Text and photos copyright © 2006 Curtis Redgap. All rights reserved.
During the "Full Throttle" event held in Orlando in November 2006, we got to test drive quite a few vehicles. The astounding lack of participation by the public left me with plenty of time to re-cycle the vehicles that most interested me, over and over.
I noted that one of the models that seemed to be getting a lot of activity was the SRT-8 Magnum. This wasn't a particularly pretty car in my eyes. It was dark. I would have preferred a brighter blue jobbie or maybe a "arrest" me red color. Yet, there sitting, ignored, as it were, was a nice bright red Charger SRT-8. No takers.
I should clarify about what I meant about a “lot” of activity. Actually, it was three in line for the Magnum, as opposed to getting completely ignored, as the SRT-8 Charger. I can tell you though, if it was about a torture test for the cooling system from an idling engine, the Charger would have won that hands down.
I have not ever been a real fan of the Magnum. Nor have I ever figured out why that it came out as the first LX to the market for Dodge. However, that is in the past, and I was looking at the present. Like I said, it was dark looking.
If you look closely you can see the red calipers for the big 14.2 inch brakes on the front, sort of hanging out behind the large 20 inch wheels. I calculated for a moment remembering that I owned a small car once that had like 13 inch wheels on it. This thing had brakes bigger than that! The discs in the rear are measured out at 13.8 inches. All encompass 4 pistons for each caliper. According to Dodge, they will bring this heavyweight 4,250 pound speedster to stop from 60 miles an hour in about 120 feet. Not bad, unless you happen to be standing somewhere in there at say about 110 feet, which will either make you a believer or a chassis inspector instantly.
While I was not in the mood to test out my particular theory about that, I was beginning to get very curious why the Magnum seemed to get all the attention. Well, again, more so than the poor Charger which being red, might have been turned into that step child adage that goes around. Of course, by then, when I wanted to ask, no one was left around to do the asking to, so I went on in to test drive the car instead.
Getting in the Magnum is easy. Once inside you are confronted by a somewhat bland decor appearing dash board. And a 160 mph speedometer!
It was no surprise to me, because I have been around the DCX designed cars for awhile now. However, I couldn't help wondering where the terrific dashboards that Chrysler used to design had gone. The condition inside this "sports tourer " (let's not call it a a station wagon!) was done in a blending of stark with little to break up the plastic bleakness except the bright trim rings and outline around the console. The steering wheel contains great audio controls, and seems to fall naturally into place. It adjusts about any way you want it, unless you are 4' 2" tall. It connects to a fast ratio power rack and pinion steering system.
I was impressed by the sport seats. They were color matching and covered in a suede that has been perforated. I suppose the small little holes do help wick away all that moisture you are going to create when whipping around to get to your local grocery store, or when the local long arm of the State Highway Patrol slips in behind you in a Charger with all those blue and red lights shining in your interior. In a word, they were instantly comfortable and they too will adjust about any way you want them. No, it won't help the folks that are 4' 2" in trying to avoid a second glance from the local smokey bear type. And chances are they will be driving the brother to the Magnum, a Charger, if they work for a good agency, so trying to outgun them would not be advisable.
After a few cycles on the test circuit, the seats came up nothing short of fantastic. They seem to have the ability to grab you in the right places, hugging you up better than your favorite girl friend, or your mom, if you like.
This particular roller had the navigation system built in. I didn't try it out, first because I figured that the Magnum knew where it was, and it looked pretty challenging for a guy that still hasn't used all the doo-dads in his car radio yet.
Another thing to note is amount of usable space in the Magnum. I don't know if I like the rake looking rear, however, the tail gate (lift gate) has a pretty good overlap into the roof, where the hinges are mounted like it would allow grandma to toss a couple of her kegs in the back for a refill down at the corner restaurant. With this job, she could there in a hurry.
There is plenty of spaces to hide valuables. The rear also has a security device that resembles a window shade that you draw straight over the top of the things that you have inside. Being pragmatic, I can only speculate that it would just peak the curiosity of your local friendly car burglar, however, in use, it does look reasonably nice.
The controls are very well marked which lends itself to easy familiarity so that you aren't taking your eyes off the road to try to find the cruise control button to turn it off or make cruising adjustments. Or be fiddling with the aforementioned navigation system, although I don't know how you would get familiar with all the whiz bangs associated with that. The main instruments consisted of the speedometer and the tachometer. I use both extensively. They are front and center to the driver, easily read from just about any position the driver chooses to take, unless of course, you are 4' 2". At night they glow with a soft luminescence reminiscent of the old Chrysler electroluminescent lighting that was introduced in 1960.
