Those who buy cars for sheer practicality should avoid the Dodge Magnum. Contrary to what its advertisements suggest, it doesn't hold a great deal more cargo than most midsize wagons, and its low roofline limits how high you can stack your stuff. The list of standard safety features is slim as well.
If practicality isn't your priority, though, the Magnum may be an attractive choice. Its bold styling commands the road, and the optional Hemi V-8 delivers confident acceleration. Perhaps the biggest draw is its distinctiveness — it's been around for three years, and among comparably priced wagons, there's nothing quite like it. In a market crowded with conformity, it's a welcome nonconformist.
In ascending order, trim levels include the SE, SXT, R/T and high-performance SRT8. Rear-wheel drive is standard, while all-wheel drive is optional on the SXT and R/T. I tested both the rear-wheel-drive R/T and the SRT8.
The Magnum's styling has worn well, thanks in part to the iconic crosshair grille that's shared across Dodge's lineup. The profile is sleeker than that of the Dodge Charger sedan, with slicked-back headlights in contrast to the Charger's forward-canted nose. In back, the Magnum's tail tapers into a low hatch that curves over the last section of the roof. The design means there's less chance of the hatch striking a wall or another car behind it when it opens, but it also limits luggage capacity.
Wheels on most Magnums come in 17- or 18-inch diameters. The SRT8 ups the ante with 20-inch wheels, custom bodywork and red brake calipers.
Performance to Match
The Magnum offers two V-6 and two Hemi V-8 engines. Output ranges from 190 to 425 horsepower, and an automatic transmission is standard. Here's how the drivetrains stack up:
|2.7-liter V-6||3.5-liter V-6||5.7-liter V-8||6.1-liter V-8|
|Availability||SE RWD||SXT RWD, AWD||R/T RWD, AWD||SRT8 RWD|
|190 @ 6,400||250 @ 6,400||335 @ 5,000*||425 @ 6,000|
|Torque (lbs.-ft. @ rpm)||190 @ 4,000||250 @ 3,800||375 @ 4,000||420 @ 4,800|
|Transmission||Four-speed automatic||Five-speed automatic||Five-speed automatic||Five-speed automatic|
|EPA-est. gas mileage (city/hwy, mpg)||21/28||19/27 (RWD), 17/24 (AWD)||17/25 (RWD), 17/24 (AWD)||14/20|
|Rec. gasoline||Regular (87 octane)||Mid-grade (89 octane)||Mid-grade (89 octane)||Premium (91 octane)|
|*350 hp @ 5,200 rpm with optional Road/Track Performance Group package|
Source: Manufacturer data
The R/T's 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 delivered commanding power, though you wouldn't think it while tooling around town. The accelerator takes its time to move things forward; it's never overly tardy, but those accustomed to the hyper-aggressive pedals in many four-cylinder cars may need patience.
Find some open road, though, and the Hemi shines. Thanks to gobs of low-end torque and a smooth-shifting five-speed automatic, it moves the Magnum effortlessly. Highway passing is all too easy, with enough power in fourth gear to make quick 60-to-70 mph bursts. Even when pressed hard, the V-8 never breaks a sweat — it only gets louder, does its job and returns to near-silence.
Four-wheel-disc brakes are standard, and antilock brakes come on most trim levels. The all-wheel-drive Magnum SXT and all R/Ts have beefier ABS brakes. The pedal in my test car felt a bit mushy, but it produced adequate stopping power.
The SRT8's 6.1-liter V-8 goes well beyond mere passing confidence to deliver blistering performance at any speed. The recalibrated five-speed automatic makes choppier shifts, which gives the acceleration an even more explosive character. Dodge says the SRT8 can zip from zero to 60 mph in just over 5 seconds, which puts it on par with a Porsche Boxster S.
If the extra power is gilding the lily, the suspension and braking improvements are worth the upgrade. The regular Magnum feels like a big American car, with light steering, modest body roll and vague directional control. Not so in the SRT8 — it has tighter steering, stiffer shock absorbers, larger stabilizer bars and performance Brembo brakes. The result is a two-ton wagon that doesn't feel like one. Flick the steering wheel, and the nose points exactly where you want it to. The brakes offer immediate, fade-free stopping power. The wheels stay grounded even through bumpy turns, and the suspension does an excellent job minimizing body roll. It also damps out major undulations to prevent excess shaking and rattling.
