Three years ago the car to be seen in was the Chrysler PT Cruiser. With styling influenced by classic American cars of the 1930s, but with the practicality of a five-door hatchback, the PT Cruiser came to the UK in 2000 as a wild and wonderful pseudo-MPV.
However, its fleet appeal – even for user-choosers – was limited. There was one engine and no diesel until early 2002.
The last few years have also seen their fair share of cars that dare to be different, including the Volkswagen Beetle, the smart and the MINI. Meanwhile, the onset of emissions-based company car tax last year meant that business drivers would have to pay the price for being different due to the PT Cruiser's relatively high emissions.
Chrysler is fighting back by converting recent retail price reductions into permanent list price cuts from April 1, and the introduction of an entry-level diesel model priced at £14,195 on the road (the petrol 2.0 Classic has been marked down to £12,995).
This puts it right in the middle of Ford Focus territory, undercutting the cheapest Focus 1.8TDCi hatchback by £150, Bear in mind, too, that the Ford also gives away 20bhp to the Chrysler 2.2CRD Classic.
And since its launch a year ago, diesel has made up one third of PT Cruisers sold. But Chrysler feels that for a medium car in Europe it is still punching below its weight. Chrysler marketing director Steve Gray said: 'We want to build diesel volume through the 2.2CRD classic, and the price cut repositions the car in a broader group of competitors, right in the middle of the C-segment.'
The combination of a low-price diesel and its undoubted practicality might well improve its chances with fleets, while its shape is still fresh enough to appeal to style-conscious drivers.
Behind the wheel
AFTER a brief drive in the PT Cruiser I was stumped as to what the base Classic model was lacking as standard compared with the mid-spec Touring. The door handles are covered in chrome inside and out, there is air conditioning, a CD player, electric windows and mirrors and now all Cruisers come with ABS as standard.
It was only on closer inspection that I discovered the smart-looking wheels were plastic covers over 15-inch steel, there was no leather on the steering wheel and no front fog lights.
Consulting a spec sheet also revealed that there was no cruise control (standard on auto Tourings) and no overhead console with compass.
Many drivers would feel these extras were of limited value and would happily survive without them. Meanwhile, although the Cruiser's upright stance might take some getting used to for the uninitiated, it certainly drives well. Its Mercedes-developed 2.2-litre common rail diesel is refined and pulls well with maximum torque of 221lb-ft available from 1,600rpm.
The tall gearstick, with 'billiard ball' gearknob, provides slick shifts and is one of those things that makes the interior a bit different.
The Cruiser is comfortable and, despite its height, does not go all wallowy when pressing on. Although some of the interior plastics feel cheap, the overall ambience is generally high quality, with velour seats, chrome door handles, body-colour inserts and contrasting shades of interior trim, rather like the Rover 75.
DARING to be different can be a tricky business, but the Chrysler PT Cruiser 2.2CRD Classic is a practical five-door hatchback with an impressively strong diesel engine. It is easy to drive and offers user choosers something out of the ordinary that should also make sense on a whole-life cost basis.