Ah, yes, the Dodge Magnum, perhaps the forgotten LX and conceived when Detroit bean counters still held out hope for the classic American station wagon. It didn’t hurt that the then-current DaimlerChrysler had decided to build its next line of large family sedans on a platform strategically spiced with elements of the Mercedes-Benz W220 and W211 platforms, the former of which was nearly a decade old. If anyone knows how to make a modern car, it’s the Germans, right?
But there was nothing quintessentially German about what was on display in Dodge showrooms in 2005. The Magnum was big, brash, and insolent. Gift. The exhaust note might as well have been a recording of people yelling “USA!” scanned. at a backyard bar-bq. Who would have thought that the Dodge Charger, Dodge Challenger and Chrysler 300 would live long enough to forget their long-lost sibling? Early examples of the Charger and 300 have now reached smoking age (no more hiding burnouts under the grandstands). Technically the Magnum too, but it was discontinued after the 4th model year, way back in 2008. The others meanwhile continue.
The automotive landscape has changed considerably over the past two decades. Chrysler’s through-line LX models have also evolved, though not nearly as much as many of their contemporaries. Despite their much-improved powertrains and top-notch infotainment systems, the Charger, Challenger and 300 are still very similar to the cars that debuted in 2004. Due to its early demise, the Magnum underwent only modest upgrades over the course of its run. and never benefited from the extensive powertrain overhaul that took its surviving siblings to the next level.
Why is the Dodge Magnum a future classic?
The Magnum was not a performance car in the first place. It wasn’t the only domestic station wagon to impress enthusiasts over the past two decades, either; Cadillac’s similarly short-lived CTS wagon takes that nod and deserves a ton of extra credit for being offered with a high-performance V variant with an available manual. But the Magnum’s combination of good looks and day-to-day brand availability made it accessible to enthusiasts on virtually any budget. Sadly, at least in part because of Chrysler’s hair-raising build quality at the time, many of them now grace junkyards. Cleaner specimens are much harder to find and it’s only a matter of time before they become truly scarce.
Simply put, wagons are cool though. This is a car that happened to come with not one, but two powerful American V8s. The Magnum was an early pioneer of Dodge’s LX-led performance resurgence and was one of the first cars to wear the SRT-8 badge.
What is the ideal example of the Dodge Magnum?
We won’t mince words: the Magnum was, by and large, not Chrysler at its best. Models produced for the 2005-2007 model years mostly had gloomy cabins and a borderline asthmatic base engine. The 2.7-liter V6 made 190 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque when it debuted in 2005, which was pretty mediocre even then. The 3.5-liter upgrade made for a much more respectable 250 horsepower and 250 pound-feet, but the real fun started one step up. The R/T debuted with 340 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque courtesy of the then-fresh but now ubiquitous 5.7-liter Hemi V8. The SRT-8, which arrived in 2006, boosted that to 425 horsepower and 420 pound-feet with a 6.1-liter V8. The Magnum’s Mercedes-Benz agreements allowed for some convenient parts-sharing arrangements, most notably the 5-speed automatic that sat behind each of the Magnum’s four available engines. No manual transmission was offered as an option.
While nuance is often needed when choosing the best version of a car, this one is pretty straightforward: the SRT-8 is where it stands. It was the only model offered with the 6.1-liter V8, and while its performance is meager by modern SRT model standards, it was the biggest, baddest Hemi rocket on the road in 2006. Unless you’re there only cares about aesthetics and finds a super clean V6, you better go for SRT-8, or even the R/T.
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Are there good alternatives to the Magnum?
The most notable alternative to the Magnum would be the Cadillac CTS wagon. Like the Magnum, it was offered both as a simple family dumper and in a powerful variant (the V). Cadillac asked a little more money for the much more luxurious CTS and those looking for a manual are forced into a V model – a combination produced in out of the ordinary limited numbers. But you get what you pay for with the V. It’s correspondingly more impressive, both in terms of cabin arrangements and performance (especially cornering).
Those less tied to the country of manufacture can also look at various modern alternatives from abroad. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class wagon (with which the Magnum shares some ancestry) ticks many of the same boxes, offers a significantly improved cabin (admittedly low bar), and the E55 and E63 AMG variants will even have that V8 performance itches more aggressively than the big Dodge. But you pay a pretty penny for those upgrades, both upfront and with long-term maintenance. If all you want is a reasonably snappy family car, we point to the Saab 9-5 and Audi A6 Avant of the day.
If the wagon part isn’t important, well we’re not really sure what you’re doing here, but it’s certainly possible to get a much better Hemi-powered Dodge these days than you did in 2008. The modern SRT-powered LX models have a lot more exciting engine setups (Hellcat, anyone?), vastly improved interiors, and build sheets that don’t read like a fast-food receipt. Any of them will do well.