Plenty of observers were surprised when Dodge introduced its Magnum at the 2004 North American International Auto Show. Instead of a front-wheel-drive four-door sedan like its Dodge Intrepid predecessor, the Magnum is a rear-wheel-drive wagon.
In addition to a choice of two V-6 engines, the Magnum can be powered with a Hemi V-8 engine that cranks out 340 horsepower. To boost fuel economy, an innovative Multi-Displacement System in the Hemi shuts down half of the engine’s cylinders during light engine load conditions.
To counteract concerns that the rear-drive Magnum won’t handle adequately on snow and ice, Dodge included an Electronic Stability Program and traction control as part of the SXT package in the RT model. These items are optional in the base SE.
Dodge claims the Magnum has no direct competitors. Chrysler dealers offer the closely related 300 sedan with the same engine choices. All-wheel-drive Magnums will be added in September 2004 and will be available with either the 3.5-liter V-6 or the Hemi V-8.
Significantly sportier in shape than large wagons of the past, the Magnum features distinct tapered rear quarter windows. “This vehicle is all about proportion,” said senior product designer Jeff Gale, and its “stance is very important to us.”
Big fender flares surround 17- or 18-inch wheels, depending on the trim level. Simple bodyside moldings are installed, and the front fascia features Dodge’s characteristic crosshair grille. All badging except for “HEMI” plaques on the front cowl of the high-performance RT is at the rear.
Rather than a traditional near-vertical liftgate, the Magnum’s reaches well forward into the roof. This configuration allows the liftgate to rise nearly straight up.
Five occupants fit inside the Magnum, which includes a 60/40-split, folding rear seat. Deeply recessed competition-style gauges are “tunneled in,” according to Dodge press material. The two-tone interior provides what Gale calls a “kind of sinister feeling.”
The Magnum’s cargo volume totals 28 cubic feet with the rear seat up and 71 cubic feet with the seat folded. The rear cargo area features a tri-fold false floor for extra storage.
A 2.7-liter V-6 engine in the base SE model produces 190 hp and a 250-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 is optional. The SE has a four-speed-automatic transmission. Dodge’s 340-hp, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 powers the RT, which uses a five-speed-automatic transmission with AutoStick for manually selected gear changes.
Antilock brakes, traction control and an Electronic Stability Program are standard on the RT and optional on the SE. Side curtain-type airbags are optional.
The Hemi-powered RT’s performance and handling are essentially the same as the related Chrysler 300C’s. The suspension feels tauter, but not by much. Both cars ride comfortably on smooth surfaces. Each has a solid feel and confident handling.
The RT feels the most confident and sure-footed of all the Magnums. Tromping the RT’s gas pedal from a standstill can shove occupants back into their seats, and though acceleration at highway speeds is energetic, it’s not exactly ferocious.
The SE’s optional 3.5-liter V-6 is a little noisier, and the sound is less exuberant. Otherwise, the 3.5-liter performs with satisfying vigor, if a trifle slow from the get-go. Engine noise with the 2.7-liter V-6 is more noticeable but not bothersome, and performance doesn’t fall far short of the bigger V-6. The SXT-equipped Magnum clings to the pavement quite well.
With the Electronic Stability Program and traction control, the Magnum behaves with surprising confidence on wintry surfaces. Even if you hit the accelerator on a snow-packed curve, the system kicks in immediately to keep the car on course. However, you sometimes get the feeling that the system has taken over a little too much.
Backseat legroom and headroom are plentiful, but the center rider must deal with a large driveline tunnel. Big side mirrors provide adequate visibility, but the long, slim quarter windows impair over-the-shoulder views.
Even though the innovative liftgate seems handy, no strap is provided, so those of short stature might have trouble closing it. Heavy rain or snow could slip in sideways, possibly dampening the cargo underneath.