a pass-through between the boot and rear seats for carrying long objects; and here’s the best part – an optional 220bhp turbo motor giving 0-62mph sprinting in 7.6 seconds.

Chrysler says the PT was designed as a convertible from the outset, so there’s plenty of strength built into the body. But for good measure, they added extra stiffening around the doors and behind the rear seats. They also kept the wide, hydroformed steel roll-over bar behind the front seats that was a feature of the concept shown at the 2001 New York Motor Show. Chrysler says that not only does it add rigidity and provide roll-over protection, it also directs airflow over those sitting in the rear.

Dropping the top is a simple matter of twisting a centre latch and punching a button on the dash. Count from one to 10 and the roof powers back and folds almost flat onto the rear deck, without encroaching on boot space.

A giant vinyl tonneau covers the folded top and is easily locked in place by two clips. In situ, there’s still plenty of rearward visibility, but the cover is so big that, when folded and stowed in the boot, it takes up a lot of space.

Top down with the windows raised, there’s hardly any wind buffeting up front, but rear-seat riders still get blasted. With the three-layer top raised, there’s surprisingly little wind noise.

As for visibility with the top up, those thick rear three-quarter sections, together with a rather small rear window, do reduce rearward vision.

Inside, Chrysler designers have done a fine job of making the most of the available space. Big, wide-opening doors and a front passenger seat that slides forward as it tilts, make getting into the back a cinch. The rear seats also split and fold 50:50.

Stateside, there’s a choice of three models: a Standard powered by a 150bhp 2.4-litre four-cylinder with five-speed manual ’box (just like the 50 cars destined for Britain); a Touring with a turbocharged 180bhp 2.4 coupled to a four-speed auto; and a tyre-spinning GT with a 220bhp turbo four coupled to a five-speed Getrag manual ’box.

With the 220bhp motor recently being homologated for Europe, the GT convertible is a natural for the UK.

Yes, there’s plenty of torquesteer as you accelerate hard from rest, and the sports suspension makes the ride firm and brittle. But the GT is a lot of fun to drive, with lots of mid-range grunt for swift overtaking and fast exits from corners. And the 17-inch alloys with 205-section rubber provide excellent grip.

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Interested? Perhaps your local Chrysler dealer needs a word of encouragement. After all, spring is just around the corner.

Howard Walker

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