The headliner is the SRT8 with a 6.1-liter Hemi V8 that puts out 425 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque to propel the Magnum to 60 mph in about five seconds. That's quick, especially for a big American station wagon. The Magnum SRT8 can reportedly accelerate from 0 to 100 and back to 0 in less than 17 seconds.
It's not necessary to choose the SRT8 to enjoy the Magnum experience, however. The Magnum R/T comes with a Hemi engine, a 340-horsepower 5.7-liter V8, and it costs about $6000 less than the SRT8.
The Magnum SXT, with its 250-hp 3.5-liter V6, offers fine around-town power for about $26,000. The least-expensive Magnum is the SE with a 2.7-liter V6 EPA-rated at 18/26 miles per gallon that starts around $24,000.
While these cars are not miserly, there is some attention given to fuel economy. The R/T boasts technology that shuts down four of the Hemi's eight cylinders when the car is just cruising, delivering up to 30 miles per gallon during those moments. Put in everyday terms, if you used it to commute on the freeway at a steady 60 mph, you could average 25 miles per gallon.
The all-wheel-drive models are designed to offer excellent cornering balance under all driving conditions and improved traction in snow and wet-weather conditions.
The Dodge Magnum was launched as an all-new product line for the 2005 model year and expanded for 2006 with the SRT8.
For 2008, the Magnum's front end is restyled, the interior gets minor design changes, and new options include Sirius Backseat TV and Chrysler's MyGIG, a 20 gigabyte hard drive that holds songs, pictures, and navigation system map information. The interior changes include a new instrument panel and center console, as well as upgraded soft-touch surfaces on the arm rests, center console and door trim. Dodge's UConnect hands-free cell-phone link is also upgraded with an integrated iPod interface.
Dodge Magnum SE ($23,420); Magnum SXT ($27,225); Magnum SXT AWD ($29,855); Magnum R/T ($31,780); Magnum R/T AWD ($33,880); Magnum SRT8 ($37,905)
However, it's not called a station wagon, at least not officially. The EPA classifies it as a sport utility. Dodge calls it a sport tourer. We call it a station wagon. But that doesn't accurately describe it. Some call it a sport wagon, and that's really what it is, a cross between muscle car and station wagon, a hot rod hauler for grown-ups who haven't grown up, or haven't needed to.
For 2008, the grille has been lowered and stretched horizontally to reduce the truck influence. The grille is clearly from the Dodge Ram truck family, but it's smaller, softer and classier. The headlamp units are a nice integrated wedge shape. We like them better than those on the Chrysler 300, a Magnum sibling, which try harder to be retro. The air dam/bumper cover wraps up under the headlamps and grille, and looks impressively beefy and functional. The SRT8 gets a mesh grille insert surrounded by a blockier fascia with a more aggressive air dam and enlarged, brake-cooling ducts.
From the side, the Magnum looks like it could be rolled onto the floor of a custom rod show. The wheel cutouts are profound, especially imposing with the 18-inch, 10-spoke wheels on the R/T and borderline brutish with the SRT8's 20-inchers and ultra-low profile rubber. Thick, slablike sides, tinted glass, and a roofline that slopes back to pinch the rear window all contribute to the custom-like chopped look. The one-piece liftgate is hinged about two feet up into the roof, providing a vast and liberating opening to the cargo area. It requires little ducking to reach things in there, and will be easy on lower backs of all ages.
The SRT8's roof-mounted wake diffuser is deeper, and its rear bumper mirrors the front's blockiness, with cutouts for the two, oversized, chromed exhaust tips.
The cargo capacity is listed as 27.2 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 71.6 cubic feet with them down, while the EPA total interior volume indicates 133.1 cubic feet. But those numbers don't sway buyers as much as their own eyes, so have a look. We did, and the cargo area looks wider, flatter, longer and easier to access than that of most SUVs. It's just not as tall, but how often do you stack loads to the ceiling? It's usually the length and width and flat floor that matter, and the Magnum excels by those criteria. As an added bonus, Dodge offers an optional cargo organizer that keeps grocery bags from toppling over and incorporates a nook designed for holding a one-gallon milk jug. If you intend to use your Magnum for a lot of cargo hauling, you may not want to pop for the upgraded sound system because is parks a monster subwoofer in the cargo area right behind the rear seat. It's not a compromise we'd be willing to make.
The back seat is very roomy, with only 10 percent less room than in the front seat, according to the SAE volume index. In people terms, the rear seat's measurements come within an inch of those of the front seat except in legroom, where the rear seat gives up just over an inch and a half to the front. The 60/40 split rear bench seats three people, but a wide, center armrest with cup holders drops down to make it more comfortable for two. There's plenty of head clearance despite the roofline, which does pose a minor visibility problem for the driver. Even so, the chopped-top proportions left us feeling a little claustrophobic in the back seats.
From the driver's seat, the roofline stretches out fairly far, making stoplights hard to see if you get too close.
The driver should have no problem finding a comfortable seating position. The steering wheel offers both tilt and telescope adjustments and power-adjustable pedals are available. Adjustable pedals can help drivers of small stature (petite women and Formula 1 drivers, for example) position themselves farther away from the airbag-equipped steering wheel, lessening the chance of airbag-related injuries.
