An American automaker hasn’t produced a full-size station wagon since the Chevrolet Caprice retired in the mid 1990s, with sport/utility vehicles assuming the similar all-purpose family vehicle role for the past decade. This makes the Dodge Magnum a surprise hit, resurrecting a once-familiar segment with equal parts cool and function by taking full advantage of the corporate synergy within DaimlerChrysler. The Magnum is based on the new LX platform shared with the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger and derived from the previous-generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class underpinnings, including an evolved suspension. Magnum powertrains also are shared with other Chrysler vehicles, with the six-cylinder engines carrying over from the previous front-drive Intrepid, and the desirable top Hemi variants shared with other LX cars. Offered in rear- and all-wheel drive, the Magnum is a bona fide triple threat: utilitarian, good looking, and fine driving.
The Magnum’s bold shape redefines the American wagon for a new generation, with its aggressive signature grille, broad-shouldered stance, and cut-down greenhouse that seems more suited to a hot rod than a family hauler. At the rear, an “extreme access” liftgate includes a portion of the roof, considerably increasing the cargo access. At first glance, the Magnum appears to be a five-door Charger, but a closer look reveals that the cars are quite different, with unique hood, fenders, headlamps, front fascia, and grille. It takes a keen eye to spot the differences between V-6 and Hemi-powered RT and SRT8 Magnum models: the RT gets larger, 18-inch wheels, and dual exhaust outlets; the awesome SRT8 gets 20-inch wheels, red brake calipers, and a unique front end. A roof rack is optional.
Despite its “chopped” appearance from the outside, the Magnum can accommodate five passengers in big-car comfort. The driving position is excellent–commanding and comfortable–and instrumentation is legible and intelligently arrayed. Interior plastics and switchgear generally are of better quality than we’ve come to expect from Chrysler Group products–with certain pieces, such as the windshield-wiper control stalk, obviously lifted right from the Mercedes parts bin–but there’s an overabundance of hard plastic that bespeaks the bargain price. Still, even with base cloth upholstery, the Magnum’s stark passenger compartment is a classy, businesslike environment. Seats are firm and nicely shaped; with the optional leather, the interior ambiance is almost European. Being a wagon–or, um, Sport Tourer–the Magnum is, naturally, a great swallower of cargo. With the second-row seats folded flat, the cargo area expands to 71.6 cubic feet–not quite as commodious as the average midsize sport/utility vehicle, but more than big enough for most daily chores. The cargo path is quite wide, though height is limited toward the rear by the sloping roofline. There’s useful under-floor Cargo Management System with a pop-up bin area divided by cargo nets to prevent items like groceries from sliding around.
In addition to an admirably crashworthy structure, the Magnum offers a host of advanced occupant-protection features, including multi-stage front airbags and available side curtain airbags for front and rear seats. All five seating positions get three-point seatbelts; front seatbelts feature pretensioners and constant-force retractors that gradually release the belts during a crash, based on the load or force exerted on them. Traction and stability control are optional. The Magnum has earned five stars in federal front crash tests, for both driver and passenger. In side crash tests, the front seat earned four stars, while the rear warranted five stars.
The Magnum’s base engine, standard on the rear-wheel-drive SE model, is a 2.7-liter DOHC V-6 that produces 190 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque, matched to a four-speed automatic transmission. Although overmatched by the Magnum’s 3,855-lb bulk, the engine at least will return a commendable 21 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway. This engine generally is only found in Magnums sold to fleets, so don’t hold your breath for one on a dealer lot. The mid-level Magnum SXT features a 3.5-liter DOHC V-6 good for 250 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque. With standard rear-wheel drive, it’s matched to a four-speed automatic transmission; with the optional all-wheel-drive system (which is derived from the fine Mercedes-Benz 4Matic setup), it gets a five-speed automatic. The Magnum’s demeanor shifts dramatically when fitted with the laudable 5.7-liter OHV Hemi V-8, standard on rear- and all-wheel-drive RT models and matched to a five-speed automatic. The engine puts out a mighty 340 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque, enough to push Dodge’s big hauler to 60 mph in about six seconds. The Hemi features the Multiple Displacement System, which can shut down four of the eight cylinders during low-load situations such as when loping along the Interstate, cutting fuel consumption by as much as 20 percent. At the top of the Magnum range sits the awe-inspiring SRT8, new for 2006. It packs a 6.1-liter Hemi V-8, which cranks out 425 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. The engine, matched to a five-speed automatic, propels the SRT8 from 0 to 60 mph in five seconds.
