Dodge execs may be wincing a bit at their lousy timing.
Shortly after they introduced the wonderful 345-hp Magnum, gas prices hit $3 a gallon. Despite the apparent bad timing, the car is not as thirsty at the pump as you might guess from its horsepower rating. For instance, I got about 21 mpg with about half my time spent in stop-and-go traffic. The car does most everything well, and with gusto. Ride and handling is solid and comfortable, styling is distinct, performance is top notch, and the interior is roomy with lots of useful details an intelligent muscle car, I'd say.
Let's start with the styling. The roof slopes down dramatically for an unusual and easily recognized silhouette. At first, the slope makes it look like it would be difficult getting cargo into the back of the car. But raising the hatch opens part of the roof and provides a large area for easy access. I easily loaded six bags of mulch at the garden center without the bending required by traditional trunks.
Despite the low-slung look, command-of-the-road seating places the driver about 2 in. higher than usual for a better view, according to Dodge. The front seats also have manual lumbar adjustments, a nice touch for those of us with imperfect backs. And heated seats are an appreciated option on cold mornings.
With 345 hp on call, jumping into busy traffic is a snap. But controlling that much power requires constraint because one can pass just about anything else on wheels. The all-wheel-drive car is so solid and comfortable at highway speeds, you get the impression everyone else is dragging their fanny. On the functional side, Dodge says the car can tow a 2,000-lb trailer, and with the towing package, that figure goes to 3,800 lb.
If you don't have anything to tow and the 5.7-liter V8 is too much, opt for a 2.7 or 3.5-liter V6. And if the V8's power is insufficient, a 6.1-liter version is ready. The Magnum owes its relatively good mileage both to its five-speed automatic transmission and to its deactivation of half its cylinders in certain circumstances. Dodge calls it a Multiple Displacement System. It switches to four cylinders during cruising and light acceleration. Dodge says it adds up to 20% improvement in fuel economy.
Still, the features that stand out most are the little ones. For instance, grocery-bag sized slots in the trunk floor, a floor below the back floor with partitions to keep larger things from sliding about, cruise and radio controls on the steering wheel, and of course, heated seats.
The model we drove carries a $32,345 base price, but options such as pearl-coat paint, electronics-convenience group, and global-positioning system pushed it to $38,245.