A Wagon That Packs a Wallop Who would've thought that a station wagon could look so sinister? By John DiPietro Date posted: 10-24-2005 "That ain't no Hemi," growls a disrespectful cruise night patron as he glances into the open engine bay of our Inferno Red 2006 Dodge Magnum SRT-8. I refute his erroneous observation with, "Well, actually it is, as it does have hemispherical combustion chambers…." But before I can embarrass him with the fact that this "poseur" makes more net horsepower with less displacement than the legendary 426 Hemi from the 1960s he continues his rant. "I got a 'Hemi-roid' that will blow that piece of junk away." He's giving us pearls here, folks, pearls. Cruise Night Crucible The SRT-8 fit right in with the nostalgic cruise night crowd. Looks come at a price — that low-slung front air dam scrapes easily. We're here, at Ricky and Ronnie's diner in Torrance, California, to see how our fellow enthusiasts embrace (or don't) the latest pavement scorcher to roll out of DaimlerChrysler's SRT skunk works. It's a balmy Friday evening, and the cruise is packed with a large number of mostly Chevy and Ford iron. We spot just one fellow Mopar, a lone mid-'60s Belvedere. Other than that misguided soul, the reaction to the Magnum SRT-8 is mostly favorable. The guys at Starlite Rod and Custom, an old-school hot rod shop just up the street (with the requisite '50 Merc up on a lift) also thought it was cool. They gave it a unanimous thumbs-up, fully appreciating its chopped-top look, its 20-inch wheels and its massive blood-red Brembo brake calipers. But it was the Magnum's drag-strip numbers that really raised their eyebrows. Buddy Gonna Shut You Down The tall intake manifold and black valve covers emblazoned with "HEMI 6.1L" make a powerful statement under the hood. This station wagon ran a 5.6-second 0-60 and a sub-14-second quarter-mile. We're not talking 13.9 either. How does 13.7 at 103.5 mph sound? At nearly 4,300 pounds, the Magnum SRT-8 weighs as much as a full-size car from the mid-1970s. Imagine a '74 Ford LTD or Dodge Monaco running a 13.7 and you get the idea. The magic that makes this thing quicker than most big-block muscle cars of the good old days is a mix of the tried and true with today's technology. Compared to the 5.7-liter Hemi seen in the Magnum R/T, the displacement was increased to 6.1 liters, the compression ratio was bumped up to 10.3 to 1 (from 9.6 to 1) and high-flow cylinder heads were fitted. New headers are encased in a stainless-steel shell and send the exhaust out bigger pipes (2.75-inch vs. 2.5). Hollow valve stems (with the exhaust's filled with sodium) are among the New Age tricks the Dodge Boys employed. All that power is put to a 3.06-geared rear end (versus a 2.82 in the Magnum R/T) through a five-speed automatic transmission. Unlike the Magnum R/T, which is also offered in an all-wheel-drive version, the SRT-8 is only available with rear-drive. The standard stability control is tweaked in the SRT-8 to be less intrusive, meaning you can get some wheel spin off the line and it won't cut in too early when you're having fun on your favorite twisty road. Although you can shift it manually, we found it best to leave the tranny in "Drive." Most of the time, it shifted right when we would have. We did notice that under light throttle it seems to upshift early — we're guessing in an effort to promote better fuel economy. "Light throttle" is a foreign concept to us, so we averaged 13 mpg in mixed driving against estimates of 14 city/20 highway. Otherwise, the gearbox performed fine, instantly dropping down a cog whenever we wanted a quick burst of power and swiftly and seamlessly changing up under hard acceleration. More Than a Straight-Line Machine Standard 20-inch polished alloys and red Brembo calipers add to the Magnum's street cred. With suspension upgrades that include SRT-8-specific springs, bushings and anti-sway bars, along with those 20-inch alloys fitted with Goodyear F1 high-performance rubber (245/45 front and 255/45 rear), we expected strong handling. And we got it. At 64 mph the Magnum SRT-8 was nearly as fast through the slalom as the recently tested Charger SRT-8 (64.5 mph), not surprising considering they share platforms. Compared to a Mercedes-Benz E55 wagon, the Dodge dominates as the 469-horsepower Benz posted a considerably lower speed (61.2 mph) through the cones. Whether on city streets or winding canyon roads, the Magnum SRT-8 feels composed and hides its weight well, feeling relatively light on its massive Goodyears with steering that's precise and well-weighted if lacking somewhat in road feel. For a car with big wheels, low-profile tires and a firm suspension, the SRT-8 provides a relatively cushy ride. Unlike some other high-performance cars, this Magnum won't remind you every time you hit a pothole that you've got the "sport suspension." At 14.2 inches the Magnum's front brake rotors are bigger than the stock wheels of many old muscle cars. The rears measure an also stout 13.8 inches, and four-piston calipers are found at all four corners. Those big brakes haul down this heavy hauler from 60 mph in just 117 feet. Pedal feel is reassuringly firm and linear. Slick Inside A half-inch-lower ride height (compared to a standard Magnum) along with 20-inch alloys and meaty Goodyear F1 performance tires give the SRT-8 an aggressive stance When you're not in street attack mode, you'll notice the fantastic sport seats, which embrace you like a proper racing seat, and the intuitive steering wheel controls for the superb audio system. If you've got a Costco habit, you also notice the generous cargo capacity of 71.6 cubic feet. The cabin décor isn't especially warm, though a smattering of faux-aluminum trim does dress up the otherwise stark environment and a 180-mph speedo reminds you of this station wagon's split personality. Gripes include a horn that takes a determined shove to beep, an awkward grab handle for closing the liftgate and an uneven gap where the front fascia and the hood meet. We also think it'd be nice if the nav system had a scale setting somewhere between 1/2 mile and 2 miles. U.S.A., U.S.A… With its chopped-top look and hunkered-down stance, our 2006 Magnum looks right at home inside the Starlite Rod and Custom shop. In the hot rod wagon category, there's not a lot to choose from. If you have $90,000 to spend, you may want to consider the Mercedes-Benz E55 wagon. But even if you have pockets that deep, the 2006 Magnum SRT-8 is well worth considering. With Dodge's modern muscle car, you're getting 80 percent of the Benz's charms at 50 percent of its cost. As far as the dude who dissed our ride. Well, we're pretty sure he was the poseur. He arrived on a Kawasaki cruiser dressed up to look like a Harley FLH and was suspiciously vague when we asked him what he had exactly as far as Mopar machinery. Yet he still challenged us to a street race with $5,000 on the line. "Show me your 'five' and we'll race." Yeah, right, buddy. Cruising the boulevard in a brand-new Dodge Hemi wagon. We wish our dads had wagons like this during our formative years. What Works: Neck-snapping performance, equally strong brakes, relatively agile handling, great seats, bang for the buck. What Needs Work: Wallet-draining appetite, tranny occasionally short-shifts, hard to beep horn. Bottom Line: America's answer to a Mercedes E55 AMG wagon, the Magnum SRT-8 offers incredible performance for half the cost of its fancy cousin.