Least Boring Family Cars: Dodge Magnum SRT8

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Perhaps one of the greatest cars to come from Dodge in the last decade.

An American Dodge station wagon for an era when Americans bought very few station wagons. The Dodge Magnum was always a longshot, but it was still a vehicle with fiercely dedicated fans, and when Dodge gave it the SRT8 treatment, they introduced a whole new era of the American station wagon. Sadly, it lasted for only a brief time. The Dodge Magnum did not enjoy a very long life, existing only from 2005 to 2008, and finally killed off due to poor sales.

That is, sales weren't good enough to make the Magnum economically viable for Dodge, but considering what wagon sales are like in the US, the Magnum sold pretty well when compared to the competition. The difference was that the Magnum was intended specifically for the US market, while competing wagons only happen to be imported here, and the sales which keep those models alive still mostly come from other markets. The Magnum was built on Chrysler's LX platform, which it shares with the 300 and the Charger, although you can probably tell that just by looking at it.

Although the styling, particularly the front fascia, is different, the Magnum shares quite a bit with the first-gen European-market Chrysler 300 wagon, although the cars were built in different factories. Dodge offered the Magnum with a choice of two V6 engines and two V8 engines, with a 200 horsepower V6 for the base and the SRT8 coming with a 6.1-liter 425 horsepower HEMI V8. Most Magnums were sold equipped with rear-wheel-drive, although there was an all-wheel-drive option. The Magnum was classified as a midsize wagon, although it was about the biggest that a midsize wagon can be before it is considered full size.

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Although the Magnum was essentially based off of the 300, a serious effort was made to ensure that the styling was more Dodge than Chrysler. There was a big, truck like grille, and large chrome wheels were fitted as well. Dodge seemed to have the idea that this could be a wagon for younger people who were having families but also liked to drive. The SUV craze was starting to die down, and seemed like it might have been plausible. The engine for the SRT8 was similar to Chrysler's 5.7-liter HEMI, but with the bore increased by 3.5mm, a stronger block and forged internals.

The Magnum SRT8 shared this engine with the SRT8 versions of its platform-mates, as well as the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. The transmission came from Mercedes-Benz, and was a five-speed automatic. Despite the lack of a manual, the Magnum SRT8 was quick, hitting 60mph in just 5.1 seconds and cracking off a 13.1-second standing quarter mile. Some other vehicles in this series might be faster, but these tended to cost at least twice as much, and the Magnum SRT8 is without question the most super wagon for your dollar.


The Magnum was well received by the press, although this is far from the only time the automotive press has loved a station wagon which has sold poorly. It even made Car and Driver's Ten Best list for 2005 in the wagon category. Not that the Magnum didn't have friends outside of the press. Mopar-loving family men and those who just generally like station wagons typically think of it as one of the best in recent history. It serves as one of the best, and saddest, examples of how much Americans tend to be repulsed by the idea of buying station wagons.

Here was a very good wagon, the sedan forms of which both sell quite well, with a reasonable price and good looks, and Dodge just couldn't sell them. This is even more strange when you consider that fewer and fewer people with children these days grew up in families with wagons, the stigma of the Vista Cruiser isn't something they had to shake off. GM has taken a crack at the odd niche which was left vacant when the Magnum SRT8 was cancelled, introducing a wagon version of their successful CTS-V sedan and coupe. This is a more luxurious, albeit more expensive car.

It'll be a tough sell to the American public, but Cadillac is aware of this, and they neither expect nor need to sell many of them. The wagon is, as a mass-market vehicle, dead in America. This is an especially big shame when you consider what is going on with muscle cars right now. Imagine if the idea of the muscle wagon which the Magnum introduced had caught on, if Ford and Chevrolet had come out with competing rear-drive V8 wagons. The parking lots next to soccer fields could have become drag strips, and the last quarter mile before the orthodontist's office could have been timed.

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