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At The Wheel

 

2006 Dodge Magnum SXT

This one has no Hemi, but that’s OK!

by Frederick J. Staab  CruiseControlRadio.Com

Almost every one of us has a childhood memory of life with a station wagon. Back in the pre-minivan days (that’s before 1983 for younger readers), the wood-grain-appliqué-slathered family truckster behemoths roamed shopping center and school parking lots with everyday regularity.

Since the early ’80s, the popularity of the station wagon has taken a nose dive. So why in the 2006model year would Dodge still build a vehicle like the Magnum? At first brush, it exhibits many similar characteristics of station wagons of the past. But a closer examination of the bodywork makes you think the guys from “Pimp my Ride” fired up their torches, chopped the top and lowered the roof by about 4 inches. Probably the most radical styling element of the Magnum is the reverse rake of it roof. It’s about average height at the top of the windshield, but it slopes backward ending in a rear lift gate with a slit-like window. That lift gate opens up and swings out of the way since its hinges are mounted about 2 feet into the rooftop – it’s another daring yet functional bit of engineering. Up front, the grille does its best to maintain the Dodge corporate identity with a thick and pronounced crossbar.

The Magnum is available in three levels of trim, the base SE, the SXT and the Hemi V-8-powered RT. What’s unique about this review is the fact that it involves the mid-level SXT powered by a 3.5-liter 250-horsepower V-6. Now don’t crumple up this newspaper because you are a Hemi snob. I, too, admit to being addicted to horsepower, but we all should remember that so far only 45 percent of Magnum buyers have been opting for the V-8. So it’s certainly important to investigate the rest of the model line.

I was pleasantly surprised – I found that the SXT accelerated briskly even with 3,896 pounds of curb weight in tow. The 17-inch rolling stock mounted on standard aluminum wheels could be chirped away from stoplights. I did notice the V-6 gave off a somewhat bassey resonant sound when idling, a small annoyance. But here is the headline: on the highway, fuel mileage comes in at 27 mpg. With a tail wind and an egg between your foot and the accelerator, you can easily be looking to book 30 mpg. Not bad at all for a rear-drive wagon that is stylish on the outside and big enough to haul all your junk on the inside.

While things got a bit radical with the sheet metal, DaimlerChrysler took a more conservative tack on the interior. The dash has a flat, clean design; gauges are deeply set with white backlighting. Some of the plastics were a bit too shiny for my tastes, and since I am spoiled driver, I missed a leather-covered steering wheel. In the SXT, it was hard plastic.

The cloth-covered seats came in an attractive dark gray that avoided a gaudy print or pattern. Such niceties as an eight-way power driver’s seat and lighted vanity mirrors in the sun visors are features of the SXT package. I found the interior to be comfortable for the vehicle’s price range and actually kind of refreshing, since it was easy to operate the essential controls. It you want a navigation system and dual-zone air conditioning, you will have to go for the Hemi-powered RT.

My passengers enjoyed the large amounts of front and rear legroom, but taller folks might find the headroom a bit snug in the rear seat. It’s the price you pay for style.

Pop open the cargo lift gate and you will find more than 27 cubic feet of storage behind the second-row 60/40 split seat. The cargo load increases to 71 cubic feet with the second row folded. Nice touches in the cargo area include two open side wells, storage under the cargo floor that is covered by an easy-to-use trifold divider, and a 12-volt utility outlet. Hauling capability and versatility have made the journey from the past to the present in this modern-day wagon.

So, it’s decision time – do you forgo the RT’s additional luxury and 90 more Hemi-powered horses for the economical SXT? The price difference between the two models is about $5,000. As tested, our SXT Magnum had a ticket of $25,995 including destination. But add a few options like an upgraded stereo and leather seats, and you will be at or close to the RT’s price point.

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