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2006 Dodge Magnum R/T Test Drive

You can take the boy out of the city...

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

By Colin Hefferon

2007 Dodge Magnum R/T front view

2007 Dodge Magnum R/T

Photo © Colin Hefferon
American HEMI V-8 power combined with sophisticated European suspension and 5-speed auto tranny - what’s not to like about the $31,530 Dodge Magnum R/T? Not much, actually - if you can get past the lousy fuel economy (17 MPG city/25 highway). With lots of electronic toys available including a terrific Sirius satellite radio, this 5-door wagon is built for cruising the American open road. Rear wheel drive version is the original and the best, but all wheel drive also available.

First Glance: Forbidden love

Automobile journalist Jamie Kitman writing in the British magazine CAR described the Magnum R/T’s appearance as “menacing”. He also called it "the antithesis of the urban car". He flat loved it. Which is more than curious because Jamie would himself seem to be the antithesis of everything the Magnum represents. I mean, he’s a born and bred city boy who works in the alternative rock industry and whose personal taste in automobiles would seem to run more to open-top British sports cars of the ‘50s than American road bosses of the ‘00s. Yet neither its absurd fuel economy “when it’s driven as it’s supposed to be driven”, which is to say, very aggressively, nor its hearse-like appearance when it’s draped in certain colors (Jamie’s was mafia funeral black) were enough to turn him off.

Besides stupendous straight-line performance, the Magnum R/T has comfortable seating for four full-size adults and their luggage. With four on board there’s 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, there’s 71.6 cubic feet of storage on the flat floor. The top hinged rear hatch makes cargo loading a cinch.

Continued below…

In the Driver’s Seat: More than conspicuous consumption

2007 Dodge Magnum R/T interior

Big flat dash looks American, but the mechanicals are largely German

Photo © Colin Hefferon
I, too, am a city boy. I get antsy without crowded sidewalks and long parallel lines of parked cars. My idea of a great set of wheels is one that’s compact, easy to maneuver into tight spaces and, most important, easy to pay for. Given my choice of lifestyle, the Magnum R/T would not normally be my first choice. Yet I can appreciate how others would really go for it.

The R/T is custom made for the North American open road. Which is not to say the Europeans wouldn’t like it. Some of them would love it, certainly the youngish new-rich. They’d 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, doesn’t work too well in a car like the Magnum R/T. This thing is so hot you’re rarely if ever in a light load situation.

But the Magnum R/T is more than conspicuous consumption; it’s also a brilliant automobile. It’s 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

I drove a spanking new, fully loaded 2006 Magnum R/T for three days in its natural habitat – the wide-open highways of Northern Arizona. I spent some very pleasurable hours on the spectacular freeway between Phoenix and Flagstaff with side trips to places like Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon and the 11,200 ft Arizona Snow Bowl ski area.

At 80 mph on Hwy 17, which is a gently curving six-lane freeway climbing up from the 3,000’ Phoenix desert to Flagstaff’s 6,900’ near-alpine environment, the R/T felt tight and eminently controllable. And why wouldn’t 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 it’s 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?

2007 Dodge Magnum R/T rear view

Roofline is low but hatch cuts into roof for easy loading

Photo © Colin Hefferon
Years ago I worked as a pro ski patroller at the Arizona Snow Bowl ski resort just outside Flagstaff. (Best job I ever had, by the way. Until I got this gig, of course.) That season, we had record snowfalls. Five hundred light, fluffy inches as I recall. Heavenly it was for us skiers.

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, there’d be several feet.

It brought to mind Al Gore’s 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 you’re pushing more than two tons of tin and plastic through the wind you’re 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.

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