Review: 2005 Dodge Magnum

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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.

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