In the early 2000s, SUVs were all the rage and station wagons had long since fallen out of favor in the U.S. market. It therefore seemed odd for one of the Big Three to introduce an all-new line of wagons, but that’s exactly what Chrysler did in 2003. To give the car a sporty image and stave off some of the “family hauler” stigma attached to wagons, Dodge gave it a range of powerful engines as well as a macho name: Magnum.
Upon introduction, there were four engines available with two V-6s and two V-8s. The lower tier V-8 was a 340-hp 5.7-liter unit in the RT model, while a special Magnum SRT-8 model had a 425-hp 6.1-liter unit. For 2005, all-wheel drive was added for the RT and SXT models. As these were the days of Daimler-Chrysler, the all-wheel drive models used a Mercedes-derived 5-speed automatic transmission. 2008 models got a facelift with new headlights and a smaller grille. The interior was updated to look like the new Charger, and the SRT-8 model got a hood scoop.
For the speed freaks, the SRT-8 really is the model to have. Aside from its 6.1-liter V-8 with 425 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, it had stiffer suspension, a quicker steering ratio, large Brembo brakes and carbon fiber trim on the inside. 0-60 mph came in 5.1 seconds and the SRT-8 Magnum could do the quarter-mile in 13.1 seconds at 1-8 mph. Not bad for a 4,300-pound four-door wagon. The 5.7-liter RT model was no slouch, though, with a 0-60 time of 5.8 seconds and a 14.3-second quarter-mile.
On the inside, the Magnum had plenty of room for both occupants and cargo, but rear visibility was terrible thanks to a tiny rear window and beefy pillars, and this was before the age of rearview cameras. In their long-term test of an RT model, Car and Driver summed up the Dodge Magnum nicely, concluding that it was “big enough for your family, quick enough for your friends, and sturdy enough to impress.” Quickly overshadowed by variants of the Charger and Challenger, the Magnum has little more than a cult following. The lack of a manual gearbox option and that chunky early 2000s styling haven’t helped its case, either, but the V-8 versions are genuinely fast and fun cars that fit into that rare category of practical muscle.