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The Dodge Magnum is a full-size American station wagon with spacious cargo capacity. It's engineered for safety. And all-wheel drive is available for all-weather capability. But what makes the Magnum special is its hot rod styling and rumbling engines. There's nothing else quite like it.
The headliner is the SRT8 with a 6.1-liter V8 Hemi that puts out 425 horsepower and 425 pound-feet of torque to propel the Magnum to 60 mph in about five seconds. That's quick. It's especially quick for a big American station wagon. The Magnum SRT8 can reportedly accelerate from 0 to 100 and back to 0 in less than 17 seconds.
However, it's not necessary to go to the SRT8 to enjoy the Magnum experience. The Magnum experience begins with the 3.5-liter V6, about 10 grand cheaper than the SRT8. Or kick up a notch with the R/T and its Hemi, a rumbling 340-hp 5.7-liter V8. The least-expensive Magnum is the SE with a 2.7-liter V6 that gets 21/28 miles per gallon and retails for less than $24,000.
While these cars are not miserly, there is some attention given to fuel economy. The R/T boasts technology that shuts down four of the Hemi'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. Or you could stand on the gas and take off.
The all-wheel-drive models are designed to offer excellent cornering balance under all driving conditions and improved traction in snow and wet-weather conditions.
The Dodge Magnum was launched as an all-new product line for the 2005 model year and expanded for 2006 with the SRT8. For 2007, the Magnum is largely carryover, but with changes to option packages. All models benefit from the addition of a palette of new exterior colors, standard privacy glass, an automatic oil change alert, and low-risk deployment air bags. DVD-based navigation with GPS is widely available. A new Road/Track Performance Group is available for rear-wheel drive R/Ts that includes 20-inch wheels, improved intake and exhaust for an additional 10 horsepower, a performance suspension, and comfort and convenience items.
The Dodge Magnum is a car we enjoy driving, especially the SRT8, though we like all the different models. All that horsepower, all that torque, predictable handling, and a solid, comfortable ride.
The five-speed automatic transmission upshifts 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.
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 basic.
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.
The R/T is our favorite 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 tall final drive ratio of 2.82 in the rear-wheel-drive version and 3.07 with 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.
The R/T engine's Multi-Displacement System, or MDS, cuts out half of the eight cylinders whenever horsepower is not needed. At a steady 60 miles per hour or less on a flat highway, it only uses four cylinders and gets about 30 miles per gallon. With a response time of 0.04 seconds, we couldn't feel when it went from a V4 back to a V8 when we hit the throttle to speed back up again. The R/T is rated by the EPA at 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 driving. As the tires lost their limited bite, the ESP feathered the throttle. With stickier tires, it's unlikely that intrusion would occur. A good idea is to add the 20-inch wheels available this year with their high-performance rubber, even 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 of road conditions.
The brakes are fully up to the task. The front vented rotors measure 13.6 inches, an inch larger than the SE and SXT, and the rear vented rotors are 12.6; additionally, the front brakes use dual piston calipers. Couple that mechanical strength with ABS with Brake Assist, which balances the braking between front and rear and, no worries, you're going to get stopped when you need to. On twisty mountain roads we repeatedly hammered the brakes into downhill curves, and the pedal never once showed any sign of stress or distress, or brake fade
The 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, but the other models are easier to live with day to day.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Northern California.