$22,000 - $30,000 Large Rear-drive (or AWD) Station Wagon
Who should buy this car:
Anyone looking for a macho ride that will kick the wussy station wagon image in its teeth
Comparable models in this class:
Its not often that passing motorists whirl around to stare at a station wagon, but the Dodge Magnum, with its chopped-top profile and bulldog nose, drew exactly that response numerous times during the week I drove it.
The rear-wheel-drive Magnum replaces the front-wheel-drive Intrepid, and its the only passenger car in the Dodge lineup. Three models and three engines are offered. The 190-horsepower, 2.7-liter V-6 is the base engine; the SXT gets the 250-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 and the RT has the 340-horsepower, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. All-wheel drive is optional on the SXT and RT. Prices start at $21,870 for the base model, $25,370 for the SXT and $29,370 for the RT.
Dodge never refers to the Magnum as a station wagon. The company calls it a cross between a sport-utility and a sedan. Its a wagon in my book, but thats endearing to me since I have always been a station wagon fan.
The coolest thing about the Magnum is its styling. I love the high beltline and sloping rear roof that creates a profile like one of George Barris 1950 Mercury lead-sled customs. The huge cross-hair grille looks like it could have been lifted from a Dodge pickup and is the least impressive feature of the design. From the outside, it looks as if the small rear windows would be a disaster for rear vision, but I did not find that to be so. Careful use of outside mirrors is required.
The sloping roof does impinge a bit on hauling capacity. When the back seat is folded, the cargo area is plenty long but its height suffers. The tailgate extends forward almost to the back seat, creating an 11.3-cubic-foot opening big enough to swallow a 27-inch television, Dodge says.
The Magnum rides on the same platform as the Chrysler 300, and that gives it excellent on-road dynamics. Rear-wheel drive ultimately offers better handling than front-wheel drive, and electronic aids, such as traction control, ESP vehicle stability programs and ABS antilock brakes, improve foul-weather traction immensely. For those who live in the Snow Belt, all-wheel drive is the ticket.
Dodge is marketing the Magnum as a performance vehicle, so the RT, with its 340-horsepower Hemi V-8, is getting most of the attention. That is the vehicle that I drove.
The Hemi V-8 makes wonderful power without ever feeling high-strung or nervous. The unique multiple-displacement system shuts down four of the eight cylinders when cruising at steady speeds, and that improves fuel efficiency up to 20 percent, according to Dodge. This system reactivates all eight cylinders in 40 milliseconds. The transition is so seamless I could never detect it. The Hemi with MDS is rated at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 on the highway.
Interior quality is one area where the Magnum and its sibling, the Chrysler 300C, show vast improvement over the Intrepid and Concorde. The cabin of the RT is snug and cozy. Large white-faced gauges are rimmed by brushed silver trim. The instrument panel is covered with a heavy, low-gloss texture that resembles real leather. The center stack contains large, easy-to-grip climate-control knobs. The test car had dual-zone heating and cooling.
The gearshift lever for the RTs five-speed automatic has a notched shift gate like that of a European sedan. A large knob that feels stout and substantial tops the lever.
The test car was equipped with the combination AM/FM/CD player and DVD-navigation system. (the car used for the photos did not have navigation) This $1,895 option has a slightly smaller screen than most navigation systems, and small buttons surround it. A small joystick controller operates the nav system. This system was not as easy to use as the touch-screen which is bigger. Im becoming less and less a fan of these nav systems because many are too complex to use.
The Magnums seats provide excellent support and are firmer than most previous Dodge products. Thats good. Perhaps thats the Mercedes-Benz influence showing up. The seating position is 2.5 inches higher than previous Chrysler sedans, so getting in and out is easy.
The rear seat has plenty of legroom for adults. Headroom, despite the sloping roof, doesnt seem to be an issue either.
The RTs 18-inch wheels and large tires play a significant role in delivering sporty handling. The Magnum is no racer, but it sits flat in turns and handles high-speed cruising with ease.
I have not driven a V-6-engined model with smaller wheels, but I suspect those handle almost as well just because the basic chassis balance is so good.
For those who dont want a station wagon, there is the strong possibility that Dodge will introduce a four-door sedan next year, and it will probably bear the Charger name. All indications are that while it may share similar proportions and mechanical components, it will not be just a four-door Magnum.