First Glance: Forbidden love
Besides stupendous straight-line performance, the Magnum R/T has comfortable seating for four full-size adults and their luggage. With four on board theres 11.3 cubic feet of cargo space, which is enough to carry four PGA golf bags plus weekend gear. With the handy rear 60/40 seat back folded, theres 71.6 cubic feet of storage on the flat floor. The top hinged rear hatch makes cargo loading a cinch.
In the Drivers Seat: More than conspicuous consumption
The R/T is custom made for the North American open road. Which is not to say the Europeans wouldnt like it. Some of them would love it, certainly the youngish new-rich. Theyd revel in the extravagance of its in-your-face 5.7L (340hp and 370lb-ft torque) HEMI V-8 and in its 13 mpg real-world gas mileage. The brilliant-in-theory multi displacement system (MDS), which is designed to save fuel by cutting out 4 cylinders in light load situations, doesnt work too well in a car like the Magnum R/T. This thing is so hot youre rarely if ever in a light load situation.
But the Magnum R/T is more than conspicuous consumption; its also a brilliant automobile. Its just that it may not the right one for this place in time, what with America importing 70% of the petroleum it burns (17% of it from parts of the world that are, um, democratically challenged).
On the Road: German engineering + American bravado = big fun
At 80 mph on Hwy 17, which is a gently curving six-lane freeway climbing up from the 3,000 Phoenix desert to Flagstaffs 6,900 near-alpine environment, the R/T felt tight and eminently controllable. And why wouldnt it? The 5-link independent rear suspension, as well as the 5-speed manual-automatic (a first for Dodge) are lifted from the previous-generation Mercedes-Benz E-class.
That 140-mile stretch between Phoenix and Flagstaff must be the most car-friendly piece of highway in America, if not the universe. It curves just enough to keep you paying attention but its so well designed and engineered that I felt perfectly at ease driving at the 80 mph speed limit. The R/T positively rules this kind of road.
Journey's End: Enjoyable, but at what cost?
Then this March, I drove the twisty Forest Service road to the Arizona Snow Bowl -- for the first time in at least 20 years -- in the Magnum R/T. The road was more or less the same as I remembered it and it was a hoot tossing the very nicely balanced rear-wheel-drive Magnum around the tight bends and sweeping curves. But it was eerie, too. It was early March, and for the first time in decades there was no snow on the peak. Not a flake. In other years, thered be several feet.
It brought to mind Al Gores recent horror flick on the role of greenhouse gases (GHG) in climate change and the role of automobiles in creating GHG. Smaller engines than the HEMI are also available in the Magnum a 3.5L V-6 and a 2.7L V-6. But when youre pushing more than two tons of tin and plastic through the wind youre going to burn a lot of fuel and create a lot of GHG. It's a sobering thought -- and one that put a damper on this city boy's enjoyment of the Magnum R/T.