Click image for gallery of high-res photos by Drew Phillips and the author.

Can you hear that? I make a rich woman beg, I'll make a good woman steal... It's George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone." The stereo isn't on. The car isn't even running. But you hear that song quite clearly as you approach this wagon. Yep, you heard that right. It's a badass wagon we're talking about. Think that's an oxymoron? Think again. Even if it wasn't as black as Satan's pupils, it would still qualify as evil looking. But this particular sample is black and therefore perfect. So sinister and muscular and functional.

We'll admit that wagons aren't everybody's first choice for a cool conveyance, but if utility is high on your list of priorities, they have SUVs and vans beat by a mile in our book. Wagons offer just as much cargo room without sacrificing a car's typically better ride, handling, braking and acceleration. Think of this Dodge Magnum SRT8 as a Charger with a really big trunk. So the car is pretty capable to begin with.

These LX cars have been quite successful for Chrysler, and for good reason. Based on an older E-Class Mercedes platform, they offer rear-drive, full-size comfort in a more refined package than many American buyers are used to. All that at a bargain basement price too. The Hemi versions in particular offer a lot of bang for the buck. But when you add the SRT badge, things suddenly get more than a little wicked. Chrysler has promised a freshened Magnum for 2008, but when we got the call to drive a 2007, we still felt compelled to give it a whirl. Follow the jump to come along for the ride.
Related GalleryDodge Magnum SRT8




Drivetrain


All conversations about the SRTs begin and end with the engine. In place of the already hot 5.7-liter Hemi, goes a smokin' 6.1-liter version with an additional 80 hp. The Street and Racing Technology engineers work their black magic, and on goes the classic Hemi orange block and black valve cover paint to remind us of the heritage of this legendary powerplant. Those namesake hemispherical combustion chambers were seen as the source of dominant power back in the day. That's one of the reasons Hemi 'Cuda convertibles can bring over $2 mil at auction today. That "Street HEMI" of the '60s and '70s produced a not coincidental 425-horsepower from its 426 cubic inches of displacement. Today's Hemi gets a similar output from less than 90% of that displacement. And that power is available at the dip of a toe, no matter how fast you're going or what gear you're in.

The SRT team starts with your run-of-the-mill 5.7, then bores the cylinders by 3.5mm, increases the compression ratio from 9.6:1 to 10.3:1, redesigns the cylinder heads, intake and exhaust systems for increased flow, and bumps the redline from 5,000 to 6,000 rpm. There's actually not a lot left from the standard 5.7 when they are through with it. Valves, cams, manifolds, rods, pistons, crank, oil pan...all get changed. The block is even given more reinforcement. The result is seemingly endless grunt whenever you want it. Output is rated at 425 bhp @ 6000 rpm and 420 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm and feels at least that strong. Lots of power served up just raw enough to have character. No Audi RS4 replacement, but more than good enough in its own right.

That power is routed through an A580 five-speed AutoStick that can be reluctant to downshift on its own. Upshifts during regular driving are smooth and unremarkable but under full throttle they seem a bit abrupt. Not the smoothest transmission, but good enough for all but the most accomplished of drivers, or people who happen to have sampled a modern Lexus or BMW A/T. A tap to the right or left when in Drive will allow you to hold a gear, which will be displayed on the dash for you. Forgetting to shift for yourself will mean that a Roush 427R can pull away from you on the freeway, which can be a bit embarrassing at first. Thank God for second chances. The best part about the automatic is that it makes burnouts as simple as pressing both pedals for a second or two and then letting the brakes out.



Oh, don't forget to disengage the ESP traction control first. That makes it so much better when you want to release your inner juvenile delinquent. But be forewarned that mileage will be atrocious the more you do this and tires will disappear faster than hot dogs at a power eating contest. We managed about 14 mpg overall, and that was with a good 300 miles of freeway driving at semi-sensible speeds. One additional caveat is that it likes to guzzle the expensive stuff, and that meant about $70 per fill-up for its 19-gallon tank here in California.

