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2005-2007 Dodge Magnum R/T (RWD and AWD) Test Drives

LX Powertrains, Features | Main Magnum page | SRT8
Review
| RWD Magnum in the snow and
ice


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.

awd-car-reviews.jpg


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.

awd-hatch.jpg
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.

awd-hemi.jpg

Newer (above) and older (right)
Hemi fender badging
hemi.jpg

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.

awd-hemi-magnum.jpg


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.

hemi-engine.jpg


awd-engine.jpg


dodge.jpg
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.

magnum-argo.jpg


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.

AWD-wagon.jpg


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.

trunk.jpg
tire-and-battery.jpg

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.

gauges.jpg
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.

dash.jpg

Above: 2005 RT model. Right: 2007 R/T model
with navigation system.
awd-console.jpg

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.

awd-magnum-rear.jpg


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.

doors-ajar.jpg
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.

awd-magnum.jpg


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


2005-2007
Dodge Magnum
2000
Dodge Intrepid
Wheelbase120"113"
Length198"209"
Width74"74.5"
Height58.4"56"
Overhang34" front,
42.5" rear
Track63" front/rear62"
Weight3,855 - 4,336 lb3,446-3,556 lb
EPA gas
mileage
19/27 (3.5)
17/25 (RWD Hemi)
18/26 (3.5)
Ground clearance5.6"5.1"
Weight
distribution
51/49 (V6)64/36
Interior
volume
105.9 cubic feet (133.1 EPA)107.6 cubic feet
(126.3
EPA)
Cargo volume27.2 cubic feet (770 L)
71.6 with rear seats
folded
18.7 cubic feet (530L)
Built in...Brampton,
Ontario
Front head room38.4 (983)38.3 (974), 37.1 w/moonroof
Front leg room41.8
(1061)
42.1 (1070)
Front shoulder room58.7 59.1 (1500)
Front hip room56.256.4 (1431)
Seat travel10.6 driver, 8.7 passenger8.7 (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)

LX Powertrains, Features | Main Magnum page | SRT8
Review
| RWD Magnum in the snow and
ice



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