2008 Dodge Magnum
2008 Dodge Magnum. Click image to enlarge
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Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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2008 Dodge Magnum

Oshawa, Ontario – If you’ve ever wanted a Dodge Magnum, you’d better hurry. Part of Chrysler’s turnaround scheme involves dropping models, and this full-size station wagon has ended up on the chopping block, its spot on the Brampton, Ontario assembly line filled with the all-new Challenger coupe. If you do snap one up, though, you’re in luck: Dodge has improved the Magnum immensely, even as it cuts it from the line-up.

I have to admit a bias; not only do I love full-size wagons, but my husband bought one of the very first Magnums, back in 2005. There were some issues: various rattles and squeaks, an uninspiring dash design (including stereo problems due to a heater vent routed too close to the CD player), electrical gremlins in one rear window and the sunroof, and poor front-end geometry with a considerable pull to the right (which the company initially denied, and then quietly fixed in subsequent production). The new Magnum, updated for 2008, seems to have solved all that, with a redesigned dash that’s more attractive and better fitted, smoother handling, and no buzzes or rattles evident in the test car I drove.

2008 Dodge Magnum
2008 Dodge Magnum. Click image to enlarge

My tester officially started at $40,295 for the Hemi-powered R/T in rear-wheel drive, but automakers have been shuffling prices all over the map, and a glance at Dodge’s consumer Web site shows you can get into this model for around $34,000. You’ll probably have to take whatever options are on stock models, but you should be able to work that to your advantage. At the time of writing, prices range from approximately $23,000 for the SE model, to $41,000 for the 6.1-litre SRT8 version.

My tester was further optioned with a performance package, at $2,100, which added 20-inch wheels, extra airbags, and performance exhaust, seats, steering and suspension, along with a $1,275 package of six-CD stereo, lighting, remote starter, alarm, garage door opener and trip computer, a $1,075 sunroof, $775 Xenon headlamps and $300 for UConnect hands-free communication, which includes an auto-dimming mirror. That brought it all to $45,820 before taxes and freight.

2008 Dodge Magnum
2008 Dodge Magnum. Click image to enlarge

The Magnum comes with a choice of four powertrains: a 2.7-litre V6 that really isn’t enough to haul this big brute around; a 3.5-litre high-output V6 that is, and is an excellent combination of performance and price; my tester’s fun 5.7-litre Hemi V8, which includes a multi-displacement feature that shuts off half the cylinders under light load for fuel economy; and the SRT8’s 6.1-litre Hemi V8, which runs all eight cylinders, all the time. Rear-wheel drive is the default, but the 3.5- and 5.7-litre models are also available with all-wheel drive.

The 5.7-litre’s fun factor will also affect its fuel economy. While it’s officially rated at 13.6 L/100 km on the highway and 8.6 L/100 km in the city, a combination of bitterly cold weather and my admittedly heavy foot came up with 14.6 L/100 km.

2008 Dodge Magnum
2008 Dodge Magnum
2008 Dodge Magnum. Click image to enlarge

Despite its sentence to the gallows, the Magnum is substantially upgraded for 2008, with new styling cues, including revised headlamps and a sculpted hood, standard tire pressure warning lamp and upgraded stereo, and new optional items such as MyGig hard-drive “infotainment” system, illuminated cupholders and map pockets (which isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but they do look nice), a fuel economy gauge and the Xenon headlamps.

The Magnum’s design is polarizing: fans say it looks sleek, long and low, while detractors usually compare it to a hearse. Much of that has to do with the narrow greenhouse, and while it does accentuate the Magnum’s lines, it affects visibility and can make the rear seat feel claustrophobic, even though there’s considerable legroom. This is a difficult car to back into a parking space, even with the mirrors.

The 5.7-litre V8 has a delicious burble through the optional performance exhaust, and transmits power through a five-speed automatic (the 2.7-litre and the rear-wheel 3.5-litre use a four-speed). It’s also got the company’s Auto/Stick manual mode, which you push sideways; the shifts are fairly quick, but given that manual gearshifts move up and down, I found the side-to-side motion didn’t come naturally.

Although most drivers these days are more familiar with being pulled than pushed, I still prefer rear-wheel drive; the Magnum reacts well to steering input, and it’s weighted just enough for confident resistance, without being too heavy. It’s a tight package and only the length of the hood – or a glance way back to that rear window – makes you realize just how big the car really is. The ride is big-sedan smooth, and only the worst road imperfections make their way into the cabin.

