It seems almost inevitable that every year brings one new car that captures the public’s imagination and becomes an instant icon — an emblem of a particular vehicular moment in history. Let’s see, there was the reborn MINI, the HUMMER H2, Chrysler’s PT Cruiser, the New Beetle… keep working backwards and the long list includes the first Mazda Miata, the AMC Pacer, the first Datsun 240Z, the ’65 Mustang, ’55 Thunderbird, ’49 Oldsmobile Rocket 88, ’32 Ford V-8, ’09 Model T, and eventually the 1885 Benz three-wheeler. For those who haven’t been paying attention (not even to the title of this story and the photos that accompany it), this year’s iconic car has been the Chrysler 300 sedan and, our subject, its Dodge-branded near-twin the Magnum don’t-call-it-a-wagon wagon.
The thing is that icon status doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a car is any good or that in the long run history will remember it fondly. But it can’t hurt.
Hugging and kissing
2005 Dodge MagnumEnlarge Photo
What’s best about the Magnum is the conglomeration of Mercedes and Chrysler pieces that make up its substance. Just the fact that it’s a domestic-badged machine with rear-wheel drive makes it worthy of celebration, but the all-independent suspension, much of which is derived from the Mercedes E-Class, makes this the most sophisticated chassis ever put under a mass-production American-brand station wagon ever. And best of all, it behaves like it too.
2005 Dodge Magnum
There’s nothing particularly startling about the short/long-arm front and five-link rear suspension systems, but they’re absolutely perfectly tuned and matched to the SXT model’s standard 17-inch wheels and P215/65R17 Goodyear Integrity tires. In a straight line the ride isn’t just well controlled, but perfectly controlled with ride motions that remain gentle even when the pavement is wavier than the Gulf of Mexico during hurricane season. Dive into a corner with the traction control system turned on and the only way to get in trouble is to actually aim for the guardrail. Hitting a corner with the traction control off the rack-and-pinion steering reacts quickly to inputs and the front end pushes gently into understeer. There’s not enough torque in the V-6-powered SXT to counter that understeer with power, but of course there’s the HEMI V-8-powered R/T model sitting up there as an alternative for anyone who craves that.
The Magnum SXT also has a good set of four-wheel disc brakes with standard anti-lock (ABS is an option on the SE). Again, very safe and sane, if not particularly exciting.
When Daimler-Benz and Chrysler merged, it was an open question as to what either side got out of the combination. It’s still an open question as to whether the merger benefits Mercedes at all, but the Magnum’s chassis indicates that Chrysler definitely scored an edge.
Not so powerful
Everyone is impressed with the R/T’s 340-horsepower HEMI, but the SXT’s 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 isn’t bad. Taken straight from the superseded (and front-drive) Intrepid sedan, the SOHC, 24-valve powerplant does nothing untoward and nothing particularly exciting; it’s a sterling example of adequacy. The assumption here is that the base Magnum SE’s 190-horsepower, 2.7-liter, DOHC V-6 would be perfectly less-than-adequate.
2005 Dodge Magnum
The only transmission that comes with the 3.5 is a four-speed automatic with noticeably large gulfs between each ratio. Hit the right hill while carrying the right load and the transmission hunts for a ratio that puts the engine in the meat of its powerband — a ratio that unfortunately doesn’t existing inside the transmission case. The five-speed automatic used in the R/T with the HEMI would likely be better, but the only way to get that is to opt for the optional all-wheel-drive system (which packs on another 200 or so pounds of heft) or the R/T.
As it is the Magnum SXT is a perfectly acceptable everyday driver; the engine and transmission are smooth enough to operate under the annoyance radar during commutes and acceleration is adequate for just about anything short of street-racing Camaros. But the chassis feels so competent that the natural tendency of the driver is to wonder how it would respond with a extra shovelful of horsepower under its hood.
And if you sate that curiosity by test-driving an R/T, you’ll probably end up buying an R/T.
Dang nice, but could be dang nicer
Even the SE is a pretty well-equipped Magnum coming as it does with air conditioning, power windows, and mirrors, a decent CD player and keyless entry standard. And the SXT includes the relatively unobtrusive stability control and a bunch of geegaws along with ABS and the 3.5-liter V-6. These are well-equipped vehicles for decidedly reasonable prices (the SE starts at just $21,870, the SXT begins at $25,370 and even the R/T is under $30K).
But the materials used to construct the interior are often cheesy with either an insubstantial feel or haphazard finish. The thickly woven cloth interior with which the test SXT was equipped seemed tough and resilient, and there’s lots of room, but the whole design is less than beautiful. There’s little in the way of ergonomic disaster around, but not a lot of inspiration either.
There is plenty of room for five however. The generous 120-inch wheelbase puts the Magnum at the top of its (loosely defined) class in rear legroom with plenty of stretch space in the other dimensions. There’s not a lot of shape to the seats (and a longer lower cushion would make the rear seat much more comfortable), but then again a lot of us don’t have a lot of shape to our bodies.
2005 Dodge Magnum
The station wagon-like part of the Magnum is particularly well done as long as you’re ready to accept that the racy lines of the roof limits total cargo capacity behind the rear seat to just 27.8 cubic feet. The rear hatch door extends deep into the roof so that when it’s open it’s easy to load up the rear, the rear seat easily flops forward in a 60/40 split, there’s a bit of storage beneath the rear floor and deeper pockets off to the sides, and a storage net to keep loose stuff from flopping around.
This is, in all, a big advance for Dodge from the Intrepid. And the Magnum is good not just because it has rear-driver instead of front-driven, but because it’s a comprehensively better considered and better executed design.
This Canadian-built and substantially German-engineered wagon is a distinctly American car. That’s a neat trick and it’s one that hasn’t been pulled off in this mainstream size class for a very long time. The SXT version isn’t the most exciting Magnum, but not everyone is looking for excitement.
But everyone wants overall competence and that’s something this Dodge definitely delivers — at a great price.
2005 Dodge Magnum SXT
Base price: $25,370
Engines: 3.5-liter V-6, 250 hp
Transmission: Four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 197.7 x 74.1 x 58.4 in
Wheelbase: 120.0 in
Curb weight: 3903 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA city/hwy): 19/27 mpg
Safety equipment: Anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control
Major standard equipment: A/C, power windows, cruise control, power mirrors, heated seats
Warranty: Seven years/70,000 miles powertrain; three years/36,000 miles basic
The Car Connection Consumer Review
Nice Ride Wish I Had A Hemi
wish they still made this one, I'd buy another in a heartbeat, will just keep this one till the wheels come off!!
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