Fleet News

Chrysler PT Cruiser 2.2 CRD Touring

Review

Niche products are often seen as an alternative to the mainstream and as such can be a double-edged sword.

Their appeal is in their distinctive styling and the fact that they stand out from the crowd. But the danger is that they are part of a fad and a few years down the line are as embarrassing as tank tops.

Although no car is immune from peaks and troughs in street cred, some seem to cope better than others, and there is a recent history of cars which make a style statement upon which the used market will become judge, jury and executioner in a few years.

The new Volkswagen Beetle and two-seater Smart are a case in point - they were so popular that left-hand drive versions were sold in the UK before right-hand drive cars were ready.

Volkswagen has introduced new engine variants of the Beetle to try to shore up interest while the Smart is still too new to make a proper judgement.

The Chrysler PT Cruiser could also be put in the same category. Initial interest in the car was huge and Chrysler could sell every car it could make, but a couple of years on things have slowed down a little. The car was always going to have limited appeal with three trim levels and one 2.0-litre petrol engine and a single body style.

Now a 2.2-litre common rail diesel engine - also used in the Mercedes-Benz C-class and E-class - has been dropped into the Cruiser, offering improved economy and emissions.

The Cruiser was always a cross-over vehicle, performing the role of a lower-medium car with much of the practicality of a mini-MPV.

In list price terms it competes with a premium mini-MPV - the long wheelbase Mercedes-Benz A-class with a 1.7-litre common rail diesel.

But you could also choose a premium lower-medium hatchback and for a few hundred pounds more than the PT Cruiser you could pick an Audi A3 1.9 TDI SE in 100bhp trim. The challenge for the PT Cruiser is to make a convincing running costs argument, and at least get close to its lower-powered, more fuel-efficient rivals, so the emotional decision in choosing something more distinctive and stylish can be backed up by financial good sense.

But pure financial sense is the PT Cruiser's downfall. While it competes fairly well on front-end price with our two German rivals, it is simply outclassed in other areas.

In running cost terms, the Cruiser lags far behind. Over three-years/60,000-miles the Cruiser will cost 34.32 pence per mile, about the same as a top spec Ford Mondeo TDdi saloon.

But the Audi and Mercedes streak ahead, costing 25.54ppm and 27.06ppm respectively.

So why does the Cruiser fare so badly in terms of running costs? Well, its combined fuel economy figure of 40.9mpg is good, but the Audi and BMW record mid-50s mpg, making a huge difference in fuel costs. Servicing, maintenance and repair costs are also much higher with the Cruiser.

In terms of monthly rental costs, the Cruiser is not too far behind the competition, costing £411 a month to rent, according to HSBC Vehicle Finance. By comparison, the Audi costs £375 a month and the Mercedes-Benz £387.

Fleet verdict

TO put it bluntly, the PT Cruiser cannot compete with this prestige competition Its running costs proposition is too high against its rivals and it will cost its drivers far more in tax than the Audi and Mercedes-Benz thanks to its higher level of CO2 emissions.

But perhaps we are being unfair to the Cruiser. Granted it cannot compete here, but its running costs are, as we said before, similar to a top-spec Ford Mondeo diesel.

But in today's world of wider fleet choice lists, people crave individuality and there is no car on the road that is more distinctive than the Cruiser.

Finding rivals for the Cruiser for this test was difficult, with only the Mercedes really matching the Cruiser's mini-MPVish design. However, in pure cash terms, the Audi is going to be the safest bet for any fleet decision-maker.

Behind the wheel

THE PT Cruiser's appearance, while no longer such an unusual sight on the roads, is nevertheless bound to split opinion. I still think the stylish retro-influenced front end sits rather unhappily with the hearse-like rear, although it does have novelty appeal.

Its unusual shape means the interior feels different too, the dashboard is vertical. Sometimes it really does feel like you are sitting in a vintage car, but it is very well finished.

There is a body-coloured panel covering the passenger airbag and Chrysler has done a great job of making the plastics appear more expensive than they deserve to look. The combination of light and dark colours works well and makes the car feel a special place to be. The main dials are individually cowled and the billiard ball style gear knob works well, the only real grumble about the interior being that you sometimes find things in unexpected places.

Electric window switches are at the top of the centre console - exactly where you would not expect to find them - and the rear wash/wipe lies in a bank of switches at the bottom of the centre console which could easily be labelled 'all other controls'. The vents are strange as well, being directed by moving a little stick in the centre which doesn't appear to be attached to anything. Mysteriously, it works.

The seats are comfortable, with arm rests in the front for the Touring model - the entry-level for the diesel engine - and, this is where the pseudo-MPV bit comes in handy, the rear bench is split 60/40 and both sections can be completely removed.

This provides a luggage area to rival some full-size estates, and given the mono-box shape of mini-MPVs, there is a strong argument for the more stylish PT Cruiser.

The car also has a decent level of equipment with air conditioning, remote central locking, front and side airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, cruise control and electric height adjustable driver's seat, but you would expect all of this in a £17,500 car.

The Cruiser is also good to drive - the 120bhp 2.2-litre diesel engine provides plenty of torque although the PT Cruiser's shape probably doesn't help fuel economy.

The official combined figure of 40.9mpg is poor compared with less powerful rivals, but our experience from driving the car was that this figure could be improved on in normal driving.

It handles well for a tall car, with limited body roll and it seems far more composed than a conventional MPV, while the ride is supple, keeping bumps and thumps to a minimum over poorly surfaced roads.

Driving verdict

IF choosing your company car is an emotional choice then the PT Cruiser CRD makes a strong argument. Its styling makes it one of the most recognisable cars on the road and the limited number of models imported means it will retain that exclusive tag. The addition of a diesel engine to the range means the Cruiser can also add strong fuel economy and plenty of torque to its list of attributes, along with plenty of space and a lengthy list of standard equipment. If you want to stand out in the company car park, this is the car for you.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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