2005 Dodge Magnum RT
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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

Resembling a custom wagon with a chopped roof, the new Dodge Magnum is a strange animal – not quite a hot rod and not quite a wagon – it elicited mixed responses from bystanders during the week that I had it, ranging from “Light ’em up!” to “Is that a hearse you’re driving” (I figured it was the dark tinted rear windows that tipped it into the hearse category).

The Magnum could be considered a modern-day Chevy Nomad, but with four doors. It’s a practical vehicle that’s also cool – which is cool if you like the styling. Personally, I like the hunkered down look and the big wheels and fender flares, but I wasn’t enamoured with the huge, truck-like grille and big headlamps.

For me, what’s really cool about the Magnum is its chassis and powertrain. It’s a rear-wheel-drive wagon based on the new Chrysler 300 platform which itself is loosely based on the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. All-wheel-drive, a true full-time system based on Mercedes’ 4Matic, is available as an option.

The big benefit of rear-drive is the Magnum’s almost perfect 52% front/48% rear weight distribution that contributes to its comfortable ride, balanced handling and poise under braking. The Magnum’s fully independent suspension also contributes to good vehicle dynamics. But with only 48% of the vehicle’s weight over the rear wheels, the downside to rear-drive is poor winter traction. Chrysler’s automatic traction and stability control systems have helped to reduce, though not eliminate this problem.

Three powerplants are available, the star being the 340 horsepower 5.7 litre Hemi V8 with cylinder deactivation. You can also get a 250 horsepower 3.5 litre V6 and a 190 horsepower 2.7 litre V6 in the base model. The latter two come with four speed automatics, while the Hemi is mated to a 5-speed automatic with manually selectable gearshifts.

Magnums are offered in three trim levels: SE $27,995, SXT $30,895, and RT $36,995. My test vehicle was an RT loaded with options and came to an as-tested price of $44,545.

Interior roomier than you’d expect


2005 Dodge Magnum RT

2005 Dodge Magnum RT

2005 Dodge Magnum RT

2005 Dodge Magnum RT

2005 Dodge Magnum RT

2005 Dodge Magnum RT
Click image to enlarge

From the outside, the Magnum’s low roof makes it appear that there’s little headroom inside the Magnum. In fact, it’s an optical illusion. Dodge designers raised the height of the window ledges and made the side windows narrower, making the roof look lower. In the front and rear seats, there is plenty of headroom for adults, and with its 120 inch wheelbase, there’s plenty of legroom too.

The centre rear seat however, requires the passenger to straddle a centre driveline hump and protruding centre console – not very comfortable.

The leather seats in my loaded RT model were large and well-made. The driver’s seat has power height and rake and manual lumbar adjustment, and the front passenger seat has power height, and manual rake and lumbar adjusters. As well, the steering wheel tilts and telescopes.

The rear seats offer generous legroom and headroom, fixed outboard head restraints, and a fold-down centre armrest with built-in cupholders.

Ahead of the driver are four round gauges with white backgrounds and metallic rims, and a four-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel with controls for the radio and driver information centre on the spokes. The round speedometer includes an inset digital information display (optional) with outside temperature, compass, odometer, and selectable readouts for average fuel consumption, distance to empty, and personal settings such as headlamp delay and horn on/off when locking.

The centre stack is well-designed and easy to use. At the top are buttons to operate the rear washer and wiper which has an intermittent wipe setting. There’s also an ESP Off (electronic stability control) if you choose to defeat the automatic stability control system.

Below that is an AM/FM/6-disc CD stereo with six speakers that is one of the best sound systems I’ve heard in the past couple of years. I didn’t see a subwoofer listed in the equipment list, but I’d swear there is one given the thumping, body-vibrating bass notes coming out of the speakers. Controls for volume, station preset, and seek controls can also be operated from the steering wheel.

The optional dual zone automatic climate control with dual temperature controls and single fan control keeps the interior very comfortable without the sudden fan speed changes you find in some luxury vehicles. And both front seats have (optional) two temperature seat heaters.

Small storage areas can be found in the dash, beside the floor shifter, and in all four doors, but the centre armrest/storage bin is the most useful. Inside are coinholders and a 12 volt powerpoint.

Things I liked about the Magnum RT’s interior: the black upper/crème lower colour scheme, simplicity of controls, good outward visibility, intermittent rear wiper, large interior door handles, cupholders with flexible cup grips, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, and the stereo.

Things I didn’t like: even with the driver’s seat at my preferred height and the steering wheel in a comfortable position, I couldn’t quite see the gauges properly; and the high window ledges made me feel claustrophobic.


Cargo area useful

The low sloping roof also makes it appear that the cargo area is small, but in fact with the rear seats folded down, there is enough room to fit a single boxspring and mattress inside the Magnum with the hatch closed – I know, because I tried it.

The Magnum’s rear hatch opening is unique: the hatch opening extends into the roof, and creates a much larger opening than a traditional hatch. The liftover height is just under 30 inches. As well, the lined cargo floor is removeable, revealing a large underfloor storage area. Or you can remove the floor altogether to increase the depth of the cargo compartment. As well, there are a couple of open storage trays behind the wheelwells, a rear 12 volt powerpoint, and a sliding privacy cover – but the rear glass does not open separately.


