2005-2007 Dodge Magnum R/T (RWD and AWD) Test Drives
Barely advertised, largely ignored by the media, in 2004 the Dodge Magnum became Allpar.com's most popular search term and a sales success — until the Charger came out, and our Magnum car reviews got less attention. The styling turned nearly as many heads as the sound of the big Hemi. That engine is strong but light, with each engineering choice made with high performance in mind - yet, it's reportedly cheaper to build than Chrysler's own 4.7 liter V8, which was cheaper than the engines before it. The Hemi design avoided overhead cams and cut the number of valves in half.
The Magnum has a nice but very firm ride, combined with surprisingly good dry-road handling. Small bumps are passed through, larger ones absorbed, making for a ride that some may find too busy and others may find nicely exciting. The rear wheel drive coupled to the power of the Hemi means that it's fairly easy to break the rear tires loose on a turn; this usually results in only a little loss of traction, but the loud squeals can bring unwelcome attention. Going easy on turning starts helps, but you can easily chirp or squeal the tires even on a straight, despite the traction control. Perhaps a quieter set of rear tires is called for, because, generally, the Magnum grips the road quite well. Unpowered turns are no problem and no fuss, and the car's balance is surprisingly good. The Mercedes-style rear suspension seems to work very well with the LH-style front suspension.
With all wheel drive, the traction is very good, with full grip as you launch, even on a turn or on wet roads. With all wheel drive, grip is quite good, stability control is not entirely needed (though handy if you do foolish things, like stomp on the gas while turning sharply), and powered launches are easy and quick - even with the wheel turned.
The ease of getting the Magnum R/T, big as it is, through tight or fast turns is especially welcome giving the relatively well-cushioned suspension. It feels a lot more like BMW than Lexus, that is, it's firm and solid rather than soft and cushioning, but it does filter out the nastier bumps and softens the mild ones. On some road surfaces it can transmit sharp bumps and rumbles, and some bumps come through as low-pitched noise. The lower-end Magnums have less tightly tuned suspensions, at least partly because they don't have to deal with 340 horsepower, but they also have cheaper tires that allow more squeal.
One standard feature which helps in cornering with rear wheel drive is the electronic stability program, which operated subtly but helped with handling on wet roads. We found that the rear-drive Magnum worked surprisingly well on wet roads, keeping its footing even when we tried to knock it off kilter (within reason) with sudden straight-line acceleration. The standard (on R/T) all-speed traction control was no doubt part of that. The slight oversteer that sometimes came into play around powered turns is easier to deal with than the serious understeer that highly powered front-drive vehicles tend to get. The all wheel drive model provides better traction on launches, allowing full power getaways without much traction-control or stability-control intervention.
Stability control becomes more important in snow and rain, and Chrysler let us test under these conditions, both with and without it - full report. The Magnum was very stable in wet weather and experienced surprisingly little loss of composure.
Newer (above) and older (right)
Hemi fender badging
Handling is partly helped by a near-50/50 weight ratio, front to rear. An engineer told us that they had planned to make the Magnum and 300 handle with excellence with or without a stability system (this is the first Chrysler to have one, and it was imposed by the friendly folks at Mercedes). Shut off the traction control or drive a 2.7 model, which doesn't have it, and you still get very good cornering. Unfortunately, the V6 models also have rather poor tires, the Goodyear Integrity, normally found on economy cars; thus, you get good cornering with incredibly loud squealing.
In the hands of a professional driver, the sheer amount of tilt you can experience in a Magnum R/T is amazing - as is the speed with which it flies around a skidpad, electronic controls off. Turn them on, and the throttle automatically cuts back to a sane level to get you around the turn as fast as you can go without losing control. (Acting like a true idiot, of course, can still get you in real trouble, especially on slippery surfaces.)
The stability control is not intrusive; it seems to bide its time and will not respond until you do. If you turn the wheel all the way to the side and stomp on the gas, you will simply go flying in circles, with either the rear or the all wheel drive - since the all wheel drive is biased towards the rear. But as soon as you make a correction, the system grabs the steering angle, decides where you really want to go, and sends you there, using the antilock brakes and throttle control to do it. It also helps with skidding: even with rear wheel drive, the Magnum can make it up a driveway with one side covered in snow.
