The replacement for the Dodge Intrepid isn't a family sedan, it's a station wagon. But this rear-wheel-drive wagon looks nothing like the futzy station wagons our mothers used to drive. With its truck-like snout, chopped roofline and tinted rear windows, the Dodge Magnum looks macho, powerful and menacing - the antithesis of a wimpy mom-mobile.
It's no surprise that men love it. But women like it, too. Especially young moms, who swooned over my Magnum RT test car -- perhaps viewing it as the answer to their SUV dependency.
Indeed, with its wide-opening liftgate, available all-wheel drive and up to 3,800 pounds of towing capacity, the Magnum is a viable SUV alternative.
Derived from the Chrysler 300 platform, the Magnum is offered in three trim levels, each with its own engine. The SE gets a 200-horsepower 2.7-liter V6, and the SXT gets a 250-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, both matched to a four-speed automatic transmission. Considering the base Magnum weighs 3,800 pounds, you'd be best off opting for the Magnum RT with its 5.7-liter Hemi V8 and five-speed automatic transmission. The Hemi pumps out 340 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque, and features Chrysler's Multi-Displacement System, which deactivates four cylinders during gentle driving to improve fuel economy up to 20 percent.
My tester was an RT model, which Chrysler says can jet from zero to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. The Hemi V8 provides great off-the-line and on-the-road acceleration, and every throttle stomp is met by a deep throaty growl. Steering and handling are predictable, if not sporty, since the suspension is tuned more for comfort than agility. The Magnum never let's you forget its weight and girth; it leans in corners and the brakes require a heavy foot.
Unlike the cushy inner sanctum of the Chrysler 300, the Magnum's interior is industrial and cool. The two-tone, rectilinear dashboard is an expanse of blankness -- highlighted only by bits of aluminum trim - and the overall design is austere. While most of the expected features are here - power windows, air conditioning, a CD player - some family amenities are missing, including bottle holders in the front door pockets. So we placed our cups in the center console's cupholders, where they interfered with the shift lever. (Interior designers, take note.)
Despite its low roofline and bunker-like windows, the Magnum provides excellent outward visibility. A tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel is standard, as are his-and-hers climate controls, but the bench-like front seats proved too flat-backed for me, so I augmented the lumbar support with a rolled-up towel. The roomy rear seats were fine by the kids, however, although they did note a dearth of rear-seat storage bins, including map pockets on the front seatbacks.
Kick out the kids and you can flip the rear seats forward to expand cargo capacity from 27.8 to 72 cubic feet. The tailgate swings straight up instead of outward, which is convenient when you're parallel parked between cars, but the stubborn tailgate requires NBA leaping skills and arms-of-steel strength to close.
No doubt about it: the Magnum offers a lot of car for the money. Prices start at $22,000, and the price of my high-end RT tester was a mere $30,620. With its distinctive styling, wagon practicality, available Hemi power and all-weather capability, the Magnum could be considered the new thinking-person's SUV.
It's manly, yes. But women like it too.
Base price: $29,370; 2005 Dodge Magnum RT