Tom Briggs tests the Chrysler PT Cruiser

It may have four wheels and an engine, but don't let anyone be fooled, says David Wilkins, this cutesy cabrio is really a fashion accessory

Price: £16,650
Engine: 2.4-litre petrol
Performance: 0-62 mph in 10.6 seconds, 30.1 mpg
CO2: 223g/km
Worth considering: Mini convertible, VW Beetle convertible

If you can't think of something nice to say, don't say anything at all. That advice has been drummed into well brought up little American girls for generations - and the feminists don't like it one little bit.

Perhaps one objection is that such guidance, if taken properly to heart, might restrict the range of careers open to young women. You can't really be a motoring journalist, for example, unless you are prepared, when the occasion demands it, to dish it out.

When I was confronted with the latest car for The Verdict, the Chrysler PT Cruiser Cabrio, though, I had a slightly different problem. It wasn't that I couldn't think of anything nice to say about it, more that I was hard pushed to think of anything to say about this vehicle at all.

I think the snag is that by setting out to test it as a car, we were probably making what philosophers might call a category error. Although it has some of the attributes of a car - it possesses four wheels, for example, and an engine - the PT Cruiser Cabrio is really something else.

With its curvy retro styling, it's perhaps more accurately classified as a toy, or fashion accessory, and should therefore be assessed accordingly. Saying that the PT Cruiser Cabrio isn't much of a car is a bit like saying My Little Pony isn't much of a horse. It may be accurate - but it is also irrelevant.

Instead, it should probably be judged according to whether its soft looks make you want to give it a hug, or whether it goes with this year's trends in handbags and lipsticks. In order to answer these questions, we should, perhaps, have reconvened the group of toddlers who carried out our pedal car test a few months back, or simply turned the car over to The Independent's fashion writers.

There can surely be no objection to assessing this Chrysler in these subjective terms, provided it can do the basics safely and adequately - which it can. The engine doesn't feel like it delivers the advertised 2.4 litres' worth of power, but it is surprisingly smooth for a large American four- cylinder unit. The open body can also feel a bit floppy, and the PT Cruiser's cornering prowess is nothing to write home about; that won't bother most people who buy it, but the enormous turning circle might.

Perhaps the most revealing piece of information I was able to find concerning the Chrysler PT Cruiser Cabrio is that it is one of the small group of vehicles selected to be reproduced in miniature form for use by the famous Barbie doll.

I bet little American girls can think only of nice things to say about it.

Tom Briggs, 29, probation officer, Liverpool

I was struck by how claustrophobic it felt with the roof up. The high driving position didn't help and even with the seat as far back and low as it would go I still felt right on top of the dashboard. It was quick, although not as quick as I thought it might be, and a bumpier ride than I was expecting. The big roll bar makes it look like a hatchback with the roof chopped off, rather than a properly designed convertible. I like what they were trying with the Fifties styling, but inside they've lost their nerve and gone for half retro, half grey plastic. Cars like these are for being looked at in, but I can't see who would rather be spotted in this than the Mini or the Beetle.

John Stanley, 75, vicar of Huyton, Merseyside

The distinctive looks give it the potential of being a "cult" car. They also give it the appearance of being heavy and cumbersome. I was surprised that it was as agile as it was, although the turning lock is not great. It was only afterwards that I discovered that its 2.4-litre engine was only four cylinders. Acceleration was a little disappointing measured against my own diesel. Cornering felt secure, although the suspension was a bit soft. The dashboard was well positioned and easy to read. I like the cruise control, which I have never experienced before. There was not a lot of room in the back for passengers, and the boot would not take a set of golf clubs.

Usman Shaikh, 29, doctor from Rainhill, Merseyside

I must admit I approached this car with a great deal of scepticism - between its Addams family looks and previous poor reviews I wasn't holding out much hope. First impressions were no better - it's perhaps even quirkier inside than it is out. To be fair, however, it takes a competent stab at whatever you ask of it: the engine belies its four cylinders and is smooth if never potent, the ride is inoffensive and, driving with the roof down, the buffeting is never obtrusive. I feel, perhaps, I don't really fit the demographic Chrysler have in mind for this car, but given the number of used and new cars available at this price, I'd be hard pressed to say who is.


If you would like to take part, e-mail or write to: The Verdict, Features Department, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.

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