It should come as no great surprise, considering its kinship to the Mercedes E-Class and the oft-praised Chrysler 300, that the 120-inch-wheelbase Magnum is a superb long-distance hauler. Surprisingly, however, it’s also relatively agile. Smooth, linear steering, a low center of gravity, four-wheel independent suspension, aggressive tire fitment, and solid structure give it an enjoyable alertness when the road turns twisty, heightened in RT trim. Although well mannered for a large wagon, the Magnum doesn’t move with the finesse of leading midsize cars.
The standard 2.7-liter V-6 is best avoided by all but the staunchest penny pinchers; Its 190 horsepower isn’t really forceful enough to effectively motivate the Magnum. The SXT model’s 3.5-liter/250-horse V-6 is a good deal more up to the task, providing just enough power and engagement to satisfy most mainstream customers. As with previous applications, the 3.5L provides its best power high in the rev range, leaving a slight torque weakness from idle. The transmission allows for manual shifting, giving more control over this midlevel powertrain. Ultimately, the Magnum was truly bred for the mighty Hemi engine. The RT’s 5.7L V-8 is a hairy-chested delight–off the line or on the Interstate. Plus, it’s worth noting that the operation of the Hemi’s fuel-saving Multiple Displacement System is practically imperceptible: just the tiniest flicker of the tachometer needle notes its engagement. And when nothing less than overkill will do, the SRT8’s 6.1-liter Hemi is a magnificent sledgehammer, offering the kind of power, poise, and noise not seen in an American wagon since, well, never. One more thing: The 3.5- and 5.7-liter engines’ available all-wheel-drive system–however helpful it may be when the road turns wet or white–is an unfortunate sapper of the Magnum’s joie de vivre.
The Magnum surely won’t appeal to all tastes, but if you’re taken by its striking appearance, it’s certainly worth a closer look. The roomy interior and ample cargo space make it an appealing SUV alternative, with better road manners and head-turning styling in its favor. The Hemi-powered Magnums, although certainly more fun to drive than the six-cylinder models, can be startlingly thirsty, despite the presence of the highway-biased Multiple Displacement System. The 3.5L variant is the best package for most consumers. Magnum pricing is highly competitive, and the Chrysler Group’s warranty terms–including seven-year/70,000-mile powertrain coverage–are generous. Review the IntelliChoice Ownership Cost Value ratings closely, however, as there’s notable variance among trims and drivetrains. Find the right combination for you, and you’ll be rewarded with a distinct, rewarding machine with the heart of a muscle car.
Striking to behold and–thanks to its Mercedes-Benz-cribbed chassis design and available Hemi V-8 engines–great to drive, the Magnum is a truly compelling alternative to the ubiquitous midsize sport/utility vehicle.
Entirely new for the 2005 model year, the Magnum rolls into 2006 with few noteworthy alternations–with one exception: The muscle-bound SRT8 model storms into showrooms in the summer of 2005, featuring a 6.1-liter/425-horse Hemi V-8. Priced under $40,000, the Magnum SRT8 backs up its 85 additional horses with a sport-tuned suspension, high-performance Brembo disc brakes, and Goodyear Eagle F1 tires on 20-inch forged aluminum wheels, and standard leather seating over heavily bolstered sport seats.
Depending on trim level, Magnum buyers can opt for such niceties as a power moonroof, heated seats, front- and rear-seat side curtain airbags, power seats with leather, and power-adjustable pedals. There’s also an available six-speaker Boston Acoustics audio system, the subscription-based Sirius satellite radio, well-executed rear DVD entertainment system, and the innovative UConnect hands-free communication system, which features wireless integration with Bluetooth-enabled cell phones and personal digital assistants. One particularly worthwhile option on the RT and top-dog SRT8 models is the excellent DVD-based GPS navigation system with a full-color LCD. A roof rack is optional as well, and SXT and RT models offer all-wheel drive derived from the excellent Mercedes 4Matic system.