Fabric covers the seats in the SE and SXT. Leather is optional in the SXT and it comes standard in the R/T and the SRT8. We found the regular seats generally supportive. The SRT8's deep-dish sport seats are fairly effective at keeping backsides in place during aggressive cornering, but more side bolstering would help keep smaller drivers from sliding side to side.
The four-spoke steering wheel is sharp, with cruise and sound control buttons. We really like the gauges; they are handsome and all business, with white backgrounds, black numbers and chrome trim rings. Dodge has remedied one of our objections to interior design for 2008. The cruise control stalk has moved from 11 o'clock to 4 o'clock, eliminating the annoying tendency to turn on the cruise control when you mean to signal a lane change.
The center stack is clean and tidy in black, with switches that are easy to click and knobs where knobs should be for the climate control and radio. The navigation system's screen displaces the stereo faceplate, with controls for both functions arrayed around the perimeter.
The newly available MyGIG radio is available in two iterations: the MyGIG Entertainment System and the MyGIG Multi-Media Infotainment System. Both have a 6.5-inch touchscreen and 20 gigabytes of hard drive space for songs and pictures, but the Multi-Media option includes a navigation system with real-time traffic and voice activation.
The center console is redesigned for 2008, with two cupholders in front of it instead of integrated into it. It is sized to hold most of the items you'd typically be carrying. The console is designed so the available rear DVD/TV en
The five-speed automatic transmission upshifts smoothly, though sometimes a bit prematurely (probably as a concession to fuel economy). Gear engagement often lacks the crispness we believe should be the norm in a car with the SRT8's credentials.
Power in the SE with its 2.7-liter V6 is barely adequate for a car weighing close to two tons, and the four-speed automatic that comes with it is basic by today's standards of five-speed automatics.
The SXT is a big step up, with some 40 percent more horsepower and 30 percent more torque on tap, plus a five-speed automatic, in a car weighing barely 50 pounds more than the base SE. The SXT's 3.5-liter V6 makes 250 horsepower. In these days of high horsepower V8s and strong V6s, that number might have lost its meaning, but 250 horsepower is a lot, and it's especially effective with the 250 pound-feet of torque this engine offers. The SXT is more fully featured for the money, too, including sharper wheels and tires more befitting the car's abilities. It's rated to tow 2000 pounds and gets an EPA-estimated City/Highway 17/24 mpg. The five-speed automatic comes with the AutoStick feature allowing the driver to select gears manually.
The R/T is our favorite with its 5.7-liter V8 Hemi that puts out 340 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. Even with all that power and torque, the acceleration isn't neck-snapping. The R/T has a tall final drive ratio of 2.82 in the rear-wheel-drive version and 3.07 with all-wheel drive; those ratios are good for gas mileage and quiet running, but they temper acceleration. Still, the Magnum R/T is capable of a 0-60 mph run in around 6.3 seconds. Put your foot to the floor and the R/T gets under way without a jolt, but builds speed quickly and keeps supplying the punch. The five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, and the AutoStick feature can be used for more spirited driving.
The R/T engine's Multi-Displacement System, or MDS, cuts out half of the eight cylinders whenever horsepower is not needed. At a steady 60 mph or less on a flat highway, it only uses four cylinders and gets about 30 miles per gallon. With a response time of 0.04 seconds, we couldn't feel when it went from a V4 back to a V8 when we hit the throttle to speed back up again. For 2008, Dodge adds a Fuel Saver Mode display that lets you know when the car is running on four cylinders. The R/T is EPA-rated at 15/23 mpg. Although technically capable of towing 3800 pounds with the optional tow package, Dodge does not recommend using the R/T as a tow vehicle.
The R/T could benefit from tires with more grip. It comes with Continental Touring all-season tires, P225/60R18, which were the likely cause of the Electronic Stability Program's occasional intrusion into our hard but not overboard driving. As the tires lost their limited bite, the ESP feathered the throttle. With stickier tires, it's unlikely that intrusion would occur. Performance enthusiasts might want to opt for the 20-inch wheels and high-performance rubber. They may not last as long or work as well in the winter, but they will improve handling. Another option would be to get high-performance 18-inch tires with more grip, thereby avoiding the harder ride quality of the short-sidewall 20-inch tires.
The brakes are fully up to the task. The vented front rotors measure 13.6 inches in diameter, an inch larger than the SE and SXT, and the vented rear rotors are 12.6 inches across; additionally, the front brakes use dual piston calipers. Couple that mechanical strength with ABS with Brake Assist, which balances the braking between front and rear and the Magnum makes worry-free stops. On twisty mountain roads we repeatedly hammered the brakes
The Dodge Magnum is a landmark car. There is no other car like it. When equipped with all-wheel drive, it offers all-weather capability. The Magnum excels with its quiet cabin and smooth and solid ride. Its interior is well thought-out, and the underlying rear-wheel-drive design with a long wheelbase and short overhangs allows for a lot of room inside. The styling is aggressive, but the practical arguments for this car are hard to beat. The SRT8 trades fuel economy for muscle car fun and succeeds, but the other models are easier to live with day to day.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard reported from Northern California, with Kirk Bell in Chicago.