On the Magnum R/T, an optional Road/Track Performance Group package promises some of this effect, with a stiffer suspension — though not as stiff as the SRT8's — and 15 more horsepower, for 350 hp total. I didn't have a chance to drive a Magnum with this option, but if you have, shoot me an email.
Likewise, I can't comment on the Magnum's performance with either V-6. Fellow reviewer Joe Wiesenfelder tested the car with the 2.7-liter V-6 last year, and he reports that despite its coupling with a four-speed automatic transmission — as opposed to the five-speed the larger engines get — it had enough power for most situations. It also gets about 10 percent better gas mileage, and it's the only Magnum that's recommended to run on regular unleaded.
The Magnum shares its interior with the Dodge Charger and, to a lesser extent, the Chrysler 300. All three cars are built on the same platform, and when they arrived in 2004 and 2005, their cabins presented a welcome change from the current crop of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep models.
What a difference three years makes. Faced with classier cabins from GM, Toyota and even Hyundai, the Magnum's interior is drifting downstream. The center controls feel plasticky, and the window switches have discernable gaps where they meet the armrests. The leather upholstery in the R/T seems low-rent, though the hip-hugging seats in the SRT8 use much more sumptuous materials.
|Cargo Room Compared|
|Room behind |
2nd row (cu. ft.)
|Room behind |
1st row* (cu. ft.)
|Chevrolet Malibu Maxx||22.8||41.0|
|Mazda6 Sport Wagon||33.7||60.5|
|Subaru Outback wagon||33.5||65.4|
|Volkswagen Passat wagon||35.8||73.8|
|All data for 2007 models |
*With second row folded
**With third row folded
Drivers of any size should fit well in the Magnum, as a tilt/telescoping steering wheel is standard, and many trim levels have power-adjustable seats and pedals. I found plenty of range in the steering wheel and driver's seat, with abundant headroom and legroom to spare. There's equally abundant room in back, with good thigh support from the cushions. The seatbacks are recessed a bit behind the door openings, though, so it takes a bit of effort to climb out — especially in the SRT8, where the bolsters carve the outboard positions into faux bucket seats.
Behind the backseat is 27.2 cubic feet of cargo space, less than what most comparably priced wagons offer. The low roofline and rear hatch inhibit luggage space — not to mention overall visibility — and the sloping rear window means full-size suitcases can't stand upright unless you drop the backseat. Fold the seats, and there's a respectable 71.6 cubic feet of cargo room.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not yet crash tested the Magnum. All trim levels include the mandatory front airbags, but side curtain airbags are optional. Good luck finding them — Dodge says only 6 percent of rear-drive Magnum buyers and 16 percent of AWD buyers opt for the curtains. Side-impact airbags for the front seats are unavailable.
Four-wheel-disc brakes are standard, but the base Magnum SE lacks standard ABS. All other trim levels have ABS, traction control and an electronic stability system.
Parents with small children will appreciate the Latch child-seat anchors, which are installed in all three backseat positions. Most cars have anchors only for the outboard seats, though the middle position is the safest spot. Top-tether anchors are mounted midway down the seatback, and easily reached.
Trim Levels & Prices
Without the destination charge, prices range from $23,245 for the Magnum SE to around $42,500 for an SRT8 loaded with options. Standard features include:
- SE ($23,245): Includes a CD stereo, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, cruise control, and power windows, door locks and mirrors.
- SXT ($26,105): Adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a power driver's seat, fog lights and upgraded exterior moldings. All-wheel-drive models ($29,735) have 18-inch wheels.
- R/T ($31,390): 18-inch wheels, a stiffer suspension, a Boston Acoustics six-speaker stereo, satellite radio, leather seats and power-adjustable pedals. All-wheel-drive R/Ts ($33,490) have 19-inch wheels. The $2,950 Road/Track Performance Group is available only on the rear-wheel-drive R/T.
- SRT8 ($37,670): Adds high-performance brakes and suspension, 20-inch wheels, sport seats, custom interior trimmings and a power passenger seat.
Magnum in the Market
Dodge says Magnum buyers most frequently cross-shop the Chevrolet HHR, Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Altima, Mercury Milan and Toyota Camry. Only two of those cars could be characterized as wagons, but the Magnum doesn't really conform to the label. Wagons suggest spreadsheet sensibilities like cargo room and safety, not acceleration or handling. That's why the Magnum will work for some: It promises some utility — certainly more than a typical sedan — but more performance and style. The wagon and minivan faithful may not buy it, but anyone looking for something between a car and an SUV might want to consider one.
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