The V8 is a kitten when you only need to ease through city traffic, with a throttle that’s very easy to modulate. Stomp on it, though, and the Hemi roars to life, propelling the big wagon smoothly but very swiftly toward your destination. This is what the enthusiasts mean when they tell you there’s no replacement for displacement.

Of course, you’ll pay for your fun at the gas pumps; the Magnum will only be the right car for you if you’re willing to accept that you’re not going to drive it to your Sierra Club meeting. Even with its cylinder displacement ability, this is not a cheap car to run, and you’ll have to consider that in your budget.

2008 Dodge Magnum
2008 Dodge Magnum
2008 Dodge Magnum
2008 Dodge Magnum. Click image to enlarge

Inside, the Magnum is big-car spacious, with enough rear-seat legroom that you can take adult passengers on road trips and still have them smiling at the end of the day. The regular seats are comfortable enough, but my tester’s optional leather performance seats, borrowed from the SRT line, added extra bolsters. The dash design is a considerable improvement over the last model, with better fit and finish, closeable centre vents and a new instrument cluster. The cruise control lever, originally taken from Mercedes’ parts bin in the days of DaimlerChrysler, is now a standard Chrysler design that moves from the left to the right side of the wheel. It doesn’t look as elegant as the thin Benz stalk, but it’s more intuitive, especially since I always mistook the old one for the turn signal switch. The actual signal switch is still too low on the column, but it retains its European-style three-flash-to-pass setting.

The liftgate includes a slice of the roof, which means an extra-large opening for easy cargo loading, even by those usually too tall to easily fit under a conventional hatch. There’s a deep floor topped with a cover that folds into thirds; you can leave it flat and use it as the cargo bed, or fold it and insert it into indentations to create smaller cargo areas. Since there are no bag hooks, you can plop your groceries into this confined space near the hatch, and you won’t be chasing cans that roll to the back seats. With those rear seats upright, the cargo area is 107 cm long; fold them, and you’ve got 190 cm of storage length. The large pockets moulded into the cargo area sides will easily hold jugs of washer fluid.

2008 Dodge Magnum
2008 Dodge Magnum
2008 Dodge Magnum. Click image to enlarge

So why is this model bowing out? The Magnum’s biggest problem seems to be market preference; station wagons just don’t have the cachet they once held, and have lost serious ground to SUVs and crossovers (which are, under the skin, just beefier versions of wagons). With the Magnum’s demise, the traditional wagon market is now limited to import models, such as Volvo’s V50 and V70, and Mercedes’ E-Class. The Magnum joins a long list of venerable retired wagon nameplates, such as the Nomad, the Vista Cruiser, and the Country Squire.

So should you buy a car heading toward extinction? If you’re planning strictly to speculate, then the answer’s no; I’ve spent enough years playing with antique cars to confidently say that by the time most new mass-produced cars even earn back their purchase price, you’ll be too old to know you still own it. If you’re determined nevertheless, then buy the SRT8 version; failing that, don’t go any lower than an R/T, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

But if you’re buying it as transportation, the Magnum’s still a safe bet. It shares its mechanicals with the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and upcoming Dodge Challenger, so service and repairs shouldn’t be a problem; body parts could be more of an issue in future, should you need to fix collision damage, but that shouldn’t really scare you off. If you can live with the fuel numbers and the styling appeals to you, this is a comfortable and surprisingly practical vehicle.

In the end, the saddest part of all isn’t so much that the Magnum’s gone, but that Chrysler finally got it right, just before they killed it.

Pricing: 2008 Dodge Magnum R/T

Base price:$40,295

Options: $5,525 (Package of 20-inch chrome wheels, performance tires, leather-wrapped steering wheel; performance exhaust, seats, steering and suspension; and front side and curtain airbags $2,100; package of six-CD/MP3 stereo, illuminated map pockets and cupholders, instrument cluster display screen, remote starter, security alarm, wheel-mounted audio controls, temperature and compass gauge, mini trip computer, garage door opener and vehicle information centre $1,275; power sunroof $1,075; high intensity discharge headlamps $775; UConnect hands-free communication with auto-dimming mirror and microphone $300)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,300
Price as tested: $47,220
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

  • Specifications: 2008 Dodge Magnum

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