2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser Review

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The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 23, 2008

The 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible gets the axe midway through 2008, so if you want one, act quickly, but the wagon is here if you need flexible utility with retro flair.

TheCarConnection.com’s car experts read a wide variety of road tests to write this consensus review of the 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser. Experts from TheCarConnection.com have driven the Chrysler PT Cruiser (including the convertible and turbo-powered versions) to help give you a definitive opinion on this wagon. This review also compares the 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser with other vehicles in its class to give you the best advice even when other reviews present conflicting opinions.

The first production Chrysler PT Cruiser was a 2001 model. Beyond year-over-year updates, not much has changed for this wagon crossover, though a moderate revamp for 2006 brought a new style and a better interior. The 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser brings some new standard safety features such as standard side airbags and a tire pressure monitoring system.

The retro-styled, five-passenger Chrysler PT Cruiser is available in LX, Touring, and Limited trim levels. In addition to the standard wagon body style (one that TheCarConnection.com editors still mostly like), there is also the awkwardly misshapen PT Cruiser Convertible.

A 150-horsepower 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine is standard, with a 180-horsepower turbocharged version optional. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, while a four-speed automatic is optional on base cars and standard on the Touring. Neither engine sets the world ablaze with amazing performance, but they get the job done. The chassis under the 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser is still a derivative of the old Dodge and Plymouth Neon--sophisticated and refined it's not. The driving character is described by some editors from TheCarConnection.com as "rental car like."

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Special edition PT Cruisers have been a marketing ploy Chrysler has used to maintain interest in the PT; remember, this car debuted as a 2001 model and has only had minor updates since. Continuing with this tradition, a special Sunset Boulevard Edition is available in 2008 and gets bathed in warm Sunset Crystal paint. It's also given a unique, five-bar grille, special badges and trim, and brightly chromed 16-inch wheels. Inside, the Sunset Boulevard Edition features sporty cloth seats, silk-finished sill plates, a chromed gauge bezel, and painted dashboard accents that match the exterior color. This new limited-edition model started out as a base PT Cruiser LX, but it gets a variety of upscale standard features, including a sunroof, power windows and mirrors, an AM/FM/CD audio system with MP3 input, and a tilt steering column.

Side airbags are now standard on all models for 2008, along with tire pressure monitors. Anti-lock brakes are optional on the LX versions. The LX and Touring models get a new body-color grille. A 368-watt Boston Acoustics premium sound system with MP3 capability is available, as are Sirius Satellite Radio, Bluetooth, and 17-inch wheels.

As Chrysler LLC makes hard choices about what products to support, it has been announced that the 2009 model year will be the last one for the PT Cruiser Convertible.

Even though the PT Cruiser shares some powertrain components with the Dodge Caliber and Jeep Compass, that's about all the common ground between these three Chrysler LLC vehicles. The Dodge and Jeep are built on newer platforms than the PT Cruiser, and they drive better. Both of these competitors offer all-wheel drive. The PT Cruiser doesn't.

The Mazda3 and Scion xB are two other potential Chrysler PT Cruiser competitors. The Mazda3's wagon body style is practical, and its general driving attitude is very sporty. The xB is a funky box on wheels that has been recently redesigned. Like the HHR, the xB offers more interior room than the 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser.

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2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser

Styling

The 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser is a nostalgia buff's dream, though the Convertible model’s roll hoop is an oddity.

The retro-styled, five-passenger 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser is available in LX, Touring, and Limited trim levels. In addition to the standard wagon body style (one that TheCarConnection.com editors still mostly like), there is also the awkwardly misshapen PT Cruiser Convertible.

If you want retro style without the headaches and mechanical maintenance problems of an actual classic car, TheCarConnection.com's team of experts suggests that, based on what reviewers are saying, you might be quite pleased with the Chrysler PT Cruiser. Automotive.com notes that the Chrysler PT Cruiser 2008 "combines the retro look of late-'30s American iron with modern performance, efficiency and features," also mentioning that the convertible may be "not-so-versatile" (see below). Cars.com describes the Chrysler PT Cruiser as "retro-styled...blends the elements of a sedan, wagon, SUV and minivan... vaguely resembles a panel truck of the 1930s, overlaid with street-rod styling from the 1950s." This last point is also noted at Car and Driver: "the PT's look mimics that of old-school hot rods." Automobile says “you either like the Cruiser’s mini-gangster styling or you don’t.”

