First Drive: 2005 Dodge Magnum Story and Photos by Paul Williams Palm Springs, California - Ron Smith has no problem with anyone calling the new Dodge Magnum a wagon. "Or a sport wagon, if you like," adds the DaimlerChrysler Canada vice-president of marketing. "It doesn’t really matter what you call it - when you see it, you get the idea pretty quickly." Built at the same Brampton, Ontario plant that produces the new Chrysler 300 sedan and intended as an alternative to a sport-utility or minivan, the rear-drive magnum is clearly not your parents’ (or grand parents’) station wagon. It has a look all its own, and a profile that owes more to the chopped and channelled creations found in a ‘60s custom car magazine, than the sedate hauler you may associate with wagons of old. The front grille borrows from the Ram trucks, giving the Magnum an aggressive, no-nonsense appearance. That character extends all the way to the back. In fact, for a wagon, the Magnum is downright audacious. Or, as the bearded, long-haired and tattooed occupants of a hot-rodded panel van growled at me with thumbs up: "Way bad, man. That is waaaay bad!" But despite the pirate swagger, this is no caricature. If anything, the taut lines and lack of ornamentation produce a very tasteful form. It’s dramatic, but not melodramatic. You won’t look pretentious driving this vehicle, but be prepared for your "cool" factor to go off the scale. Let’s look at the model lineup in detail, and see what’s so bad…er, good, about the Magnum, and get to the pricing. The Magnum will arrive in three levels of trim: SE, SXT and RT. All are five-passenger, four-door vehicles with rear-wheel drive, all-speed traction control, electronic stability control, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution. Air conditioning, tilt and telescoping steering column, power windows, locks, mirrors and CD audio are standard. The $27,995 SE features a 2.7-litre, 190-horsepower V6 engine/four-speed transmission combination. The 17" wheels are pressed steel. However, if you want the Magnum looks with the best fuel economy at the lowest price, this model could suit. The $30,895 Magnum SXT comes with the 3.5-litre, 250 horsepower V6 formerly used in the Chrysler 300M and now offered in the new Chrysler 300. It also uses the four-speed automatic transmission and arrives with an eight-way power driver’s seat, 17" aluminum wheels and sunscreen glass. The $36,995 Magnum RT gets you the Hemi V8 making 340 horsepower and 390 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with manual override. The sprint from 0-100 km/h takes about 6.4 seconds. It comes with 18" polished aluminum wheels, performance disc brakes, fog lamps, exterior chrome accents, leather seats, dual exhausts and a Boston Acoustic premium sound system with a 288-watt digital amplifier. When properly equipped, the Magnum RT has a towing capacity of 3,800 lbs. All Magnums will be available with all-wheel drive later this year, which is only supplied with the five-speed automatic transmission; prices for the AWD option have not yet been decided. You may think, when looking at the car in profile, that the tapering roofline would restrict headroom for rear passengers. But this is not the case. At the Magnum press introduction, several people of different sizes and shapes sat in the back and all reported sufficient headroom and generous legroom. Beyond the rear seat, the cargo area is large and useful, although the small window and big corner pillars do restrict vision. The "SuperAccess" liftgate is a novel take on a rear door, with hinges that are set well back into the roof. This permits the door to be opened almost straight up and results in a huge opening into the rear compartment. Additionally, the floor of the cargo area is removable and reversible. One side is carpeted and the other is rubberized. Below the floor is a storage compartment that extends virtually the width of the vehicle. The rear seat splits and folds, creating a cavernous cargo area behind the front seats. On the road, the Magnum is quick, stable and very quiet. Like the 300C sedan, all the hollow cavities in the car, including the A-pillars and sills, have been filled with insulating foam and the doors are triple-sealed. Even the mirrors were specially designed to reduce wind turbulence. The result is an interior that is unexpectedly quiet, especially for a large wagon. Also like the 300C, and perhaps even more so, the design of the vehicle is striking. It is one of those rare cars that actually draws crowds when stopped in parking lots or gas stations. From all angles it’s a fully realized design, with the rear even more successful than that of the Chrysler sedan and the profile a real tour de force, in my opinion. If the Magnum was just a design exercise, or a limited edition, high-priced exotic, you could dismiss it as a fun automotive indulgence. But this is a practical, well thought out sports wagon of excellent utility, truly distinctive style and without direct competition. Dodge is working hard to corner the American muscle segment of the market with the Viper, the Ram Hemi Sport pickup and the SRT-4 sports compact sedan. With this vehicle the Dodge division may just have created its Magnum Opus. -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hemi + usable cargo room = WIN.