2005 Dodge Magnum RT

2005 Dodge Magnum RT 2005 Dodge Magnum RT
Long-Term Road Test

"Why does a family hauler have to be slow, bland, and uninvolving?" DaimlerChrysler seemed to ask that rhetorically when the company launched the large, riskily styled Magnum wagon in 2004. So far, more than 100,000 people have answered with their dollars. Add in the Magnum's siblings, the Charger and the Chrysler 300, and it's more like 475,000.

This plus-size wagon is not just a family hauler. With its sharp responses, particularly in 340-hp Hemi RT trim, it's every bit a driver's car, too. We liked the idea and the execution, and we voted it a 10Best Car for 2005. The Magnum's appeal seems to span generations: Name another vehicle that's just as likely to have chromed-out, oversize wheels as it is to have kids' car seats in back.

But a car that's great for a few days is not necessarily one you'd want to own, so we ordered a Magnum RT to find out over 40,000 miles. The RT is the most popular and second most powerful model in the Magnum lineup, which ranges from a base $23,255 SE with a 190-hp V-6 to the mighty 425-hp $37,995 SRT8.

Almost no option box went unchecked as we added $6170 to the Magnum's $30,745 base price. Extras included a $1895 navigation system, a $950 sunroof, and convenience items such as heated power front seats, automatic dual-zone climate control, satellite radio, and a multifunctional trip computer.

Of course, the first thing staffers here wanted to experience was the Magnum's impressive acceleration - 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, with a quarter-mile rush of 14.3. After that initial excitement, we began to notice the details, such as the cavernous people space up front and in back. From the logbook: "Excellent adjustability of wheel, seat, and pedals." Indeed, the Magnum has more legroom front and rear than does a Chevy Tahoe. Packing five six-footers into the Magnum isn't a stretch. The wagon feels huge, too, as the driver peers out over the expansive dash and long hood, as if the seat were placed in the middle of the car. The blind spots through the tiny rear quarter-windows are a liability, and maneuvers that are based on the view rearward - particularly when just the dinky rear wiper area has been swept clear - take a measure of faith.

Power and space aside, we also reveled in the Magnum's solid structure, confident road manners, and relatively quiet interior. This big wagon is quite responsive for its 4295-pound weight: Stops from 70 mph in our initial testing required just 174 feet, and all-out grip on the skidpad was 0.81 g, limited by a stability-control system that can't be completely disabled. Some thought the steering was a bit quick off-center, but it definitely provides reliable feedback through the grippy leather-covered wheel.

Early complaints involved the vast black-plastic interior that doesn't seem to fit with the stylish exterior. Some had difficulty wading through the various trip-computer and navigation menus; in particular, the nav-screen dimmer and the clock adjustment were elusive to a handful of staffers. But we universally liked the four legible and expensive-looking black-on-white gauge pods, even at night, when they glow elegantly.