In the weeks before I test drove the Dodge Magnum R/T Hemi Wagon I drove the 4-cylinder Toyota Camry and the all-wheel-drive Volvo V50 T5 turbo wagon. The Camry was all about good gas mileage, great fit and finish, a very soft ride that made no pretenses to sportiness, and a reputation for bullet-proof build quality. The Volvo targeted the upmarket small wagon class with a very comfortable wagon that was lots of fun to drive and got fairly good gas mileage.
And in spite of the fact that my friend bought the 3.5 liter Magnum Wagon - and really knows cars - I was not so sure how I felt about this product of Daimler-Chrysler. In fact I was skeptical, quite skeptical. I like big windows, I don't really like darkly tinted glass, and I don't like gas hogs.
But on closer look the fit and finish looked good. The cut-lines between the exterior panels were even and there were no glaring gaps in the interior. The interior was well-designed and well-fitted with quality materials that looked good, felt durable and were nice to touch.
Seats had good back support, but the lower cushions were a bit over-bolstered for my weight, yet would be perfect for someone who is football player sized. And don't get me wrong, I definitely prefer slightly over-bolstered to under-bolstered seats that have too little padding.
Start the Hemi up and the exhaust burbles with a gruff, deep and satisying note. The Magnum is built on the chassis from the last generation Mercedes E-Class. Those Benzs had solidly weighted steering, very good brakes and competent but comfortable suspensions.
The Magnum had all those qualities and then some, not a bad inheritance at all. At my first empty back road opportunity out of town I stomped on the go pedal. Drive an older Viper or any old muscle car and pressing hard on the gas will grant the rear-end undesirable visitation rights. The Magnum spun its wheels and went straight, signs of a good chassis at work.
I put the Magnum through only two days of commuting with the kids and it ran beautifully. The wide seats can fit any child safety seat, the rear windows rolled-down completely and the kids loved the exhaust note. One drawback, we were staring down at about 16 mpg.
The Magnum was the largest vehicle on loan to myself and two other journalists. Thus it was chosen to be pack mule and loaded up with all of our junk needed for the ride to Monterey and two blissful days of running 2005 cars around Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway.
It was on the way to Monterey that the Magnum really proved its mettle. As usual, the 5 o'clock traffic was wretched, but with three people we qualified for the commute lane. But the only problem was that twice we came upon left-lane bandits going under the speed limit. The first was in a Honda SUV, the second in a Mercedes SUV. Both hand dark-tinted windows and both drivers had their ears glued to the cell-phone.
Each time we sat behind for a while waiting for either the offender to take notice or for a long clear stretch in the next lane. In both cases a solid even push on the the gas woke the Hemi up and we passed each of the utterly oblivious drivers with perfect control.
Let someone else sit there and flash to pass, we had the power to do otherwise. Although I had heard about it before, I was cynical about the Hemi's system of shutting off four cylinders while it was cruising on the highway. Obviously it worked, I could not tell when it was on or when it was off, and we achieved an astounding 22 mpg going up and back from Monterey.
The Magnum R/T Hemi Wagon comes with an option package tha includes the hemisheric combustion-chambered engine, a great stereo and and host of nice toys - and lists at just over $30,000. The public has responded by voting with their dollars, making this one of the most popular cars of 2005.
We averaged 25 mpg in the usual cluttered commute traffic combined with backroads short-cuts and fast freeway driving. This was substantially better than the last performance Focus we had that only squeezed out low 20s for gas mileage. The Focus has spirit and is a fun car to drive. With its competitive pricing, it offers a lot of bang for the buck.