06/22/04 — Dodge Magnum delivers in quality, styling

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Dodge Magnum delivers in quality, styling

Dodge Magnum (2005)

They’ve got it wrong.

They being the people who are asking the question, who is going to buy the 2005 Dodge Magnum? The Magnum being the first American-built rear-wheel drive station wagon — Dodge calls it a “sports tourer” — available with a V-8 engine since the demise of the large General Motors wagons in 1996.

DodgeMagnum, 2005

They say, who is going to forsake their minivan, which holds a lot more stuff, or who is going to give up their high-riding go-anywhere Jeep Grand Cherokee for the Magnum?

These questions are all wrong. They simply aren’t the right questions.

We don’t think the new Magnum, one of the coolest cars to come out of the Chrysler division of DaimlerChrysler in years, is aimed at those customers. It’s not meant to tempt the family who relishes a cavernous interior with three rows of seats and storage for a small army of rugrats.

Although the Magnum may, indeed, win over some of these people, it is going to appeal more to the guy who loves his sedan, who still thinks the true family car is an Accord, LeSabre, Taurus, Altima or Camry.

He’s the head of a household that has just welcomed its second child. And although this growing family still fits into the popular mid-sized sedan, Mr. Head of Household is intrigued by the macho looks of the Magnum and the extra storage it affords behind the seats.

He’s the guy who might be longing for the rumble of a big V-8, but has been reined in by his wife and his suburban family responsibilities.

Remember, he’s a sedan guy — and there’s still millions of them out there — so he’s not looking for a three-seat vehicle and he’s not willing to trade his excellent-handling sedan for a top-heavy SUV that needs to be revitalized with expensive fuel every few days.

OK. So there’s your target audience as we see it. That’s our book. And we think the Magnum, which is surprisingly well screwed together and outfitted with rich-looking materials, will attract a large audience.

The Magnum is indeed the kind of car that turns heads because there simply is nothing like it on the road.

With its aggressive long and low athletic stance, chopped top, short overhangs and prodigious wheel arches, it breaks new ground.

It’s a car that will get conversations started. A slow Sunday morning at our favorite supermarket offers a good example. The produce manager had looked at it and gave it two thumbs up soon after we arrived at the store. By checkout time, it was the topic of discussion up front and two checkers and the store manager were staring out the window at the dark blue Magnum sitting front and center.

“Now I like that,” exclaimed one of the checkout people.

This type of discussion most times leads to questions about price, and when we informed them it could be purchased well equipped in the mid-20s, there were no sticker shock gasps. In fact, there was some surprise at the attractive price.

So just what is this Magnum?

It is the kissing cousin of the all-new Chrysler 300C sedan, which has become an instant hit.

The five-passenger Magnum is exactly the same length as a Ford Taurus, but the Magnum has a foot larger wheelbase creating scads of rear-seat legroom compared to the Ford and most other mid-sized offerings.

Both the Magnum and the 300 can be purchased with Chrysler’s now famous — thanks to relentless television advertising — hemi V-8 engine generating 340 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque.

With the big V-8 under hood mated to a Mercedes 5-speed automatic transmission, the Magnum is a force to be reckoned with capable of 0 to 60 time under 6 seconds.

Because the price of gas has become headline news around the country, it is noteworthy that the Magnum V-8 is capable of gas mileage in the high 20s while cruising the interstate at a steady speed. That’s possible through Chrysler’s Multi-displacement system in which half of the eight cylinders are cut out during times when horsepower is not needed.

Other engine options are a 3.5-liter V-6 generating 250 horsepower and a base 2.7-liter V-6 making 200 horsepower.

The Magnum comes in three trim levels — SE, SXT and RT.

The RT carries the hemi V-8 as standard equipment. It also carries a $30,000 base price and can easily reach 35 grand with a few desirable options.

The popular choice, we think, will be the mid-level SXT outfitted with the 250-horsepower V-6. It can be well-adorned for a price somewhere in the mid 20s.

That was our setup for seven days in the Magnum. The base SE 200-horsepower engine you might think would be adequate, but when you figure it has to haul nearly 4,000 pounds, it begs the question why not spend an another $1,000 and get the much needed extra 50 horses?

The Magnum is impressive, particularly when you consider Chrysler-built sedans of the not-to-distant past. This is not to say those cars weren’t pleasing in many ways, but the Magnum offers a higher level of ambiance.

The doors close with a solid thud. They sound heavy and substantial. Look closely at and touch the cloth seat fabric. The fabric has a somewhat rough texture with the expensive look and feel of material you would find in a high-end European car. We enjoy leather, but we could easily live with cloth seats of this quality.

The dashboard plastics and trim pieces have a quality look to them, especially in the black as found in our test car.

Everything fits perfectly. It’s almost as if the Mercedes boys pushed the Chrysler guys aside and said, “here’s the way you do things to make an automobile attractive to the buyer.”

Even though the interior is unusually spacious, it may feel claustrophobic to some people because of the chopped roof line that cuts into the window size. None of our riders had a problem with the pinched look, however. And visibility from all sides is certainly acceptable.

Head room is not a problem up front and, although it looked to a couple of our bystanders that it might be a consideration in the second row, it isn’t.

Step into the second seat and you seem to sit down into the car keeping the roof a generous ways overhead. The back seats are comfortable and there’s stretch out room for the legs.

The seatbacks can be folded forward in a 60-40 configuration to increase the 27.8 cubic feet of rear cargo space to 72 cubic feet. Dodge officials say a 27-inch television can be successfully loaded into the rear.

One neat design trick was hinging the rear liftgate about two feet into the roof providing a wide opening for the cargo area.

A shelf covers a shallow storage area in the floor. The carpeted cover can be flipped over to provide a rubberized surface if desired.

The Magnum’s gauges are housed in four ovals surrounded by stainless trim rings. The black numbers on a white background are classy. Overall, the dashboard is handsome in a conservative way. Nothing space age about the setup, but it fits the package very nicely.

We found that the 3.5-liter engine had more than adequate power for our needs with the capability of moving smartly off the line at a stoplight or merging into interstate traffic.

If you aren’t into the macho V-8 thing, want to save a few thousand dollars at the time of purchase and add some miles to every tank of gas, we recommend the 3.5-liter.

It comes with a 4-speed automatic while the V-8 gets a 5-speed.

The steering is accurate with good feedback, and the SXT edition performs adeptly on the back-road twists and turns. It can provide some enjoyment in that area if the head of the household can sneak off for a few miles of mid-day bliss.

All trim levels come with 17-inch wheels, air conditioning, a stereo with CD player, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, cruise control and keyless entry.

The price of admission for the base Magnum is $22,495. Step up to the SXT and get antilock brakes, aluminum wheels, 8-way power driver’s seat, electronic stability control and traction control. Our test car also had side curtain airbags. Price as tested was $26,585.

For those people in cold-weather climates, an all-wheel drive option should be available by late summer or early fall.

The aggressive styling may turn off some people. But it may be a selling point for many others.

What shouldn’t turn off anyone is the Magnum’s quiet interior, good ride quality, excellent handling, impeccable fit and finish and overall attention to detail.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on June 22, 2004 10:47 AM