Acceleration is, as one would expect, very good. The engine makes good power in low rpms, but really comes into its own at a fairly low 3,000 rpm. The Mercedes five-speed automatic transmission has been retuned by Chrysler, and shifts firmly, without hesitation, to move the Hemi into its power band. While the transmission feels ever so slightly less smooth and silky than the Chrysler four-speeds, it makes better use of the engine power and helps to contribute to the Magnum R/T's surprisingly not-awful gas mileage (17 city, 25 highway with rear drive; 24 highway with AWD). So does the multiple displacement system, shutting off four of the cylinders on a regular basis, in a manner so subtle few, if any, people can tell when it's operating, even if you have one of the later models with a trip computer. The following two photos show the big engine with and without the dust shield, and also let you compare our new and old photo styles.
The reason we mention that is because Chrysler added, following GM's example, an indication of when the engine is running on four cylinders, writing "Fuel Saver Mode" in the trip computer when gas mileage is displayed. This indicator, like GM's, is a bit disingenuous, since the system alternates in fractions of sections, and the indicator appears to only come on after long delays; it makes it look (as GM's does) as though you're almost always in eight-cylinder mode. A simple LED that actually gets power when you're on four cylinders would be far more accurate but probably more expensive, and therefore won't be an option until a Japanese or German automaker does it. We will note that the system doesn't activate until the engine is warm; and that we never saw the fuel-saver mode light up while stopped, though that's probably a bug with the indicator. We did notice that gas mileage was about 2-3 miles per gallon better with the engine warm, so those who take multiple short trips in cold climates will find themselves well below EPA estimates.
The Hemi engine is strong, but it's also quiet, with a near-silent idle and an almost perfect sound under full power. It doesn't emit a constant bass burble or drone, but it's there when you need it, and it sounds and feels terrific. The Magnum R/T always seems ready to leap forward at a moment's notice without any effort. That's unique to the Hemi, though the 3.5 V6 is always ready to run and accelerates smartly. If it was not for the Hemi, the 3.5 would be seen as quite a capable motor.
On the highway, the Magnum has very little wind noise, even at higher speeds. It feels completely stable and in control. Acceleration comes immediately; then the transmission downshifts, and the Magnum shoots forward. Often, transmissions can get confused by brief full-throttle bursts; the Magnum's does not. Nor does it allow engine flare.
Instead of Chrysler's AutoStick, the Magnum uses a Mercedes automatic shifting system which provides a temporary override rather than making you choose the gear the entire time it's in manumatic mode. Say you want to start in third for better snow traction, or downshift for a long hill, or a potential passing situation: you can do that easily, and afterwards, the system reverts to Drive (or you can bump it up past fourth gear, which has the same effect). You're always in the system: when in Drive, bump to the left to go down a gear, and to the right to go up. You can do what most people will do and ignore it, and you will get by just fine. At first we thought this idea sounded like a big improvement, but when we realized that the only way to get out of manumatic mode was to either wait a long time or bump up to fifth gear, we realized how much we like Hyundai's system, where you push the gearshift to the right and then move it forward or backward. Really, it doesn't matter either way, because we never second-guessed the transmission.
Inside, the Magnum is smaller than the Dodge Intrepid it nominally replaced (see table at bottom of page). However, there is plenty of room for four, with good headroom in all seats; rear seat legroom is the main casualty, and it's still generous. Visibility is surprisingly good in all directions, despite those high door sills, the roof overhang, and the sheet metal rise towards the back. The rear quarter blind spot is far smaller than on many new cars, in particular, and the roof overhang can be handy for blocking the sun without having any harmful effect. We appreciated the ease of using the sun visors - some cars make them hard to get out of their default positions - and the fast-acting window defogger. The rear washer/wiper could be handy, though it only reaches about 2/3 of the back window.
The rear hatch will seem big to many mid-sized SUV and car owners, small to those who had wagons back in the old days, and about the same to Intrepid owners. The flat surface of the "floor" belies a somewhat deeper area when a cover is folded out of the way; and beneath that is a small-sized spare and the battery, mounted in back to make room for the Hemi and balance weight a little. Loading the cargo bay is made easier by a clever hatchback-style rear door; its hinge is actually positioned about six inches in towards the front of the car, so the hatch doesn't hit your head while opening, and provides more loading room.
The rear seats have generous leg room, albeit not as much as the Intrepid or Concorde. Access to the rear seats is good.
The instrument panel is not unattractive, but also not especially ornate. The pods are deep and straight, not oriented towards the driver, so that parts of the outlying gauges are cut off from sight, especially if your head is anywhere near the roof. The black on white gauges remain that way at night, when a perfectly even backlight comes into play; they are highly visible day or night. The gauge numbers are sensibly large, and while some may prefer actual numbers of the thermometer (as opposed to Low and High), everything was visible (the SRT8 does have actual numbers). The 160 mph speedometer means that the range most often used (0-80) occupies about 1/3 of the dial.