Once situated, and taking my time because there wasn't anyone in line to drive the Magnum, I turned the ignition key. The big engine churned up instantly with no hesitation at all. Settling down, it was idling at about 750 rpm shown on the dash tach. As such, it was hush quiet. No indication of the power available from the 6.1 litre HEMI® V-8. Advertising says that this twirling beast has an output of 425 horse power, as well as 420 foot pounds of torgue. There is precious little that would identify this. A clue is the 20 inch rubber rollers which mounts 245/45 on the front and 245/55 on the rear. Another visual aspect is the 2.75 chrome tipped exhaust outlets that peek out from the rear of the Magnum; they are hooked up to the 2.75 inch exhaust manifold (the standard V8 has 2.5 inch pipes). They produce a thumper exhaust note that easily rivals any engine ever built by Chrysler.
I don't have any clue as to how they can encompass both a quiet nearly noiseless system while cranking out the boom box bass notes when the accelerator pedal gets depressed into the "got game" area. On the exhaust side of the engine, new sodium filled valves help dissipate heat while scavenging the combustion chamber before the next charge arrives.
Slipping the console controlled gear selector into drive brings about a barely perceptible feeling of movement, not the expected positive lock up of previous automatics. This is hooked to a five speed unit that you can shift yourself if you like. I chose to just leave it in "D", as I reckoned the box would easily out think me in making selections. I was correct, as I'll explain a bit later. This is all transmitted to a rear axle with traction control to make sure one side doesn't try to switch sides on you when your foot is buried in the carpet along with the accelerator. The axle has a 3.06 ratio, although the regular Hemi V-8 uses a 2.82 in the R/T version.
On the SRT-8 model Magnum, besides the huge 20 inch tires, it also has a specially tuned suspension with specifically rated bushings, springs, and anti-roll bars. Combine all that with the standard stability track program, and you have a large vehicle that doesn't act the way you may expect. Given that, it has a rather comfortable attitude when cruising, not jarring or transmitting surprise road imperfections into the suspension.
Looking around to see if I have any "intruders" coming at me in the form of other Dodge cars, I begin to move away from the pitting area. The Full Throttle people nod and smile, quite bored. Coming out of the pits, I move up to the road course. The signs speak for themselves.
Have to wait for the starter's signal. Note: empty track! Oh YEAH!
I decided not to try to bury the SRT on the first go around. Plus, I had given my favorite little digital camera to one of the attendants, and I didn't want her to think I was trying to be stupid and show off or anything. Even if she did have a better than passing resemblance to actress Helen Hunt.
Acceleration is quick, without fanfare, and much easier to handle than you can imagine. I held it down to under 60 miles an hour around the course. The last area on the course is a suspension test whereby you run over cut up truck rubber tires, and some large pieces of rope of the same size used to tie up aircraft carriers to their home docks. Surprisingly, the suspension takes it in stride soaking up the disturbances like a cat jumping off your kitchen table, always on its feet, and in case you caught it snatching your food, ready to scat.
The last sign on the course says: Hard Brake. On this revolution, that wasn't necessary. A light tap of the brakes brings the Magnum right down without any bother. The pit man waves me through as there wasn't anyone waiting to drive this magnificent hardware. So, I go right back to the start line. This time, I lay into the 425 ponies. 420 pounds of torque translates into boiling rubber if you are too exuberant on the go pedal. I light up the tires, back off, catch the traction, and lay into it again. The traction control program caught up to itself at about 45 miles an hour. Then it set me straight back into the seat. No. Not like the Viper. This was better. Because I was in control, and because it was just delightful power! The intake was at full song, and the exhaust system sounded like a snare drummer stuck on a bass drum using axe handles to make the noise. It was thrilling to say the least. Yes, it was likening back to the "old" days when powerhouse 440s, 426s, and 383s struck fear in the hearts of lesser makes of other machines. But better. Much better.
Far too quickly, because of the competence of the chassis, the power of the engine, and the inexperience of the driver, I was over 100 miles an hour, with a very sharp left hand turn sling shotting at me. It was a couple of choices that I could make. Go straight ahead into the run off area, and admit that I couldn't control the beast. Or clamp on the brakes, and do my best to look like I could hustle this muscular twister around the course. I choose the latter.
