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The body of the PT Cruiser Convertible was given extensive reinforcing.

In a good year, about 300,000 convertibles in total are sold in all of North America. But for those who want to get into al fresco driving on an entry-level basis, with room for four, the pickings have traditionally been pretty slim.

However, in 2005, with the introduction of the Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible, you could add another affordable soft-top to the list. In fact, with a starting price under $27,000, it was, at the time, the lowest-priced, four-passenger convertible sold in Canada.

When it was launched, Chrysler officials hastened to point out that this was not just the four-door sedan with the roof hacked off. Yes, there were some common parts, but the new soft-top body received extensive reinforcing - under the rocker panels, under the windscreen, along the rear quarter panels and on the back sub-floor, among other places - and it was essentially a brand-new design.

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As well, it came with just two doors - where the standard PT Cruiser had four - featured a completely new "bustle-back" rear body style and had an overhead "sport bar" for rigidity.

As well as heightening body stiffness, the idea behind the sport bar was apparently to provide lighting (there are a couple of courtesy lights mounted on its underside) and deflect wind turbulence for back-seat passengers. It was never advertised as a roll-bar and not certified as such.

In 2005, there were three versions of the PT Cruiser convertible: two Touring models and a GT. All were powered by Chrysler's familiar 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine (also used in the Neon).

Power output was 150 hp at 5,100 rpm and 180 hp at 5,100 rpm, respectively, for the Touring models. The GT model, meanwhile, banged out an impressive 220 hp at 5,100 rpm and was turbocharged, with Chrysler's High Output setup.

You could order a five-speed manual transmission or four-speed automatic with Autostick manual shift mode - depending upon the trim level. All three models were built in Toluca, Mexico.

Despite its somewhat unorthodox body style, the new PT Cruiser Convertible had a comparatively manageable power top. A release handle was located on the front centre header panel, and there was a console-mounted button. The whole thing unfolded in a little over 10 seconds, with no fuss or fumbling around.

There was also a tonneau cover for the top, plus a glass rear window, and the top itself had three layers. This meant that, with the top up, you could actually hold a conversation while driving without yelling.

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Chrysler claimed that female buyers would find the PT Cruiser Convertible "fingernail friendly." When it was introduced, midway through 2005, the company was reluctant to call it a "chick car," but acknowledged that its reasonable price tag, styling and civilized ride would likely appeal to the distaff side.

Standard equipment included cloth seats, 50/50-split folding rear seats, CD player, air conditioning, power windows, power exterior mirrors and solar-tinted glass and, with the back seats folded down, it could accommodate two full-size golf bags. Total luggage space was about 375 litres, and back seat elbow room was actually quite generous - all things considered.

Options included leather interior, ABS, navigation system and side airbags.

The PT Cruiser Convertible wasn't designed to set the roads on fire; even the GT version, although lively, was not overpowering. The suspension was somewhat harsher than that found on the four-door sedan model, and handling was slightly tighter as a result.

Just one safety recall to report from Transport Canada. It involves non-turbo models with an automatic transmission. Apparently, the power steering hose can potentially spring a leak and, if left unattended, cause an engine fire. This recall applies to all PT Cruisers of this vintage, convertible and sedan.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also has this defect on file, as well as three others; one involving braking issues with the Turbo/five-speed models, another dealing with possibly imperfect front ball joints, and the final one involving non-conforming headlights manufactured by Sabresport.

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Consumer Reports, meanwhile, gives all turbocharged PT Cruisers a "worse than average" grade for predicted reliability, and non-turbocharged models an "average" rating. It also advises that the convertible model features "very pronounced" wind noise, but still gives it a qualified recommendation in terms of reliability.

Not too much joy from market research firm J.D. Power. Aside from body/interior dependability and feature accessories quality, the PT Cruiser convert receives average or below ratings in virtually every area. Performance, in particular, gets a thumbs-down from this organization.

Prices range from about $10,000 to $13,500 for a four-year-old PT Cruiser Convertible. Expect to pay an additional $2,000 per year for newer ones, depending upon the trim level.

2005 CHRYSLER PT CRUISER CONVERTIBLE

Type: Four-passenger convertible

Original Base Price: $26,995; Black Book Value: $12,275-$13,625; Red Book Value: $10,075-$11,475

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Engine: 2.4-litre, four-cylinder, normally aspirated and turbocharged

Horsepower/Torque:

150 and 180 hp/132 and 210 lb-ft for Touring models

220 hp/245 lb-ft for GT model

Transmission: Four-speed automatic/five-speed manual

Drive: Front-wheel-drive

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km):

11.7 city/9.1 highway (Turbo Touring); regular and premium gas

Alternatives: Ford Mustang Convertible, Chrysler Sebring Convertible, Mini Cooper Convertible, Saab 9-3 Convertible, VW Beetle, Toyota Solara

globeauto@globeandmail.com

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