The convertible version shares the overall theme, but in place of its four doors and solid roof is a two-door side view connected by a thick roll hoop that maintains the Cruiser’s body rigidity. Automobile says the “huge 'sport bar' (so named by lawyers to minimize its responsibilities in a rollover) helps tie the body together,” but alludes to its intrusive look outside and feel inside the retro PT.

The retro look is not confined to the exterior. Kelley Blue Book points out that "Interior touches such as the stylish, retro-look cue-ball shift knob conspire to keep occupants in a good-ol'-days state of mind," while ConsumerGuide adds that 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser's "instrument panel carries on the exterior's retro theme." Automotive.com notes that the Chrysler PT Cruiser 2008's "retro theme is tempered by a modern-looking center stack that visually splits the vintage-styled dashboard."

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2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser

Performance

Pure power is off the menu, but the 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser handles fairly well, even in hefty droptop form.

The 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser is no great performer, particularly in convertible form.

Car and Driver reports that the 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser comes with "either a 2.4-liter inline-four making 150 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque or a turbocharged 2.4-liter inline-four that cranks out 180 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque." ConsumerGuide says the Chrysler PT Cruiser 2008's "150-hp engine is fine for around-town cruising but weak on hills or in highway passing." Edmunds advises that when "equipped with the turbo 2.4-liter engine, the 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser accelerates decently once the turbo is spooled up," but warns that "buyers will want to avoid the base engine, which leaves the car feeling lethargic." The convertible weighs significantly more than the wagon, so performance suffers.

Automotive.com reports that "a five-speed manual transmission is standard and a four-speed automatic is optional...The manual gearbox is surprisingly precise, not sports-car grade, but not bad for a unit with a longer-throw gate and foot-long shifter." ConsumerGuide mentions that the Chrysler PT Cruiser 2008 "manual-transmission version did 8.9 seconds 0-60 mph in our tests," but adds "automatics are significantly slower." Nonetheless, the "automatic transmission is responsive, despite a tendency to lurch when downshifting."

At today's fuel prices and for what it is, the Chrysler PT Cruiser's fuel mileage is not stellar. "With the manual transmission, the base engine is EPA rated at 21 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway. With the automatic, the ratings are 19/24," reports Automotive.com. In actual road tests, ConsumerGuide determines "150-hp models averaged 18.5-23.0 mpg with automatic transmission and 18.3-22.1 with the manual. With the 180-hp engine, test Limited wagons averaged 19.5-20.3 mpg," adding "all PT Cruisers use regular-grade gas."

The chassis under the 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser is still a derivative of the old Dodge and Plymouth Neon--sophisticated and refined it's not. According to Automotive.com, "even the base PT Cruiser handles more like a sedan than a minivan, maintaining its composure in the corners." However, "in quick, hard, slalom-type maneuvers any PT Cruiser starts to feel top heavy...you can almost feel the high mass of the car try to continue in one direction as the front wheels turn in the other. It feels tentative when turning in for high-speed corners and does not inspire confidence."

However, Cars.com says "the [Chrysler] PT Cruiser's terrific handling is confident and nimble. This wagon maneuvers with utter crispness and can take corners with impressive speed." ConsumerGuide reports that "all models absorb bumps reasonably well, [and] the convertible is less prone to body flex than many four-seat droptops...PT Cruisers have good grip in turns from the 16- and 17-inch tires." Edmunds contends that "apart from a wide turning circle, all PTs are easy to steer, and the suspension consistently soaks up road irregularities, yielding a smooth, composed ride."

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2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser offers good compact-wagon room, but the convertible is tighter, and neither version wins awards for interior finishes.

The 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser has the space for five on paper, but it may not meet everyone's expectations in terms of comfort and quality.

