What's New for 2009
The 2009 Chrysler PT Cruiser is available only as a wagon -- the convertible body style has been discontinued. Additionally, Touring models are no longer available with a turbocharged engine.
When the Chrysler PT Cruiser was introduced eight years ago, its retro look made it a heartthrob of sorts and inspired the sort of manic adoration not seen since Cabbage Patch Kids sparked soccer mom brawls in toy store aisles. In other words, it had all the earmarks of a fad -- hot today, dead tomorrow. But its sales figures have shown surprising resiliency. Although the PT Cruiser falls well short of being the must-have superstar it was years ago, it continues to be one of the top sellers in the Chrysler stable.
In recent years, Chrysler has streamlined production of the compact hauler, and that trend continues for 2009. The GT model got its pink slip last year; this year, it's the convertible body style that gets the axe. Also, a turbocharged inline-4 is no longer offered as an option on Touring models; it's currently available only on top-of-the-line Limited models. The reduced availability of the turbo engine is unfortunate, since the Cruiser's naturally aspirated engine offers rather lethargic performance.
The PT Cruiser hasn't received any major redesigns in its lifetime and exists pretty much as it did when it was launched. Nine model years is a long time to go without significant upgrades. The wagon's versatility, distinctive styling and comfortable ride are still appealing, but their luster has been dulled by the appearance of newer rivals. Chevy's HHR offers a similar brand of retro style -- and spirited performance when purchased in the SS edition. There's also the Mazda 3 wagon, which takes top marks for being fun to drive. The Scion xB offers voluminous interior room and a peppy engine under the hood. Finally, the freshly redesigned Pontiac Vibe and its corporate twin, the Toyota Matrix, entice with highly adaptable interiors and pleasant ride quality.
The 2009 Chrysler PT Cruiser deserves kudos for its longevity, but its moment has clearly passed. We'd recommend avoiding this Chrysler and spending your money on newer competitors -- unless, of course, you've still got a soft spot for Cabbage Patch Kids.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Chrysler PT Cruiser is a compact wagon that seats five and is available in three trim levels: base, Touring and Limited. Standard features on base wagons include 15-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, keyless entry, power windows and a CD player. The Touring version adds 16-inch alloy wheels, a fold-down front-passenger seat, a power driver seat, power mirrors, satellite radio, cruise control and upgraded seat fabric. The Limited has those features plus 17-inch alloy wheels, a touring suspension, heated front seats, leather upholstery and a sunroof.
Those who choose the Limited trim get to enjoy options like an upgraded Boston Acoustics audio system and Bluetooth connectivity. The options list on the two lower trims includes satellite radio for base models and a sunroof for Touring models.
Powertrains and Performance
Base and Touring models of the 2009 Chrysler PT Cruiser are powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder good for 150 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. The top-of-the-line Limited trim is powered by a turbocharged 2.4-liter that kicks out 180 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque. Base Cruisers come standard with a five-speed manual and offer an optional four-speed automatic; the other two trims come only with the automatic transmission.
With the turbocharged engine, the PT Cruiser has fuel economy estimates of 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined, below average for the small-wagon segment. Opting for the less powerful, non-turbo 2.4-liter with the automatic nets only 1 mpg better in the city and the same mileage on the highway. When equipped with a manual transmission, the non-turbo engine does slightly better -- 21/26/23 mpg.
Most 2009 Chrysler PT Cruisers start out with front disc and rear drum brakes. Limiteds have four-wheel discs as well as standard ABS, and this upgrade is optional on the other trims. Side airbags are standard on all models.
The most recent government crash test scores for the Chrysler PT Cruiser come in at four out of five stars for all frontal- and side-impact categories, except for rear side-impact protection, in which the Cruiser earned a perfect five.
Interior Design and Special Features
Slide into the Cruiser and you'll find a cabin that's both roomy and versatile. The retro theme of the car's sheet metal is reflected in its dash. There's lots of space to accommodate taller drivers, but the wagon's flat seat design and elevated driving position may create a less-than-optimal environment for shorter drivers.
The rear seats are slightly elevated to provide a nice view, and adults will find plenty of head- and legroom. Those rear seats can also be flipped forward to create more cargo space, but in order to get a flat load floor, they must be removed entirely. Removing them opens up an impressive 63 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity.
Acceleration is decent enough in 2009 Chrysler PT Cruisers equipped with the turbo 2.4-liter engine. The base engine is another story. It lacks vigor, leaving base and Touring models feeling somewhat underpowered. PT Cruisers are easy to steer, but they do have a wide turning circle that can make U-turns and parking lot maneuvers a hassle. The ride quality is impressively smooth, thanks to a suspension that eagerly absorbs road irregularities.