We were presented with a car inspired by classic Americana: hot rod cars, the like of which the average 'limey' isn't likely to have seen except on some obscure motoring channel on cable TV or on MTV, courtesy of bearded band ZZ Top in the late 1980s.
It didn't even have the rosy glow of being a throwback to some glory day of motoring, which has done so much for the MINI and Volkswagen Beetle.
But Chrysler took its chances and pushed the PT Cruiser into the motoring playground.
In the beginning, in the fleet class of 2000 it was told to stand at the back of the class facing the wall for its lack of a diesel option and uninspiring 2.0-litre petrol engine. Two years later, a Mercedes-Benz-derived 2.2-litre diesel powerplant was added to the range and then last year Chrysler brought prices down across the Cruiser range.
Now, the Cruiser is available with a common rail turbodiesel engine. It produces more torque (221lb-ft at 1,600rpm) than any other in the small MPV diesel sector, including heavyweight competitors like the Renault Scenic 1.9dCi (148 at 2,000) and Vauxhall Zafira 2.0 DTi (170 at 2,500).
The new engine provides a top speed of 114mph and a 0-62mph time of 12.1 seconds, while returning combined fuel economy of 40.9mpg.
The pedigree of this new engine boosts the drivability of the car considerably. It's a little noisy – not obtrusively – but makes up for this in spades with an impressive throttle response.
The gearbox is a little ratchety, however, and can be hard work. Another issue is the seats. They are comfortable, there's plenty of adjustment, boosted by the reach-and-rake steering column and yet they are a little sponge-like. On tight corners, there is a little too much sideways movement to be really comforting.
There is plenty inside the Cruiser to take your mind off such things, however. The stunning blue exterior paintwork of our long-termer – touched off with chrome nomenclature on the rear and door handles – carries on inside on the passenger-side fascia, complete with chrome lettering and dial surrounds.
Add this attention to detail to the leather and suede trim (fitted as standard in the Limited model), the leather steering wheel with chrome-effect spokes, the long 'cue ball' topped gear lever, circular multi-directional air vents and even the wonderfully tactile rubber door handles and it makes the Cruiser a real treasure trove. Competitors in the small MPV segment just can't compete.
There are a couple of concerns. The plastic surrounds on the steering-wheel spokes are a little loose. The steering wheel isn't centred on the column – it's about 10 degrees out. And I really don't like the magnifying side mirrors.
Standard spec is impressive, mixing practicality and safety with driving enjoyment. One of the Cruiser's key selling points though is its versatility. When you've finished admiring its looks and posing in it, you've got to work with it. There's plenty of potential.
For example, Chrysler boasts that while the Cruiser is 18cm shorter than the Honda CR-V, it has more interior space.
The fold/tumble/removable seats offer 25 configurations and create a loading surface long enough for an 8ft ladder. With the rear seats removed there is a little under two cubic metres of luggage space. Even without touching the seats there is enough cabin space to fit four people comfortably.
The PT Cruiser CRD comes with three years/60,000 mile warranty plus seven years/ unlimited mileage anti-corrosion guarantee and three years' roadside emergency cover.
What we expect
Fun, frugal and functional. With a new-to-the-range common rail diesel engine, wacky looks, stunning colour and seat-shifting practicality, 'the Cruiser' promises a great deal. If it can satisfy in all three respects, we'll be on our way to finding a near-perfect five-door hatchback, not something the fleet industry would expect from a Chrysler.
CAP has given an impressive three-year/60,000-mile residual value prediction of 37% for the Cruiser. Chrysler enjoys comparing the 2.2-litre diesel Cruiser to the Vauxhall Zafira 2.0-litre DTi and Renault Scenic 1.9-litre dCi since on power, torque and acceleration its car wins decisively.
It has much to achieve to meet expectations and, of course, there are provisos.
The look, particularly that front end, will be too radical for some (you don't want to be hit by it if you're a pedestrian – a recent EuroNCAP report called it 'unforgiving'), the engine is new to the Chrysler range and, despite its credentials, will need close scrutiny to see how it settles in.
Also, there are already some concerns about the quality of the interior trim fittings and the seat comfort has caused some disquiet. In the meantime, until the days on our long-term fleet turn into months, it's time to enjoy the thrill of, on first impressions, a daring bit of motoring.
The manufacturer's view
Since its launch in the UK in 2000, almost 14,000 PT Cruisers have been sold. For Chrysler, the 'sell' to the fleet sector is about pressing home the car's mixture of unusual styling and impressive practicality.
Mike Arthur, national corporate sales manager for Chrysler, said: 'In the UK, we see the PT Cruiser as an alternative to more traditional volume cars in the five-door hatchback fleet sector.
'While the car has very different looks to anything else in the UK marketplace, it is still very practical, providing excellent space for passengers and luggage alike, with a seating arrangement very similar to the small MPV sector.
'Customers tell us the PT Cruiser offers the perfect alternative to a typical MPV without having to compromise on space. The PT also has a superb diesel engine, which provides both good acceleration, mid-range torque and fuel consumption while helping the fleet driver reduce their BIK through lower CO2 emissions.'