Friday, September 24, 2004


Drove the New Dodge Magnum RT

Yep, had a chance to hop behind the wheel of a nice Dodge Magnum RT yesterday. Yea, it's got a Hemi.

As anyone who follows my posts on the Impala SS forum know, I love the Chrysler 300 which is also built on the so-called LX platform.

The Magnum simply doesn't have the same interior quality as the 300C. I think it's still pretty nice inside, but some buyers might expect a bit more for $30K. The seats are nice, the gauges are easily visible, and most of the surfaces are soft to the touch, but it's lacking something. I like the exterior shape, but the nose still looks too big - like they stole it from a previous-generation Durango or something. It cuts a nice profile, though, and I think it looks great from a rear three-quarter viewpoint. The vehicle I drove was in a bluish-grey that Dodge calls Magnesium; it's a beautiful color that really compliments the sheetmetal. The paint quality leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps the Canadians are rolling it on or something. The 300C still has a lot greater Pimp Factor, but the Magnum looks better than any station wagon should.

Appearance items aside, the Magnum shares important mechanical bits with the 300C, like the mostly-superb A580 5-speed automatic transmission, and the V8 engine that needs no introduction.

Getting the car on a lift provided another chance to fall in love with this platform. The front suspension does away with the traditional lower control arm in favor of two links (one lateral, one locating); with the right bushing design, this allows one to engineer in some compliance in the rearward direction (for absorbing bumps), while providing good resistance to deflection under lateral loads (such as cornering). There's also a high-mounted upper control arm, a rather tall spindle, and a strut. It's similar to the Honda approach, but much taller. Out back, each side uses a pair of locating arms along with a pair of semi-trailing arms and a single toe link. I seem to recall that a show car I examined last winter used a lot of cheap-looking stamped arms in the back; the production parts I saw on this car looked much nicer. All in all, it looks like someone did the job right. I'm guessing that this suspension arrangement is pretty expensive, but probably worth the money. There's nice "little" touches like a cast transmission crossmember (it's also very short, further increasing its stiffness), and a pretty trick-looking tranmission mount bushing. The exhaust even has an X-pipe crossover.

The driving experience is much like the 300C. The same sharp handling and excellent braking that I found in the 300C are also present here. I was impressed with the visibility - there weren't the blind spots that one would expect by looking at it from the outside. There's plenty of headroom front and rear for tall passengers, and while some folks might like a bit more width, I think most people will find the interior dimensions to be just right. The size of the rear liftgate opening is quite adequate, but it's equipped with this electromechanical release that flat-out sucks. It nearly always takes two tugs to open the liftgate - one to hit the switch that triggers the actuator, and a second to give the actuator a chance to unlatch. They either need to redesign the switch or the actuator mechanism, or just develop a decent mechanical latch that doesn't freeze-up after a few years in the Salt Belt.

Of course, it's a quick car. I still don't think it's got the same low-end grunt as a LT1 B-body (the 1st-gear overall gearing is about the same, taking everything into account), but maybe that's because the Hemi has such a massive top-end rush that the lower end just feels a bit soft in comparision. I also think it sounds pretty nice past the half-throttle point or so. It probably could stand to be louder, but for an OEM exhaust system, I personally think it sounds great.

The bottom line is this: the Dodge Magnum is the most powerful production vehicle available in the US for under $30,000, it provides a ton of practicality, it appears to be extremely well-designed, and it should appeal to anyone who has looked at the past few years (OK, maybe the past few decades) of product from Detroit and asked themselves, "Where's the stuff that makes American cars cool?" Looking at the success of the 300C and Magnum, it all seems so obvious - we like big rear-wheel-drive cars with tons of power and the proper dose of technology. So why isn't everyone else building something like this?

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