Here’s something interesting you may not have realized: There was a high-performance Chrysler PT Cruiser. Not only that, it was a very high-performance PT Cruiser. It used the running gear from the Dodge Neon SRT-4, which is generally accepted to be a pretty special, sporty little car. And I recently drove this sporty PT Cruiser.
Before I tell you how that went, a little history. The Dodge Neon SRT-4 came out in 2003, and it was known for its performance and tunability, with many sporty drivers enjoying just how fast you could make the SRT-4 — and how much fun you could have behind the wheel. In fact, the SRT-4 gained something of a cult reputation for this, and it’s still quite revered today in high-performance circles.
What you may not know is that the SRT-4 wasn’t the only Chrysler with this powertrain. The 2003 model year also saw the arrival of the Chrysler PT Cruiser GT, which used the same 2.4-liter turbo engine as the SRT-4 — and the same manual transmission. Many people know there was a "lightly" turbocharged PT Cruiser with 180 horses, but this was the real deal: 215 horses and three pedals. Horsepower was later bumped even higher, to 230.
As a result, even though the Chrysler PT Cruiser isn’t exactly revered for its performance (or, basically anything else), this particular version of the PT Cruiser is kind of special: It’s a Dodge Neon SRT-4 with a PT Cruiser body. And, given the amount of modifications and upgrades you can make to a Neon SRT-4, this car can be transformed into a pretty powerful PT Cruiser, if that’s what you’re after.
The one I drove was basically stock and almost completely unmodified, and I wanted to check it out and see exactly how this car drives. The answer is twofold: In a straight line, it’s reasonably quick — much, much, much, much faster than any PT Cruiser I had driven previously, as they’re mostly unbearably poor performers. Not this. It has old-school turbo lag in the sense that it comes on slowly and then blasts off, but it’s still fun and reasonably quick, and I enjoyed it more than I expected.
Handling, however, left a little something to be desired. The Neon SRT-4 was never much of a handler, and the PT Cruiser is even worse. The center of gravity is higher, you’re still dealing with front-wheel drive and steering is numb. Suspension, too, doesn’t help handling much, and the car pitches and rolls far more than you’d want for a performance car.
But then, the PT Cruiser isn’t a performance car, even in GT form. It’s an interesting car, a sporty car and a relatively quick car in a straight line, but ultimately it’s a retro hatchback that happened to have an unusually powerful engine for a few years. I wouldn’t want to drive around in this thing if I was looking for a performance car, and I’m not precisely sure for whom this car was marketed. Enthusiasts generally stayed away from the PT Cruiser, and PT Cruiser people generally stayed away from performance cars. But, it does exist, just in case you ever find yourself losing a drag race to a PT Cruiser and wondering how it could’ve possibly happened. Find a Chrysler PT Crusier for sale