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With the arrival of the Dodge Magnum, you didn't have to call your car a truck any more. The term crossover vehicle has been thrown around a lot the last couple years, meant to apply to SUVs leaning in the direction of cars and/or minivans. But the tag is too vague to mean much.
Suddenly, with the Dodge Magnum, it fit. There was a car with the capability to wean the country off of SUVs. Its bold, hot rod lines might scare some people away, but its utility can't be denied. It's a full-size, American car with spacious cargo capacity and available all-wheel drive. It's engineered for safety, styled for image and designed for utility. If those aren't what people want when they buy an SUV, what do they want?
Plus, the Magnum gets better gas mileage than full-size SUVs. The base Magnum SE comes with a 190-hp, double overhead cam V6 that gets 21 to 28 miles per gallon, at a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $23,095 including destination. And the 340-hp, 5.7-liter Hemi in the R/T boasts technology that shuts down four of the engine's eight cylinders when the car is just cruising, delivering up to 30 miles per gallon during those moments. Put in everyday terms, if you used it to commute on the freeway at a steady 60 mph, you could average 25 miles per gallon.
For 2006, Dodge has pushed a different edge of the performance envelope with the SRT8. Powered by a 6.1-liter, V8 Hemi making 425 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, the SRT8 lives up to the Magnum name, accelerating from 0 to 60 in about five seconds and from 0 to 100 and back to 0 in less than 17 seconds. And it does that without giving up any of the utility or much of the comfort of the other three models.
Take your pick. There's not a loser in the bunch.
The Dodge Magnum was a car we enjoyed driving, especially the SRT8. All that horsepower, all that torque, predictable handling, and a solid, comfortable ride.
The five-speed automatic transmission upshifted smoothly. Even in AutoStick mode, however, it sometimes upshifted before we wanted it to. Gear engagement often lacked the crispness we believe should be the norm in a car with the SRT8's credentials. The shift lever moves through a slotted gate, with AutoStick actions managed with sideways movements at the bottom end of the gate.
The specs say that the SRT8's engine is electronically limited to 6600 rpm, but the tachometer redlines at 6250 rpm, and upshifts generally occurred between 6000 and redline. The engine felt comfortable at that speed, as it should, seeing as how the 425 horsepower peaks at 6400 rpm.
Power in the SE with its 2.7-liter V6 is barely adequate for a car weighing close to two tons, and the base, four-speed automatic is, shall we say, basic. But with judicious selection of aftermarket tires and wheels and body tack-ons, who's to know it's the lowest-cost ride?
The SXT is better, with some 30 percent more horsepower and torque on tap, plus a five-speed automatic, in a car weighing barely 50 pounds more than the base SE. The SXT's 3.5-liter V6 makes 250 horsepower and, in these days of high horsepower V8s, that number might have lost its meaning, but 250 horsepower is a lot, and it's especially effective with the 250 pound-feet of torque this engine offers. The SXT is more fully featured for the money, too, including sharper wheels and tires more befitting the car's abilities. It's rated to tow 2000 pounds and gets an EPA-estimated City/Highway 19/27 mpg. The SXT uses a five-speed automatic with AutoStick for manual gear selection.
Best in our estimation is the R/T with its 5.7-liter V8 Hemi, although even with all that power and torque, the acceleration isn't neck-snapping; the R/T has a very tall final drive ratio of 2.82 in the rear-wheel-drive version and 3.07 in all-wheel drive, which may be great for gas mileage and quiet running, but tempers acceleration. There were times it felt like it had 340 horsepower, and times it didn't. There were more times that it didn't feel like it had 390 pound-feet of torque, which might be because the torque peaks at a relatively high level, 4000 rpm. With horsepower peaking at 5000 rpm, that's a relatively narrow stretch of maximum happy performance for such a big engine, although not at all out of line in a multi-valve, overhead cam design. We're not complaining, merely lamenting what could be.
The Multi-Displacement System, or MDS, on the R/T Hemi cuts out half of the eight cylinders whenever horsepower is not needed. At a steady 60 miles per hour on a flat highway, or less, you're only using four cylinders and you're getting about 30 miles per gallon. With a response time of 0.04 seconds, and just as in the 2006 Dodge Charger with the same system, we couldn't feel when it went from a V4 back to a V8, when we hit the throttle to speed back up again. is rated 17/25 mpg. Although technically capable of towing 3800 pounds with the optional tow package, Dodge does not recommend using the R/T as a tow vehicle. The R/T uses a five-speed automatic transmission with AutoStick.
The R/T longs for grippier tires. It comes with Continental Touring all-season tires, P225/60R18, which were the likely cause of the Electronic Stability Program's occasional intrusion into our hard but not overboard or even borderline driving. As the tires lost their limited bite, the ESP feathered the throttle. With proper tires, it's unlikely that intrusion would occur. This car warrants sport or high-performance tires, though they may not last as long or work as well in the winter. We also felt the front wheels bouncing at times, which was the only blemish on an otherwise great ride, tested in a variety
The 2006 Dodge Magnum is a landmark car. There is no other car like it. When equipped with all-wheel drive, it will do almost anything an SUV will do, with distinctive style, more speed, better handling and better fuel mileage. The Magnum excels with its quiet cabin and smooth and solid ride. Its interior is well thought-out, and the underlying rear-wheel-drive design with a long wheelbase and short overhangs allows a lot of room inside. The styling might be too aggressive for many, but the practical arguments for this car are hard to beat. The SRT8 trades fuel economy for muscle car fun and succeeds.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Northern California.
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