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.