The name PT Cruiser includes the initialism PT, standing for Personal Transportation and designating the car's platform as well as production code. The name also recalls the 1930s line of Plymouth Trucks known by the "PT" moniker.
The PT Cruiser is a front-wheel drive 5-passenger vehicle, classified as a truck in the U.S. by the NHTSA for CAFE fuel economy calculations but as a car by most other metrics. Chrysler specifically designed the PT Cruiser to fit the NHTSA criteria for a light truck in order to bring the average fuel efficiency of the company's light truck fleet into compliance with CAFE standards. A turbocharged GT model was introduced for the 2003 model year. A convertible was introduced for the 2005 model year.
The PT Cruiser is manufactured at Toluca Car Assembly in Toluca, Mexico. On March 8, 2006, DaimlerChrysler announced that it had built 1,000,000 PT Cruisers at the Toluca plant since February 14, 2000. The PT Cruiser was also assembled in Graz, Austria, for global markets (outside North America) in 2002, using the production code PG. European PT Cruisers built in 2001 or from 2003 onwards are built in Mexico under the PT production code. The American version features a 2.4L four-cylinder gasoline engine. In addition to this standard model, a 2.2L four-cylinder diesel engine built by Mercedes Benz is also available in Europe, Asia, and South Africa. A 2 liter engine (D4RE) was available outside the U.S. It produces 140hp (100kW) SAE at 6500 rpm with 130ft·lbf (180N·m) of torque at 4800 rpm.
When initially introduced, demand for the car was, in many cases, higher than dealer supply, seeing customers put on waiting lists. Anticipation of the car was high, making for a debut that was among the most successful in company history.
In 2001 Car and Driver acknowledged the PT Cruiser on its Ten Best list and the PT Cruiser also won the North American Car of the Year.
In 2002 Euro NCAP gave the PT Cruiser a three (out of five) stars rating. Results in the frontal impact test (6 out of 16 possible points) were in part due to the fact that the PT Cruiser is designed -under U.S. regulations- to protect also unbelted occupants. Height of the seats and side airbags helped to attain a maximum score of 16 points in the side impact test