Oversized, old-school fun in the Dodge Magnum
It’s a straight-forward case of back to the future when it comes to Dodge’s highly successful and stylistically ground-breaking Magnum wagon, an oddly appealing juxtaposition of an old-school muscle car and a current-era, fusion-focused design. The Magnum’s uncompromising presence will elicit one of two very distinct reactions: loads of thumbs-ups from gearhead cats seeking a sleek, chopped, retro-styled ride that’s loaded with horsepower, or utter derision from those who recoil at the notion of a hyperstylized station wagon with fat tires and mediocre mileage. Judging by its popularity, it seems like the first group is winning out.And while many of us still regard the station wagon as pretty much the least cool auto in existence (see the Griswold clan’s Family Truckster in “Vacation” for further evidence of that notion), this car might change your opinion.
The Magnum RT’s combination of awesome power – provided by Dodge’s increasingly ubiquitous 5.7 liter Hemi powerplant – plus devilish touches such as oversized 18-inch mag wheels and hearse-worthy smoked glass in the rear quarters – makes this one very cool ride.Everywhere I went, the Magnum turned heads (and probably snapped a few necks, given its fast pace). Its marvelously tough styling, throaty double-barreled exhaust and the potential (should you wish to do so) to smoke the tires at every stop sign kept the spotlight on this very distinctive vehicle.Sporting a long, flat hood and the new, wide grille shared by many members of the Dodge family, the car’s beak rides as low and close to the ground as a 1960s/1970s wagon classic such as Olds Vista Cruiser.
The Magnum’s solid body and roof line peaks at mid-cabin and tapers off toward the tail, producing some very small and especially dark windows in the rear – you’d think that would mean absolutely no headroom, but things are actually quite spacious inside. An enormous bumper assembly, a small rear window spoiler and a small and somewhat ineffective rear window wiper complete the look … well, that and a couple of huge, chrome-plated exhaust pipes. Everything’s slightly oversized, from those broad, five-spoke wheels (riding some huge and very comfortable Continental ContiTouring P255/60 R18 tires) to the large door handles and color-matching side mirrors. Inside, designers have gone for a slightly retro look that simultaneously offers glimmers of the Dodge’s new German bloodlines – most notably, Mercedes’ screwdriver grip-styled turn signal and wiper controls, plus the fondue fork cruise control stalk.
There’s a comfortable, modern blend of clean lines, from the long, flat dash to the two-tone color scheme.A cockpit-styled cowl helps shade a set of deeply recessed, white-on-black, chrome-rimmed gauges plus a rudimentary electronic trip computer; with thirsty gas consumption (17 in town, 25 on the highway, or even less with the inevitable leadfooting) it was one vehicle I wish had a fuel range computer as a standard option.A large, four-spoke driving wheel is free of accessory control buttons and totally dedicated to keeping a grip on the action; the center console flows into a large, central box that features a chrome and plastic-lined shift gate (plus a leather-wrapped shift knob) that looks straight out of a 1970s street rod – heartily clunking into drive and then silently working though the gears, courtesy of an impossibly smooth Autostick system.
Comfortable leather seating with ergonomic headrests and ample seating in the rear mean a very pleasant ride.Totally solid, sweet and extremely quiet even at aggressive cruising speeds, the Magnum features reasonably good handling and loads of get-up-and-go to spare. Built on a similar platform to the new Durango (put them side-by-side and you’ll see the family resemblance at work) and exercising the same cutting-edge design as the new Chrysler 300 and the Pacifica, those large exterior proportions mean lots of body roll.
But just like its muscle car forefathers, flat out and heading in a straight line, there’s little that’s going to catch up to you.All of the Magnum’s rear-wheel-drive veracity does make the vehicle a bit suspect for mountain consumers, but Dodge has a more High Country appropriate answer in the form of the Magnum AWD, which is identical to the standard Magnum in every aspect except for an advanced all-wheel drive system which splits the torque 38/62 between the front and rear wheels.We didn’t have the chance to test the AWD Magnum but can attest to the standard vehicle’s veracity; the only perceptible downside for Magnum converts will be the relatively small storage space in the rear cargo area (not quite as voluminous as they make it seem in the ads, unfortunately). Fold down the rear seats and you really will be able to load everything you want to carry.
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