Most reviews studied by experts at TheCarConnection.com express satisfaction with Chrysler PT Cruiser’s interior space. Automotive.com says "the five-door model's tall body boasts lots of room...interior volume and versatility compare well to a small SUV." According to Cars.com, "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." Car and Driver warns, however, that the "seats don't suit everyone's backsides." Edmunds says, "Taller drivers will find plenty of room to get comfortable, but shorter drivers may not care for the somewhat flat seat design and elevated driving position," though they point out that "rear seats in both variants are slightly elevated to provide a nice view, and adults will find plenty of head- and legroom."

Predictably, the convertible version suffers in comparison. Automotive.com points out that "the convertible doesn't stand as tall as the wagon, offering just 84.3 cubic feet of interior volume compared with 120.5 for the wagon." The wagon is fine, however; Car and Driver notes "a flexible interior means lots of cargo capacity." Whereas the wagon offers "an impressive 64.2 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity" according to Edmunds, the convertible Chrysler PT Cruiser must make do with a "small trunk opening with 7.4 cubic feet of space."

Overall, the Chrysler PT Cruiser interior is a "spacious and versatile cabin," according to Edmunds, which doesn't mention ergonomics or quality of actual materials. ConsumerGuide, on the other hand, notes that the "interior liberally uses hard plastics, but they don't look cheap," but the "dashboard-mounted power-window switches are odd," while "convertibles add a handy 'all up/all down' button."

Noise levels while traveling in the 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser are not excessive: Automobile.com notes "little wind noise, almost no tire or road noise, and a just-audible whine from the drivetrain." ConsumerGuide reports that "coarse pavement induces some road roar...wind rush starts to intrude at 65 mph." This source adds that "convertibles are only slightly noisier top up and fairly calm top down," but "in all versions, the engine never sounds smooth and is especially coarse above 4000 rpm."

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2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser

Safety

The 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser earns respectable crash-test scores, but some safety gear is unavailable, and anti-lock brakes are optional on most models.

While the 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser gets good-to-excellent scores in crash testing, the lack of stability control and curtain airbags are serious omissions, and anti-lock brakes are an option on most models, too.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ratings for the PT Cruiser are good: five out of five stars for side impact protection and four stars in front impact crashes and rollover tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not tested the Chrysler PT Cruiser.

Automotive.com reports that Chrysler PT Cruiser 2008 "safety features include dual front airbags; torso-protecting front side-impact airbags; and a tire-pressure monitor, " while "front belts have pyrotechnically charged tensioners, just like in luxury cars, to tighten the belts for the initial stages of an impact." Parents of small children will be glad to know that in the Chrysler PT Cruiser 2008, "the rear bench is equipped with child-seat tethers."

Cars.com reports "driver and passenger front and side airbags are standard," but "ABS is standard only on the Limited model; it otherwise costs $625 and includes traction control." However, "stability control is not available on any Chrysler PT Cruiser."

Kelley Blue Book says that the Chrysler PT Cruiser 2008 "driver and passenger sit high for a commanding view of the road," but ConsumerGuide says that while "sight lines are clear on the wagon...rear headrests are minor obstructions," and "a small rear window on the Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible greatly restricts the view."

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2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser

Features

The 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser can be optioned lavishly, and even base models come with a reasonable set of features.

The 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser has a full range of options for those willing to pay for them.

Car and Driver notes "the [Chrysler] PT Cruiser has always offered a lot of style for the money, provided you like the style and you keep the options to a minimum." The base LX model "includes power windows and locks, keyless entry, and a rear wiper and defroster."

Cars.com states that the PT Cruiser’s "standard equipment includes remote keyless entry, power windows and a CD stereo."

Moving to uplevel options, Car and Driver reports that "the [Chrysler PT Cruiser 2008] Touring, with a base price of $19,600, adds an automatic transmission, air conditioning, a power driver's seat, stain-resistant seat fabric, 16-inch tires with aluminum wheels, fog lamps, and floor mats."

Automotive.com attests that Chrysler PT Cruiser options include "a 368-watt Boston Acoustics premium sound system, a six-disc CD changer, a sunroof for Touring wagons, heated front seats for the convertible and Touring wagon and Chrysler's UConnect hands-free cell phone link." In addition, this source points out "standard features on higher-line [2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser] models are also available as options on the less expensive models."

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Styling 7
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 7
Features 8
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