We happened to have the car during a day out with a Cizeta and a Superformance Le Mans Coupe (tough life, I know) and had to use almost 5/6 of the speedo to catch up a couple of times. The car remained stable and solid and felt like it would just keep going if we needed it to. The claimed 169 mph top speed seems entirely plausible. But there were times when other drivers somehow managed to overlook us when changing lanes, and we had a chance to see that scrubbing speed was just as easy as piling it on.



Suspension

We'll start with the brakes here. First, let's not forget this is a large vehicle. Heavy too at 4,260 lbs., but tests show it will decelerate from 70-0 mph in approximately 170 feet. It can do the quarter-mile in the mid 13s, but this Dodge Magnum SRT8 can also do 0-100-0 mph in the mid 16-second range. That's some serious stopping power. Thank the 14.2-inch-front and 13.8-inch-rear vented Brembos for that. They are strong and easily modulated and even when they had to reduce our triple-digit velocity by half in one emergency maneuver, they just did what they were asked to do with no drama.

Those brakes reside within appropriately large, 20-inch polished 5-spokes, wrapped in 245/45 Goodyear F1 summer tires (you can opt for 255/45s out back at no extra charge). Lots of grip along any vector. Not just because of the tires, but the car sticks like glue. SRT-special shocks, modified spring rates, different bushings, plus big anti-sway bars make a huge change to the handling. The ride height is lowered by just one-half inch, but it feels like a lot more. The Electronic Stability Program (ESP) has also been reprogrammed to allow a little more antisocial behavior before cutting in. But switching it off still makes it even more fun when you feel the need. Having sampled "lesser" MOPAR LXes, this thing seems so tight. Body roll is negligible in comparison, but still noticeable if you've just stepped out of a sports car. Very little sacrifice in ride too, which makes us wonder why all suspensions aren't tuned like this.

Although there is a slight delay to inputs, we suspect that physics has a lot to do with it. No matter how well you tune it, it's still a nearly 4300 pound car. The steering ratio is a bit quicker than lesser Magnums, with a bit more friction in the system, but those 9-inch wide, fly-paper-wrapped wheels take a bit of time to transmit inputs into directional change. Nothing offensive, just not razor sharp. Certainly no sports car, but it is one hell of a ride. The fact that we would even begin to compare its manners to a sports car might seem ludicrous, but with all that power and prowess on tap, it's easy to do. Reminding yourself that it's a muscle wagon, you'll be impressed with its balance and road manners. If you're using a Roush 427R for comparison, you might feel slighted. But only just.



Exterior

From the outside, the appeal of the Magnum is understandable too. No wagon since the Nomad has managed to stir the soul so thoroughly. That Dodge Ram crosshair grille, raised beltline and tapering roofline are pure muscle. Especially in Brilliant Black with those midnight tint windows, it screams "felon on board." You can also order one in Bright Silver or Inferno Red Crystal Pearlcoat, and they look cool too, but we highly recommend black. It just fits. Especially in SRT trim.



With its menacingly lowered stance, polished wheels prominently displaying those red Brembo 4-piston calipers, and the SRT-specific body changes, the appeal becomes lustful. Rather tasteful SRT badges appear in prominent locations front to back. The honeycomb grille and tweaked nose better manage airflow for increased cooling AND reduced front-end lift. A revised rear fascia and larger, uncapped tailpipes lend a certain purposefulness at the stern. Nothing too radical, just an evolution of the theme.



Interior

SRT labels appear more abundantly inside, but are still fairly tastefully executed. SRT buyers also get red-stitched leather and suede seats that grip relatively well and are quite comfortable. Just like their corporate cousins', the seats are power-adjustable with intuitive Mini-Me knobs that emulate the portion of the chair you are adjusting. You also get "carbon fiber" leather trim on the steering wheel, and faux fiber trim on the center console and dash. Upgraded gauges, including a 180-mph speedometer, a tachometer and temperature gauges, add even more to the sporting atmosphere. As nice as all that sounds, it is inside that the shortcomings of this car become apparent.



