Dodge Magnum
Dodge Magnum. Click image to enlarge

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By Jeff Burry

The Monty Python film titled And Now for Something Completely Different was released in 1971 and introduced a new phrase to the world. Chrysler executives took that saying to a whole different level when they launched the “uber-cool” rear-wheel drive Dodge Magnum at the 2003 Greater Los Angeles Auto Show.

The Dodge Magnum’s design catapulted the public back in time to when North American roadways were filled with Country Squire wagons and Vista Cruisers, before being displaced by mini-vans and SUVs. Styling cues for the Magnum were a collision of old-school design melded with that local “chop shop” mentality, producing some of the coolest rides on the road.

In terms of style, power and utility, there was nothing else quite like it on the market. Sold in North America between 2005 and 2008, the Dodge Magnum offered an alternative to folks hauling around kids, sports equipment and golf clubs.

The new Magnum shared the new Chrysler LX platform with the Chrysler 300 and the Dodge Charger. All vehicles, including the new Magnum, were assembled at the Brampton Assembly plant located just west of Toronto.

The Magnum’s long low-slung stance, high belt line and sloping roof combined with a truck-like front grille to create a cool factor unmatched by any other wagon. The Magnum was offered in an assortment of trim levels: SE, SXT, R/T and SRT-8. The Canadian base price for the SE model started at $27,995 and could rise steeply to the SRT8 version, tagged at $46,190.

Powering the Magnum SE was a 200-horsepower 2.7-litre V6, while the SXT version came with a more-than-adequate 250-horsepower V6. If potential owners longed for a little more punch, the Magnum R/T could be ordered with a 5.7-litre, 340-horsepower Hemi V8 as well – note the word Hemi!

If you wanted still more raw power, then the SRT-8 version, released for the 2006 model year, came with a 6.1-litre version of the Hemi V8 producing a whopping 425 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. of torque. This launched the Magnum into the performance sports-touring category of vehicles then available on the market.

The Hemi engines were further equipped with Chrysler’s Multi-Displacement System (MDS) which deactivates four cylinders when that raw power is not required.

All Magnums came standard with an automatic transmission which saw an upgrade from a four-speed automatic in 2005 to a five-speed automatic unit later in 2006.

First offered for sale in 2005, the Magnum SXT and R/T versions could also be ordered with all-wheel-drive (AWD) capability, perhaps the preferred model for driving in harsh Canadian winters. Of interest, the AWD SXT model came from the factory equipped with a five-speed automatic transmission.

The Mercedes-style rear suspension provides for a comfortable yet somewhat firm ride, not typical of many longer wheelbase (3.048 metres or 120 inches) vehicles. The Magnum’s handling is also impressive for this size of vehicle as it has a near perfect 50/50 front/rear weight distribution.

While the interior of the Magnum is quite spacious, it is rather understated. The driver and passengers are wrapped in enough monochromatic black plastic to make one feel there must have been a sale on at the Brampton recycling depot.

The gauge pod is both black and deep, displaying white faces with red needles surrounded by satin-silver bezels providing for some contrast as one peers forward. Within the gauges themselves, there are blacked-out areas for displaying various warning lights and engine monitoring systems.

The cargo bay offers owners 770 litres (27.2 cubic feet) of storage space and access to the rear is through a unique tailgate, hinged a half-metre into the roofline, makes for easy loading and unloading, similar to that of a hatchback.

The rear seats fold down in a 60/40 split thereby providing for even more capacity behind the driver (need any 2x4x8s picked up at the local Home Depot?). There is even a shallow under-floor storage compartment for smaller items.

So when was the last time you saw one in your neighbourhood? Well surprisingly, Chrysler did not produce these cool looking urban haulers in large quantities. In Canada, the sales figures were as follows: 2004 (2,137), 2005 (5,114), 2006 (4,547), 2007 (2,494) and in 2008 (585) – certainly not huge production numbers by today’s standards.

Once again, the folks at Chrysler produced something that oozed coolness (remember the Prowler, Dodge Viper, or even the Neon SRT4?), not necessarily built for the masses, but a vehicle that offered up an alternative to minivans and cute-utes.

For those looking for something “completely different” and want to stand out from the crowd, the Magnum will do nicely. It is the type of vehicle that you either love, or perhaps love to hate. There is very little middle ground here. One thing is for sure, it will draw attention.

Due to its uniqueness, low production numbers, and its hot rod image, it is bound to be a collectible in future years. In AWD guise, there are few other vehicles on the road that can match its solid handling, distinctive style and ample storage capacity.

Given the often exorbitant prices of some SUVs these days, the Dodge Magnum in base form was indeed a bargain at less than $28,000. Dropping the kids off at soccer practice may never quite be the same.

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