Calling the 2006 Dodge Magnum SRT8 a wagon is sort of like calling the TV hit, "American Idol" a singing contest. You're only getting part of the story.

While the Magnum SRT8 gives you all the old-school perks you expect from a wagon -- lots of stretch-out room for passengers, plentiful cargo-carrying space and a smooth ride on the open road -- what it has under the hood seems siphoned from high-performance sports cars.

That would be a 6.1-liter Hemi V-8 with 425 horsepower.

Is it a blast? Oh, yeah.

Spend a week in the Magnum SRT8 and eventually you forget you're in a wagon. You start morphing into a sports car enthusiast -- confidently whipping into openings on the freeway entrance ramp, powering out of harm's way amid a tangle of slow-moving cars and zipping up steep hills while surrounding autos are nosily struggling.

The hot-rod Dodge wagon seems designed for that practical family man who still has some drag strip fever in his soul ... or maybe the soccer mom who wants a performance rush no minivan can offer.

Beyond its muscular road manners, the thing most noticeable about the Magnum SRT8 is how it looks. And to me, it looks like a very long bullet. In fact, it looks downright stretched.

Yet its length falls more than 4 inches short of the 202-inch-long Kia Sedona minivan reviewed last week. It doesn't seem possible.

The Magnum's visual trick can be chalked up to a long wheelbase (120 inches), a roofline that seems to go on forever and an aerodynamic look so exaggerated that it appears the windows were squeezed into horizontally-long, vertically-short holes as an afterthought.

The compressed look and relatively spare use of window glass presents the same problem found in all six trim levels of the 2006 Magnum -- a limited field of vision from the driver's seat. Serious head swiveling is needed to double-check the blind spots on either side of the wagon.

The Magnum's interior is comfortable, spacious and happily uncomplicated. Even in the comparatively pricey tester ($41,400 with an option package that included a navigation system and Sirius Satellite Radio), there was no confusing mass of buttons and controls on the dash. Everything was within reach and easy to use -- although Chrysler still makes you hit an extra button to program radio station settings.

The steering wheel has a race car look and feel, adding to the sporty ambience radiated by the Hemi V-8 power plant.

Grinding out 425 horsepower affects things other than the heartbeat. Starting up the SRT8 produced a loud, growling, "whuppa, whuppa, whuppa" sound, which I think is engine talk for, "Hang on pal, I've got more horsepower here than you might be able to handle."

Once the revs were up on the tested Magnum SRT8, however, the engine noise did not seem as intrusive. Or maybe I just got used to it after the wagon was rolling for awhile. Whatever the case, conversations inside the Dodge at freeway cruising speed were easily heard.

As you might expect, the big engine is a gas gobbler at a federally estimated 14 miles per gallon in city driving and 20 mpg on the highway. My computations came out slightly better than those estimates, but be advised that Dodge recommends premium gasoline for the SRT8.

Dodge has touted the Magnum's ability to carry long, heavy cargo, and it's no idle boast. Folding the wagon's rear seats produces nearly 72 cubic feet of cargo space -- an expansive area that, by my eye, could swallow everything from surfboards to anvils.

Pleasant, standard comfort/convenience features on the tested Magnum included a tilt/telescoping steering wheel wrapped in leather, an impressive six-disc CD changer (that also could handle cassettes and MP3), power-adjustable pedals, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and front/rear climate control outlets.

Power, four-wheel, vented Brembo brakes with four pistons and aluminum housings were the biggest bonus on tested wagon's standard equipment list. Those are the kind of brakes you expect to find on an $80,000 sports car. And they easily harnessed the Magnum SRT8's power when asked to do so.

Supplemental side air bags were a $390 option, however.

Overall, for those who want a hard-working wagon with something extra in the power department, the Magnum is a force to be reckoned with.

Make/model: 2006 Dodge Magnum SRT8
Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door, rear-drive high-performance wagon
Base price: $37,320 (as tested, $41,400)
Engine: 6.1-liter Hemi V-8 with 425 horsepower at 6,000 revolutions per minute and 420 foot-pounds of torque at 4,800 rpm
EPA fuel economy: 14 miles per gallon city; 20 mpg highway
Transmission: Electronic five-speed automatic with overdrive
Steering: Power-assisted rack and pinion
Brakes: Power-assisted, four-wheel, vented discs on front and rear (with anti-lock and other braking-enhancement features)
Suspension: Independent, short/long arm-type on front; independent, multi-link on rear (coil springs and gas-charged shocks front and rear)
Fuel tank: 19 gallons
Interior volume: 105.9 cubic feet
Maximum cargo volume: 71.6 cubic feet
Curb weight: 4,260 pounds
Track: 63.0 inches on front; 63.1 inches on rear
Height: 57.9 inches
Length: 197.7 inches
Wheelbase: 120 inches
Width: 74.1 inches
Tires: P245/45ZR20 performance radials
Final assembly point: Brampton, Ontario, Canada