If you can imagine a lump of coal having an attitude, then our Dodge Magnum RT tester is anthracite: black, hard and shiny, cut with sharp angles and the hottest thing you can put in your furnace.
Not, say, that a thermonuclear explosion wouldn’t make more heat, but one of those isn’t usually isn’t for home use. You can keep the RT in your garage, Hemi V8 and all. (There’s an SRT8 up for 2006 which may be the nuclear option, but without nest time yet, we at carbuzzard can’t comment).
The “Hemi” name—which Chrysler group has latched onto like a three-year old to a lollypop—has no design links to the famous Chrysler hemi motors of yore, and technically the modern iteration of the engine doesn’t have true hemispherical combustion chambers. But it makes for great marketing. The ubiquitous “Does that thing have a Hemi in it?” is a great way to annoy Corvette salesmen, by the way. And certainly it makes generous quantities of horsepower and torque.
There’s muscle to the Magnum with the Hemi, enough so that the 2.7-liter V6 of the base ES and even the 3.5-liter of the mid-level SXT pale in comparison. Don’t drive the Hemi if all you can afford is the ES or SXT. The RT will spoil you for anything less than the Hemi.
The 5.7-liter V-8 makes all the right noises but too much subdued for a muscle car. It’s not raucous like the GTO, for example, but more refined. Want more bad boy? No doubt you’ll have to spring for the forthcoming 2006 Magnum SRT8…butt again, we haven’t driven it yet.
Our test Magnum had all-wheel drive and it’s highly recommended if you ever drive on dusty, wet, snowy, icy, oil-soaked-but-occasionally-rained-on (are you listening, California) pavement. That should include just about everyone. What it will prevent, however, is two long, parallel strips of black on asphalt. But you’re more mature than that. Aren’t you? Ah, well, settle for a solid launch.
There’s a four speed, just like the olden days, but now the only transmission choice is an automatic. It has a zigzag quadrant with a tip left and right for downshifts and upshifts respectively. It’s relatively responsive as autoshift automatics go and it allows downshifts into first at higher rpm than most do, allowing more effective engine braking at lower speeds. It’s better in sport driving than a regular automatic and it sounds neat on the overrun too.
And unlike Mopar muscle cars of yore, the Magnum will actually go around corners. It’s a stable platform and there’s an absence of bumpsteer…which means that the car won’t change directions when driven over bumps while in the middle of a turn. It’s a long, long way from the sloppy steering of forty years ago. Of course, that precision and an impressively smooth ride, not to mention the available power, allow the Magnum RT to easily creep up to patently illegal speeds on the Interstate. Set your cruise control.
All the foregoing aside, the Magnum promises the utility of a station wagon and it does deliver it in part. The part it doesn’t is a large rear opening. The artful taper of the roof, part of the Magnum’s appeal, limits entry of tall items. And there really isn’t as much room back there as it would seem, not as much as a “real” station wagon. The rear seatback doesn’t fold completely flat, either, and that doesn’t aid practicality.
But the Magnum is comfortable front and rear, with sufficient leg room at the rear as well as the front. Dodge has also given the driver a good dead pedal, good for the driver to hold himself in place in corners or other maneuvers. The navigation system on our RT, a $1900 option, wasn’t the most intuitive, and when a detour was required, we couldn’t get the system to do anything but take us back to the start of the detour. There’s a way to do it but it requires a graduate degree in nav system operation to do it.
Our RT had a base price of $29,370 plus a $625 destination fee. Add options, including side-curtain airbags, and electronics convenience group, heated seats plus the aforementioned navigation system brings the price suggested price up to $36,025. Considering all the stuff and the Hemi power, it’s a fair deal at today’s prices.
As good as anthracite, I suppose, but Pennsylvania’s black diamond is out of date. So were rear-drive Mopar muscle cars. But now they’re back and as hot as ever. Put that in your furnace and smoke it.