All-new for 2005, the Dodge Magnum and its sibling Chrysler 300 return to the rear-wheel-drive, full-size configuration that dominated the North American marketplace in years gone by. New all-wheel-drive models will satisfy those who still aren’t sure about being pushed instead of pulled.

The Magnum is a station wagon, a model that fell out of favour with the popularity of SUVs but is poised to regain market share. And as if that isn’t nostalgic enough, the upper-line model features a Hemi.

The base SE model comes with a 2.7-litre, V6 engine that makes 190 hp, and while it brings the price down, it’s somewhat anemic when it comes to hauling the big car around. Standard features on the SE include air conditioning, four-speed automatic, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and traction control, electronic stability control, speed-sensitive power locks, power mirrors and windows, CD with four speakers, 17-inch steel wheels and rear wiper.

The mid-line SXT has a 3.5-litre V6 that makes 250 hp and is an excellent compromise between the smaller six and the V8. The mid-line also includes a cargo cover and net, four-speed automatic, heavy-duty engine cooling, power driver’s seat and 17-inch aluminum wheels.

The RT features the Hemi, a 5.7-litre V8 with Multi-Displacement System. In light load conditions, such as highway cruising, it seamlessly shuts off four cylinders (it’s virtually impossible to detect it) for added fuel economy. (In case you’re wondering, the name “Hemi” originated in 1951 and refers to the hemispherical shape of the engine’s combustion chambers.) The package also includes a five-speed automatic with manual shift mode, dual exhaust, chrome headlamp bezels, leather seats, six-speaker Boston Acoustics stereo and 18-inch polished aluminum wheels.

For 2006, Magnum will also be available with the SRT-8 package currently available on the Chrysler 300, containing a 6.1-litre, 425 hp Hemi V8. Prices have not yet been announced.

The Magnum is definitely an in-your-face vehicle, with an aggressive front end, muscular stance and “chopped” styling. Its low profile results from a high beltline that can make rear-seat passengers feel a little lost in its depths, and compromises rear visibility.

The rear hatch is cut deeply into the roof, and it swings straight up and out of the way, making it easy to load the bi-level floor. Valuables can be hidden under its tri-fold panel, or the panel can be locked into position to create various-sized cargo areas.

Much of the Magnum’s engineering comes straight from Mercedes-Benz, and while the ride is stiff, handling is crisp and agile; unlike Hemi-powered cars of old, this one can do more than just go in a straight line. The interior contains a lot of plastic and the dash looks Spartan, but then, something’s got to give when you can get this much power under forty grand.

There are a few large wagons on the market, but it isn’t a dead-level playing field. The Ford Taurus wagon is identical in overall length and $5,150 cheaper than the Magnum SXT, but it’s front-wheel-drive and with 97 fewer horses. Jaguar X-Type 3.0 Sportwagon is all-wheel-drive, but shorter and $11,700 more, while the shorter Mercedes-Benz C240 Sport Wagon is $13,115 higher.

The Dodge Magnum is built in Brampton, Ontario.

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