Safety


2005 Dodge Magnum RT
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The Magnum includes standard four wheel disc brakes with ABS, traction control, electronic stability control, emergency brake assist, multi-stage front airbags, five seat belts, four head restraints, and rear child locks and tether anchors. I would recommend getting the optional Protection Group which includes side and curtain airbags, and self-sealing tires for just $655.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which conducts 35 mph frontal crash tests and side impact tests, the 2005 Magnum received five stars for both driver and front passenger in a frontal crash test; and four stars for the front passengers and five stars for the rear passengers in a side impact test – however, the side impact test was conducted without the optional side and curtain airbags.


A very comfortable cruiser


2005 Dodge Magnum RT

2005 Dodge Magnum RT

2005 Dodge Magnum RT

2005 Dodge Magnum RT

2005 Dodge Magnum RT
Click image to enlarge

It’s difficult to believe that the 5.7 litre V8 Hemi in the Magnum RT (and 300C) is the same engine as in the Ram Hemi pickup. The latter is noisy while the Magnum Hemi is extremely smooth and quiet, as well as powerful. Developing 340 horsepower @ 5000 rpm and 390 lb-ft of torque @ 4000 rpm, the 5.7 litre overhead valve V8 engine thrusts the Magnum forward in an alarming, but controlled manner. Official 0 to 60 times are 6.3 seconds, but I measured 0 to 100 km/h in 7.5 seconds with a hand-held stopwatch – still pretty fast for an 1880 kg (4142 lb.) wagon.

On the freeway, the engine motors lazily along at just 1900 rpm at 100 km/h and 2300 rpm at 120 km/h with the five speed automatic transmission a quiet and willing partner. I found its manual shift mode (tap left to shift down, tap right to shift up) to be useful for gearing down before attempting to pass. And when passing is needed, the Magnum heads off like a bullet. There is a slight lag in kickdown response under automatic mode, which is why I liked to do it manually.

The variable cylinder activation system in the Magnum (MDS), which deactivates four of the eight cylinders under light load, is undetectable from the driver’s seat. I could not tell when the engine switched to four cylinders and back again. Chrysler says this system will save between 10% and 20% in fuel consumption, but I found that fuel economy is still pretty awful. During a week of city and highway driving, I averaged 14.7 litres per 100 km (19 mpg) according to the onboard computer. Official figures are City 13.8 l/100 km (21 mpg) and Highway 8.8 l/100 km (32 mpg).

The Magnum RT has larger four wheel disc brakes than the SXT and SE, and I found them very competent when mated to the big Continental ContiSeal P225/60HR-18 inch all-season touring tires. These optional tires have a sealing compound inside that automatically seals small punctures in the tread, but not the sidewall.

The Magnum’s turning circle of 39 feet is not tight, but not bad for a vehicle with a 120 inch wheelbase. The Magnum is a very easy car to drive around town. The steering (power assisted rack and pinion) is light, but quite responsive, and outward visibility is good even to the rear.

I had a chance to drive the Magnum in wet weather, but not snow. Though it’s well planted, sudden throttle input will allow the rear tires to come lose for half a second before the ESP kicks in. In the rain it’s not a problem, but while the Magnum will maintain its directional stability in the snow, I wouldn’t expect its traction to be as good as the front-wheel-drive Intrepid, which it replaces.


Competitors

There really aren’t any wagons in the Magnum RT’s price range with the same level of horsepower and equipment, but possible competitors could include the Cadillac SRX V8 ($61,215), Audi A4 3.0 quattro Avant ($47,690), BMW 325i Touring ($40,950), Jaguar X-Type Wagon ($46,995), Mercedes-Benz C240 Wagon Elegance ($48,450), Saab 9-5 Arc Wagon ($44,000), VW Passat Wagon W8 ($55,820), and Volvo V70 2.5T ($43,995).


Verdict

Custom, hot-rod looks, a powerful 340 horsepower V8, and a balanced rear-wheel-drive layout make the new Dodge Magnum RT wagon a great performer, and a relatively good value. The interior is roomy despite the ‘chopped’ roof, but fuel consumption is thirsty.


Technical Data: 2005 Dodge Magnum RT

Base price $36,995
Options $6,350 (Power moonroof $1,050; Navigation system and 6-disc CD changer $2,895; Protection Group – side and curtain airbags, air filters, self sealing tires) $655; Electronics Convenience Group: mini trip computer, driver information display, compass and outside temperature gauges, garage door opener, steering wheel controls, alarm $765; Convenience Group II: auto climate control driver and passenger, power heated front seats, power adjustable pedals $935; ash trays and lighter $50)
Freight $1,100
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $44,545
Type 4-door, 5 passenger full-size wagon
Layout longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive (opt.AWD)
Engine 5.7 litre V8, OHV, 2 valves/cylinder, automatic 4
Horsepower 340 @ 5000 rpm
Torque 390 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission 5 speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Tires Continental ContiSeal P225/60HR-18 all-season touring self-sealing
Curb weight 1880 kg (4142 lb.)
Towing capacity 907 kg (2,000 lbs.) or 1724 kg (3,800 lbs.)
Wheelbase 3048 mm (120.0 in.)
Length 5021 mm (197.7 in.)
Width 1881 mm (74.1 in.)
Height 1481 mm (58.4 in.)
Cargo area 770 litres (27.0 cu. ft.) rear seats up
  2030 litres (71.6 cu. ft.) rear seats down
Fuel consumption City: 13.8 l/100 km (21 mpg)
  Hwy: 8.8 l/100 km (32 mpg)
Fuel type Unleaded mid-grade, 89 octane recommended
  Unleaded regular, 87 octane acceptable
Warranty 3 years/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 years/100,000 km
Assembly location Brampton, Ontario

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