Nobody will get into this car and think it is anything other than a hot-rodded full-size American wagon. Plenty of room for people and stuff, plenty of nifty features, and plenty of acres of various plastics. Incredibly elegant touches contrast so sharply with cheapo parts-bin bits. It just screams $20,000 commuter and can be a bit of a letdown if the window sticker and exterior draw you inside unawares. Rather annoying but not in an offensive way. More of a disappointment because everything else seems so right. Eventually you get used to it. We don't predict many owners will be dragging friends inside to brag about the interior, but in the end it does its job and doesn't divert necessary resources from where they really matter, under the hood and fenders.



As you can see from the photos, there is plenty of storage room up front and lots of cargo space out back. Nice big opening to access the hold as well. The huge subwoofer assembly takes up a lot of room, but with so much volume back there, you'll hardly notice. Our tester featured the upgraded stereo to go along with the sub, as well as Sirius and GPS/Navigation in the same unit. The Navi in particular was a bit frustrating to operate, continually tempting us to use it as a touchscreen, even though it isn't one. The selection knob at the right wasn't very user-friendly either. Redundant steering wheel controls were a nice touch for some features, but they were a bit confusing and didn't seem eager to let us back up a screen when we wanted to. All quibbles, but not insignificant ones.



Conclusions

When it comes down to it, we had to remind ourselves over and over that this is a $40,000 vehicle. The performance level is so high that you can easily come to expect so much more from it. If you look at other $40,000 wagons, you won't find anything that offers anywhere near this level of power. Not this much room or style either. Upgrading the interior to make it feel more acceptable for a $40,000 vehicle would likely have resulted in this being a $50,000 vehicle. The truth is that the Magnum makes a pretty good platform to build on. At a premium of about $15,000 over a base V6, The SRT8 might seem like too big of a jump to some. At $6,000 above a standard Hemi, it seems like a bargain.

The extra power is worth that much alone. Not just the peak gains, but there is way more power everywhere across the range. The handling improvements transform the driving dynamics of the car too. Those massive brakes add so much to driver confidence and serve to really balance the package as well. You're not as afraid of probing the limits if you know you can rein it in without concern. At speed this wagon shrinks around you and starts to behave in ways that belie its heft. More than just a stiffened Magnum, it feels like an altogether different vehicle. And if you dip into the throttle, the experience is mind altering. You have to turn your head and look out that rear hatch, seemingly miles in the distance, to remember that this thing can haul stuff as well as it hauls ass.

Definitely not for everyone, it is priced within reach of everyman. Base price is around $38,000 and fully optioned it will come to about $44,000, but discounts and rebates will usually keep it under 40. For that money you will get a large, rear-drive people mover, that happens to be capable of smoking its tires, and just about any other vehicle you're likely to encounter along the way. To put its performance in perspective, let's look at how it stacks up against a BMW M3. Just for kicks. With a 0-60 of around 5 flat, and a quarter mile time of 13.6 @ 106, the Magnum SRT8 is as quick as an E46. With a 70-0 distance of 170 feet, it also stops nearly as well as the M3. All 4260 lbs. of it. It's skidpad reading of 0.87g matches the Bavarian's score too. We certainly don't mean to compare the two, but point this out to show how truly capable this wagon really is. Throw in the extra cargo space and you can start to understand the appeal. Like anybody interested in one needs convincing. I'll make an old woman blush, and make a young woman squeal...I'm here to tell ya honey, that I'm bad to the bone.


Dodge Magnum SRT8

Vehicle type: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 5-door wagon
Base price: $38,345
Engine type: pushrod 16-valve V-8, iron block and aluminum heads, port fuel injection
Displacement 370 cu in, 6059cc
Power (SAE net) 425 bhp @ 6000 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 420 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm

Transmission 5-speed automatic with AutoStick shifting

Length: 197.7 in
Width: 74.1
Wheelbase 120.0 in
Height 57.9 in
Track, f/r: 63.0/63.1 in
Ground clearance: 5.1 in
Curb weight 4260 lb
Weight distribution, % f/r: 52/48

Cargo capacity: 71.6 cubic feet

Car and Driver performance data
Zero to 60 mph 5.1 sec
Zero to 100 mph .12.1 sec
Standing 1/4-mile 13.6 sec @ 106 mph
Top speed (drag limited) 169 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph 170 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad 0.87 g
EPA fuel economy, city/highway: 14/20 mpg