Inside the gauges are black areas which hide the various warning lights and the PRND (transmission gear indicator) and odometer. Press the odometer button once and you get a trip odometer; press twice, and the outside temperature appears. There's an optional trip computer that occupies the same space, which lets you more easily set the car's options and also provides a compass and the temperature; and if you get the navigation system, it provides turn by turn instructions in a more visible area. It also displays cellphone information if you use UConnect.
Speaking of options, our R/T included a tilt wheel that also telescopes forward and backward for the ultimate in adjustability. Pedals that move forward and back, heated seats, and two-zone thermostatically controlled air conditioning are all optional.
The general theme of the interior is austere: massive swaths of textured black plastic with touches of dull metal, more Volkswagen than Cadillac or Chrysler. That's either the Mercedes influence or the way Chrysler managed to get the price down from the 300, which starts at $23,995 but runs up to $32,995 for the Hemi-powered version. We found it to be quiet and not cheap in feel or touch, but we prefer the 300's more ornate touches.
Above: 2005 RT model. Right: 2007 R/T model
with navigation system.
In terms of ergonomics, the Magnum is a mixed bag, largely due to an infusion of senseless Mercedes controls. The cruise control stalk is above the turn signals, and on roughly the same axis, leading to easy confusion; it also has an illogical collection of four different movements, with small labels (push in to activate, pull to set speed, raise to accelerate, lower to decelerate, push to cancel). We liked the LED mounted on the switch to tell us when it was on, but overall, there are far better cruise controls. Likewise, the windshield wiper control required one to go through all the various intermittent stops before coming to the most frequently used settings (low and high). Most other controls made sense: the dash-mounted headlights, sensible seat adjustments, and the like. We liked the dash-mounted ignition, which is easy to find.
The locks automatically activated when we reached a pre-set speed. A quick look at the owner's manual showed that we could shut that feature off, but instead we opted to turn on the automatic unlock - it opens all the doors when the driver's door is unlocked after the car stops. A number of similar features can be turned on or off by following fairly simple instructions (we also shut off the horn-honk-on-lock).
Storage spaces abound, with map pockets on the front and rear doors, a padded tray under the climate control, a removable sunglass or CD holder next to the gearshift, usable, large glove compartment and center console, and overhead sunglass holder. The center console includes Chrysler's clever coin holder, though it requires a little work for the driver to actually use it(move elbow, raise lid, put elbow back); and now there's actually a slot for pennies as well as quarters, nickels, and dimes. Two pen holders and a mini-tissue holder are incorporated in the lid, with a removable tray at the bottom, and a power outlet in the side of the console. Overall, it's a more effective design than most. The cupholders are simple but adapt to different sizes.
Minor conveniences include the folding outside mirrors, touch-on dome lights, dead-pedal, and foot-operated emergency brake (which allows for more power to be applied) with easy-release hand pull.
The stereo in our test car, which included a six-disc CD changer, was excellent, with strong but not muddy bass, very good stereo imaging, and easy to use controls that let us dial down bass response for talk, yet get good response at the default settings. The display kept the time on in small print while displaying more relevant information in larger type.
Our test car had an optional dual driver/passenger heat zone climate control, using Chrysler's infra-red sensor for accuracy. The controls were largely self-explanatory, though the a/c light only goes on when the vent control is in manual mode; in auto mode, it presumably decides for itself when to turn the a/c on. The fan has two auto settings, low and high, though there was not a huge difference between them; both were fairly noisy. Most normal fan ranges are quiet, though. The air conditioning itself is good and powerful, but the V8 hardly seems to notice when it's running.
The Magnum SXT is more sensible for most buyers than the R/T: while it doesn't have the awesome Hemi power, acceleration is frankly good enough, gas mileage is a little better, and the price is considerably lower. Those who do not consider acceleration to be an issue will probably appreciate the base Magnum, with its 190 horsepower 2.7 liter V6 that produces roughly the same acceleration as a base Mini or PT Cruiser automatic - that is, acceleration that would have been considered quite good just a few short years ago. For the average driver, that's still enough. On the other hand, without the Hemi, the Magnum loses a lot of its attractiveness, because the gas mileage isn’t that much higher, and you’re left with mediocre economy without a good excuse.
