Phoenix - Does the world really need a 425-hp station wagon? Damn straight it does. The Dodge Magnum SRT8 is the latest in a series of factory hot rods created by Street and Racing Technology, the Chrysler folks responsible for pump-up-the-volume versions of the Dodge Viper, Neon, and Ram and the Chrysler Crossfire and 300C--with SRT-branded Dodge Chargers and Jeep Grand Cherokees on the way.
SRT is to Chrysler as AMG is to Mercedes-Benz. But, fittingly, the American philosophy is more democratic than the German approach. "Our vision is the best performance for the lowest price," says SRT director Dan Knott. That means selling the Magnum SRT8 for about $38,000, a premium of a mere $3000 over the Magnum R/T.
Except for twenty-inch forged wheels with huge red, four-piston Brembos peering out from between the spokes, the SRT8 doesn't look dramatically different from the stock Magnum. Hey, no problem. With its high beltline and low roofline, the sexy station wagon already exuded plenty of street-rod swagger. Inside, too, the Magnum is mostly status quo, aside from aggressively bolstered front seats and some sporty detailing.
Most of SRT's time, money, and ingenuity were lavished on the big V-8. The engine block looks identical to that of the standard 5.7-liter Hemi. But, in fact, it's a unique piece designed to accommodate bored-out cylinders that push the displacement to 6.1 liters, and it's been fitted with traditional hot-rod tweaks such as flat-top pistons, a forged crank, sodium-filled exhaust-valve stems, a more efficient intake manifold, exhaust headers, and a high-lift, long-duration billet camshaft whose profile was inspired by the famed Mopar 340 small-block V-8.
Thanks to its additional size, better breathing, and higher compression ratio, the Magnum SRT8's engine gets a 25 percent bump in power over the standard Hemi. This translates into 425 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, which are good for 0-to-60-mph times in the low fives and quarter-miles in the high thirteens. Oh, and the exhaust--tuned to emit a bad-boy howl when you bury the gas pedal--makes it sound even faster.
A five-speed manu-matic is the only transmission. But if you shift manually and nix the electronic stability control, you can hang out the tail with a well-timed goose of the throttle. Of course, if you're not a drift king, the SRT8 plows in tight corners and lumbers through quick transitions. Yes, the suspension has been tuned for sprightlier handling, but this is a two-ton-plus station wagon, and the laws of Newtonian physics still apply.
The road, rather than the racetrack, is the Magnum's preferred habitat. The supple chassis--shared with the statelier 300C and the sportier Charger--gobbles up miles and soaks up road imperfections like a grand touring car, and the honking Hemi will humble just about any would-be predator it confronts.
Unlike competitors that have plundered their pedigrees and slavishly imitated the past, Chrysler has built a thoroughly modern vehicle that pays homage to its heritage while succeeding on its own merits. And it goes like stink.
Engine: 6.1L V-8, 425 hp, 420 lb-ft