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Auto Test Drives

Dodge Magnum Packs Looks, HEMI Power, and Lots of Family Room into a Unique Wagon
By Andrew Gardner; photos by the author
Aug 5, 2006, 08:13 PST
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The Dodge Magnum is great. This is derived from the fact that the Dodge Charger is great, a fact we proved a few months ago, and the Magnum is very much like the Charger. In fact, the Magnum is like the Charger, only there's more of it. And it has a completely different front fascia, and it looks aggressive but much less bold and so is more family wagon oriented yet still very Dodge and grab life by the horns and HEMI power and all that good stuff. And doing drifitng with more weight in the car makes it easier to hold the tail end out once you get it out there because of higher rotational intertia. Except that we weren't entering a drift competition, so that's irrelevant. And then there's the whole bit about our test ride being equipped with a lovely all wheel drive system.

The really funny thing about the Magnum R/T is how vey different it is despite the plethora of components shared with the positively aggressive Charger R/T. Some of the exterior body panels and so much of the interior is the same, and it has that same great 5.7L HEMI V8, yet when you get to the driving part it is strikingly different. Stomp on the throttle and note a bit different, slightly more mild, throttle feel. You can detect a bit of extra weight (300 pounds for the all wheel drive wagon, although the rear wheel drive Magnum is just 80 pounds over the Charger's curb weight) inhibiting the acceleration, and you can really feel the Magnum rear back on its haunches. Stomp on the brakes and feel the Magnum lean forward a bit farther than the Charger under the same decelration rate - even considering that both are advertised with "sport suspension" packages, this is one of many suspension tunings that Dodge offers to suit the ride and handling desires of a variety of drivers. Crank in on the wheel a bit too fast, expecting a heavier feel yet findingly strikingly light operation due to heightened power assist. Feel the body lean way over and then take a set and then the outer tires hookup with that extra loading, but the gip level is lower. The tires are less performance oriented - they are a bit narrower and taller, and the Magnum gets touring tires as opposed to the Charger's performance rubbers. Even within this same family, this same chassis, there is great diversity in final automobile personality.

 

 

The shear volume of the interior helps set the tone for this more family-oriented road warrior. This big dog barks loudly and accelerates fiercely, but there's definitely a softened edge. It's like a German Shepherd grown up, ready to have kids jumping in and on and around it rather than scare children away with a snarling face that looks ready to charge and bite.

 

Photo courtesy Daimler Chrysler

 

The functionality is good despite a definite aesthetic advantage over any other station wagon. That attractive downard sloping roofline slightly limits rear cargo room, but the forward hinging of the rear door compensates by increasing access to the interior - it broadens the possible heights and angles of entry of whatever it is you are trying to load.

Meanwhile, the HEMI V8 offers a distinct advantage in towing and hauling capacity. With 390 lb-ft of torque on tap, it's at least all the work horse of a light duty truck but with the sporting fun advantage of a much lower center of gravity and more performance oriented suspension. You can option up to a 3800 pound max gross trailer weight.

 

 

The safety packaging in the Magnum is competitive, with multistage front airbags being computer-controlled to produce anywhere from no to low, medium and high output inflation to properly suit the accident situation. All-speed traction control keeps all four wheels in good traction and the car in control. By choice, our test ride also featured all-wheel drive. While this feature may take an extra nick out of your pocketbook because of added weight and more rolling resistance from the friction of extra moving parts, the safety advantage can well outweight this. It's less significant now in the age of traction control, but all wheel drive is a beautiful safety net nonetheless. It also makes all-weather driving infinitely more convenient; even with traction control the average driver will find rear wheel drive in the snow annoying, especially in a more aggressive traction control system which so completely erradicates slip.

With a $32000 base price, you couldn't consider a new small German station wagon. For some, there would be no comparison. For others, the tradeoff in handling would be an issue. The luxury defecit to an A6 Avant or E-class Estate will not likely matter to the average Magnum buyer. The power advantage over any comparable American station wagon is overwhelming. The style inside and out is overstimulating. The steering and handling are less than inspirational on this package we drove and detract from the would be image of a .357 Magnum caliper equivalent vehicle, but the 5.7 liter pushrod V8 fights ferociously to maintain the intended reputation - and there are stiffer suspension packages available. The smoothness, space and capability will win over the family, and the cool factor linked to the affirmative "yep, it's got a HEMI" will definitely do good to boost little kids' and dads' egos alike.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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