Our 2005 rear-wheel-drive Magnum RT (they put the slash back in later) weighed in at $29,370, which is quite low for a car of these accomplishments. That includes the electronic stability and traction control, four-wheel antilock brakes, solar-control glass, rear window wiper/washer, air, tilt/telescope wheel, power windows and locks, eight-way power driver's seat, CD stereo with six Boston Acoustics speakers, keyless illuminated entry, fog lights, power heated foldaway mirrors, and 18 inch wheels, not to mention the 7/70 powertrain warranty and 3-year roadside assistance. Our car had the optional six-disc stereo ($300), which may or may not be worth it, and the $925 convenience group II, for a total of $31,220 including destination. That's about half as much as a typical 300-horsepower-plus V8-powered car of this size. Admittedly, it doesn't come with as many geegaws, and when you pay $60,000 for a car you do get more, but it won't necessary be as much fun - or (if recent quality surveys are any indication) as reliable - as the Dodge.
Our 2007 AWD Magnum cost a reasonable $33,715, including destination, Hemi, and automatic transmission; standard features include stability and traction control with four-wheel ABS, big alternator and battery, rear defroster and wiper/washer, a/c, tilt-telescope wheel, antitheft keys, cruise, power driver's seat, satellite radio with Boston Acoustics speakers and CD player, full lighting package, power adjustable pedals, fog lights, power heated folding mirrors, 18-inch aluminum wheels with P225/60R18 tires, and that old favorite, floor mats.
Our test car, though, ran to a full $40,090. How'd they do that? Well, start with nearly two grand for the navigation system with 6-discCD changer; throw in the rear seat video for another thousand; then add in the power sunroof and Convenience Group II (auto headlights, dual-zone auto temp control, and power heated front seats) at a thousand each. Round that off with some less pricey features like UConnect cellphone kit ($360), rear cargo organizer ($160), and, believe it or not, red paint ($225). In between is the electronic convenience group at $630, providing the trip computer, universal garage door opener, and wheel-mounted audio controls along with a security alarm that's presumably also in the base price. Still, it's less than the equivalent Volvo or Saab.
The 300 got most of the attention and most of the advertising, but the Magnum's price is more attractive, especially if you like the Teutonic-spartan interior. Overall, the Magnum is an interesting creature. It's not nearly as ornate as the 300 and 300C, but it has the same drivetrains and similar (albeit a bit firmer) suspension tuning. It's not a traditional wagon, but neither is it an SUV, not even a "cute-ute." The Hemi power comes with far better gas mileage than most vehicles with over 300 horsepower, though fairly low compared with the average V6-powered wagon. The overall feel is solid and, from a handling perspective, smaller than the Magnum actually is.
We hope many prospective SUV buyers look at the Magnum instead. It has the fundamental big-SUV attributes of V8 and rear drive, with optional all wheel drive; it's demon fast; and it's less annoying to other drivers with its lower stance, yet the body exudes coolness. We'd much rather have the Magnum R/T than a Cadillac Escalade costing twice as much - and, (don't tell anyone!), we enjoyed it rather more than the last $75,000 luxury car in the driveway. So test drive one - if you can find one on a dealer's lot that hasn't been sold yet.
Specifications with comparison to Dodge Intrepid
|Overhang||34" front, 42.5" rear|
|Weight||3,855 - 4,336 lb||3,446-3,556 lb|
|EPA gas mileage||19/27 (3.5)
17/25 (RWD Hemi)
|Weight distribution||51/49 (V6)||64/36|
|Interior volume||105.9 cubic feet (133.1 EPA)||107.6 cubic feet
|Cargo volume||27.2 cubic feet (770 L)
71.6 with rear seats folded
|18.7 cubic feet (530L)|
|Built in...||Brampton, Ontario|
|Front head room||38.4 (983)||38.3 (974), 37.1 w/moonroof|
|Front leg room||41.8 (1061)||42.1 (1070)|
|Front shoulder room||58.7||59.1 (1500)|
|Front hip room||56.2||56.4 (1431)|
|Seat travel||10.6 driver, 8.7 passenger||8.7 (220)|
|Rear head room||38.1 (968)||37.2 (945)|
|Rear leg room||40.2 (1020)||41.6 (1056)|
|Rear knee clearance||4.8 (122)||5.9 (151)|
|Rear shoulder room||57.6 (1464)||58.3 (1482)|
|Rear hip room||55.5 (1409)||56.8 (1442)|