Take a Trip Back to the Future in Chrysler's PT Cruiser

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Take a Trip Back to the Future in Chrysler's PT Cruiser

It takes a stroke of marketing genius for a carmaker to sell me my grandfather's car and convince me that it's new. That's exactly what I feel Chrysler has done with the PT (for Personal Transportation) Cruiser. For those who really feel lost in the crowd and are dying to stand out, a retro-styled car is just the ticket. The PT Cruiser looks like something straight out of a film noir but its quirky London cab styling aside, this sedan-cum-van excels in the comfort department and accommodates five adults with ease thanks, in large part, to its 2616mm wheelbase (a hair longer than the Avante). The tall 1600mm roofline makes for a cathedral-like ceiling that offers plenty of headroom and an airy, open feeling.

The interior is the far more interesting and satisfying story. It has a trendy techno look and feel that contrast sharply with the menacing '40s gangster car exterior. Instrumentation and controls are thoughtfully designed and neatly laid out. The only deference to the past is found on models equipped with the five-speed manual gearboxes. They come with a ball-shaped shift knob mounted on a long chromed shaft that's straight out of the '50s.

Flexibility is a big part of the PT Cruiser story. Rear seats can be folded or pulled out entirely to create a van that can swallow up to 538 liters of cargo. Rollers and carrying handles facilitate the removal process plus the seats are extremely light so mom can handle the job without breaking her back. The rear parcel shelf is more versatile than most and can be configured for a variety of purposes, including service as an impromptu picnic table.

But while this magnet draws plenty of oohs and ahs, driving it doesn't exactly get the adrenalin pumping. Under the hood, there's a 2.4-liter DOHC engine with a rated output of 150hp that's anemic by my standards but I would venture to say that most moms and dads who will be driving this car will be quite content and won't really miss the extra oomph. If Korean vehicle taxes are a consideration and you are absolutely never in a hurry, the 2.0-liter Touring edition can save you some money.

The Chrysler marketing people certainly did their homework. Before putting pen to paper, they hired a French anthropologist to study the emotional responses evoked by classic car designs. Hence the stew of '40s and '50s design elements: the rounded snout and distinctive radiator grille, the bulbous taillights, the flared fenders and semblance of a running board, all evoking nostalgic feelings. Marketers are leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to probe the collective subconscious and identify the emotional trigger that makes us buy. It's insidious.

There's no doubt Chrysler's design staff had loads of fun on this project: Not many companies give their staff free rein to try out whacky ideas. But the PT Cruiser is going into the history books as more than just a marketing experiment. It's the hottest-selling model in the Chrysler lineup: The Toluca plant in Mexico can't build them fast enough. Buyers cover the spectrum from twentysomethings to aging baby boomers. Although the asking price for this people mover is fairly pricey by local standards, the PT Cruiser will find a comfortable niche in Korea among attention-starved buyers and should do well.

Next Week: BMW L7

by Oles Gadacz

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