Slamming on the brakes surprised me. I have had much experience with Chrysler ABS systems of the past. The system on the SRT has been hugely upgraded. The pedal was solid, no mushy feeling whatsoever, and there was no "grinding chattering" noises of the past [editor's note: these were actually intentional!], and it allowed me to feel the car on its suspension. My other ABS equipped Chrysler products always seemed to me to start interfering with my efforts way too early.
I have much experience on EVOC courses, long before ABS was even a dream of sorts in cars, especially police units. It bothered me that Chrysler would believe that there were a lot of people out there that couldn't think out a brake routine for themselves. Admittedly, there are probably way too many. However, I'd like to think I was not one of them. This new program on the Magnum never felt that way. In fact, I felt like I had taken complete control, modulating the system myself. Stupendous brakes. Man, did they haul that overrunning monster down. So much so, that I almost stopped before I got into that hard left hander. Well, better than running out into the grass, I suppose.
I have never experienced the stability control program in any vehicle, so I didn't know what to expect. I drew up to the pit area again, and the supremely bored attendant just waved me by. Still no one standing in line for the Magnum, or the Charger, or the Ram, or the Jeep Commander. Well, you get the idea.
Shooting out towards the other side of the road course, I deliberately manhandled the car, slewing it to the left, then clobbering the accelerator swinging it to the right, really unloading the chassis. This usually invites either complete disaster or a pretty bad spin out. Especially when I had put the maneuver on the Magnum at 65 miles an hour. Whatever or however the electronics suite in the computer works, it took the abuse in stride, didn't whip the body at all, bounced once, then undulated a little wiggle and straightened right out, like it never happened. Wow! This thing is darn near seductive!
About that time, a hard right hander was coming up. I was at 60 miles an hour. The corner looked like it was made for 40. Well, we will see if this program makes your aunt Mattie look like Mario Andretti in a turn or not. Of course, survival instinct does set in, particularly when your senses tell you (and it) that you are entering into a foolish undertaking. The corner just looked way too sharp for the speed. Reasoning said that even if it did spin, it would not do anything more than that.
Too late for more internal argument because the Magnum and I are in the apex of the corner. The tires are bawling in protest, the body is leaning over somewhat heavily, and centrifugal forces are trying to push the Magnum into the tall grass. Just at that moment, I choose to snap off the throttle, eliminating a force normally used to hold the car in a tight turn. The Magnum and I should have taken a long smokey slide into embarrassment with that trick. Didn't happen. In fact, I am not exactly sure what happened. Except that I did feel like Mario was driving or at least had given me lessons. Wow again! That made me feel like a true car test hero!
Now, most of the time, the ordinary driver will never, ever need such a device or electronic program in their vehicle. However, it does work to a charm, at least on this puppy, and we can only expect improvements with it in the future. I do think, however, that it should not be mandated, as has already been proposed by the Federal striped pants guys.
Coming back around towards the pits, the very bored, almost dejected attendant barely nods as I pass by, heading again for the road course. Now I am getting used to this wheel barrow. Pride goes before a fall. Believe that.
I slam the accelerator, getting some wheel spin, but the traction control is now up on its game, and it just lends itself into real hard acceleration. This car isn't normal. Roaring ahead, the deep belly roar of the V-8 and the booming exhaust is just about as good as …… nah, nothing is that good. But close. Just giving me a high. I glance down at the speedometer, somewhere up near 120, and the tach is hovering at about 3200 spins. Is that possible? OOOPS. BIGGGGG turn, and I am in it! OH WOW!
Well, at a certain point, physics just can't be ignored. Despite all the great brakes, and the wow be dazzled stability programs, an ignorant driver can be made out the fool that he is. Oh yes. Bawling, smoking, centrifugal forces turn my high speed run into a 270 degree spin out. The car stops, idling quietly. The smokey haze blows slowly away. Well, time to park this jobbie for now anyways. Way too confident. And I was embarrassed. For it was about that time, perhaps a dozen (wow) people were watching the Magnum do its loop de loop. So, I bring it into the pit area, shut if off, and get out. Fortunately, no one says anything. Maybe they thought it was supposed to do that. Well, at that speed, actually, it was.
Surprise. No one wants to drive the Magnum. The attendant asks if I want to drive it over to the garage to get a tire change. He assures me that it is time, and not something I did to it. We take it the long way around. Without all the strum and the drang, this was one comfortable cruiser. I could see it out on the highways, securely hauling a family off to a nice vacation spot. No worries about the Magnum, it is almost about taking care of itself.
Almost. And a good shot of those huge 2.75 inch exhausts. Say good-bye, Magnum.
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