Yes, the PT Cruiser. Someone stepped up to defend what many consider to be indefensible.
That person today is reader einTier, who comes up with a pretty compelling argument in response to us naming it one of the worst retro cars ever in today’s AOTD:
Goddamnit. I’m going to be the only person to defend these pieces of shit, but I am falling on that grenade.
You have to understand that Chrysler sold a ton of these and there are good reasons for that. We hate on it like the car hipsters we are because they sold too well, were oversold into rental fleets, and the wrong kind of people bought them. Which blinds us to the reality of how good they actually were at the time.
We forget that the PT Cruiser made Car and Driver’s 10 Best List when it was new. Seriously, it did. Check out the price tag if you want to see a big reason why: $16,500. In 2001, if you’re buying a car at $16,500, you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. You know whatever you buy is going to suck. How can it not when your primary deciding point is price? Something’s going to get left out. At best you’re hoping for “won’t break” and “don’t be mediocre and bland.”
The one thing the PT Cruiser wasn’t was bland. Sure, it hasn’t aged well and we don’t remember it fondly. It has a retro vibe that went out almost as soon as it came in. But if you put yourself in the period, you’ll find that nothing had as much character and style. Even the dash had painted sections that matched the exterior — a pretty common way to dress up pedestrian autos today, but it was the first of its kind. People really were falling all over themselves to buy these when they first launched because they really did have that much character and dare I say it? Cool.
Certainly, it didn’t have the reliability of a Honda or a Toyota and none of their refinement, but it was cheaper and because everything was based on established and proven designs, it was still pretty reliable. The chassis wasn’t as lively as a Protege 5, but it was really stiff for the class, which is what most people care about anyway.
Plus, the configuration was essentially a really tall wagon. Which meant that you got a lot of versatility and usefulness out of the design. If you needed to haul people or a refrigerator, you could do it with this thing. Two adults, two kids, and a week’s worth of luggage? No problem.
It never retained the cool status, but they sold well for a long time because they did everything well enough and a few things really well and the price just couldn’t be beat. To prove my point, here’s a comparison test where it beat everything but the Protege5. We don’t remember these cars well, but it’s not the car’s fault.
I think it’s a question of hindsight, really. Much like Limp Bizkit, the PT Cruiser was actually considered cool by some in its time, but it failed to age gracefully for a variety of reasons. But maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t deserve all the hate it gets.
Congrats on your COTD win, einTier! May your personal heaven be filled to the brim with PT Cruisers.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.