A Basic Magnum

It’s rare we get to drive a base-spec car but a trip to Las Vegas gave me just that opportunity.

Car companies rarely send you a stripper. Get your head out of the gutter, I’m talking about entry-level cars. Press vehicles usually show up with a ton of options. Things were a bit different when I was in Vegas working on a story with two colleagues earlier this week and booked a rental car for the 2.5-day visit.

After checking in at the main desk, we walked outside and were greeted by a row of cars. Decisions, decisions, decisions. We scanned the fleet and I was immediately drawn to a Mercury Grand Marquis. The body-on-frame, rear-wheel drive, V-8 package was somehow intriguing. Our creative director, Darin Johnson, wouldn’t go for that and begged we grab the Dodge Magnum. Fine, we’ll take it.

As we drove away, I quickly realized that this Magnum was the bargain basement model. It featured wheel covers, manual seats, a plastic steering wheel, and a wheezy 2.7-liter V-6 hitched to an archaic four-speed automatic transmission. The last Magnum I drove had the 425-hp 6.1-liter V-8 and this one has 178-hp. This should be interesting. No surprise, it was slow, no, make that really slow. Also, the chassis was setup old-school American car soft. It wallowed over bumps and the small engine had to work very hard going up hills. Still, the Magnum was very quiet, featured tons of rear legroom, and stickered for only about $24K. Add in the $2000 cash back presently offered and the logical bargaining with the sales person and you can pick up a very slow but decent family hauler for around $20K. Sure, it doesn’t have stability control but you can add that for around $1000.

Truth be told, I’d pay a bit more and at least get the 3.5-liter version but it doesn’t really matter because the Magnum is dead. Chrysler killed it in March. It’s a shame. The car isn’t amazing but it has a distinctive design that is purely American. If you want a new one, I’m sure there are plenty floating around dealer lots. Just make sure that you plan ahead when accelerating up to highway speeds if you get the base SE model.