2005

Seriously, I didn't see the appeal for a vehicle that looked like a station wagon on steroids. But after sitting behind the wheel during a test drive, the mass appeal of this vehicle was clearly driven home by all the appreciative rubbernecking nods. Dodge may have hit a collective nerve, offering the right formula of proportions, styling, and performance for those aficionados of American muscle cars of yesteryear.

The wide stance, prominent front grille, chopped top, and large, wedge-shaped headlights gives the Magnum a distinctively muscular look head on. Touted as a "sport tourer," not a station wagon, the Magnum features a long, tapered roofline and raised beltline creating a body-to-glass proportion reminiscent of custom hot rods. Initially the cropped windows and low roofline gave the impression that it might be hard to see out and would make for a claustrophobic ride. But the interior is spacious thanks to the longest wheelbase (120 in.) in its class and a wide 74-in. body. On a short trip, four women fit in the back seat.

An "extreme access" rear liftgate opens straight up instead of swinging out. This provides a 11.3-ft 2 portal large enough to accommodate a 27-in. TV. And with the 60/40 split-rear seats folded down, the Magnum boasts a cavernous 71.6-ft 3 cargo bay.

Base seat height of the Magnum is 2.5 in. higher than current Chrysler Group passenger cars, so the view out was surprisingly good once I adjusted the seat. With the seat in the highest position and steering wheel in its lowest, I had good command of the road ahead as well as behind. However, if the seat isn't adjusted just right, the slight curvature of the windshield near the bottom corners distorts the lines on either side of the road, making them appear to curve and disappear underneath the car. This was a little disconcerting to say the least, and made for a slightly queasy ride before I found the optimum seat position.

A 3.5-liter, 24-valve, V6 engine produces 250 hp and accelerates to 60 mph in 8.5 sec. The engine mates to a 42RKE four-speed automatic transmission. An all-new, active, three-plenum intake manifold provides power and torque over the entire operating band and blends power with economy. On a cross-state trip facing head and crosswind gusts in excess of 35 mph, the Magnum rode extremely quietly and smoothly. It handled as if there wasn't a breeze at all. Traveling an average of 70 mph into the wind, gas consumption, not surprisingly, dipped below the published 27 mpg to just under 25 mpg.

Safety features of the Magnum are impressive. They include autoreverse windows that reverse direction when they meet resistance. There's also advanced multistage air bags, traction control, antilock brakes, and crush zones and stiffeners engineered into the body.

Child-seat anchors are said to ease installation of aftermarket child-seats, while constant force retractors on the front seat belts help distribute force. CFRs gradually release the seat belt during crashes. Passenger-side air bags account for occupant weight. Supplemental side-curtains for front and rear outboard passengers are optional.

Seventeen-inch painted aluminum wheels, antilock brakes, emergency brake assist, and traction control, as well as the Comfort Seating Group (leather-trimmed and heated power bucket front seats, leather-wrapped shifter and steering wheel, and power adjustable pedals) boosted the price of our tester from its $21,870 base to nearly $27,500.