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Original MSRP: $23,420 - $38,105
MPG: 18 City / 26 Hwy
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2008 Dodge Magnum Performance

This performance review was written when the 2008 Dodge Magnum was new.

The Magnum is an updated version of the classic station wagon, but unlike the image conjured up by that term, it isn't a stodgy vehicle suitable for little more than hauling kids and groceries. By most accounts the Magnum is a powerful vehicle that, according to Road and Track, "is a hoot on an open stretch of highway." Although the Magnum's standard V6 engine draws mostly jeers -- "the 2.7-liter V6 is noisy and lacks the power to live up to the Magnum's good looks," says Kelley Blue Book -- the other three engine options have reviewers excited, especially the high end 6.1-liter Hemi V8. "The V-8 provides effortless power and splendid overall performance," says U.S. News reviewer Rick Newman. Most writers find the Magnum's handling fairly nimble if not exactly sporty. "All 2008 Dodge Magnums have excellent highway manners, with a composed ride and a quiet cruising demeanor," says Edmunds.

Acceleration and Power

The 2008 Dodge Magnum comes in four trims, each of which has a different engine, and reviewers aren't crazy about the 2.7-liter V6 in the base model Magnum SE. "The standard 2.7-liter V-6 is best avoided by all but the staunchest penny pinchers," says Automobile Magazine. Its "horsepower isn't really forceful enough to effectively motivate the Magnum." Forbes adds that the engine is "both underpowered and unadorned, and it seems tailored for rental-car companies and fleet use." However, Edmunds says that the "Magnum's base V6 engine provides adequate power and a pleasant enough driving experience," but they add that "acceleration can be a bit sluggish off the line or under load." The Environmental Protection Agency rates the SE at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

Reviewers are kinder to the 3.5-liter V6 in the Magnum SXT, with its 250 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque. "As much hype as the Hemi gets for its tire-melting torque," says Edmunds, "the 250 horsepower from the SXT's 3.5-liter V6 isn't exactly meager. Having lived with the same engine in our long-term Chrysler Pacifica, we are well aware of its smooth running nature, but with nearly 600 fewer pounds to lug around the 3.5-liter V6 feels considerably stronger in the Magnum." The reviewers for the Detroit News are less impressed, though, griping that the engine is "still underpowered if you've got more than one or two adults on board." Kelley Blue Book says that the "larger 3.5-liter V6 is a much better choice, but will add considerably to the price." The EPA rates the SXT at 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.

The Magnum R/T has a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine, so-called because of its hemispherical combustion chamber. This was the highest level engine available when the Magnum first rolled out of the factory in 2004 and it has reviewers excited. "On the popular R/T, sinking one's foot down on the skinny pedal on the right wakes the HEMI engine, which is sure to paste a smile on any driver's face," says Kelley Blue Book. The Washington Post gushes that the R/T "tears ahead with such passion it appears that its only mission in life is to go fast." Cars.com only slightly qualifies its praise: "The accelerator takes its time to move things forward; it's never overly tardy, but those accustomed to the hyper-aggressive pedals in many four-cylinder cars may need patience." The EPA rates the R/T at 15 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.

As much as reviewers like the R/T's V8, they really go wild for the 6.1-liter Hemi V8 in the Magnum SRT8, which was introduced in the 2006 model year. ("SRT" stands for "street and racing technology.") Automobile Magazine calls it "awe-inspiring...a magnificent sledgehammer, offering the kind of power, poise, and noise not seen in an American wagon since, well, never." The Kansas City Star says, "Performance is startling." "Is it a blast?" asks the Sacramento Bee. "Oh, yeah." The Auto Channel offers one of the few exceptions to the general praise: "[P]ut it down to old age if you like but I don't need a 6.1 liter hemi engine. Yes, I can control it, there were no spins or spills but the power did come in rather suddenly and it did call for a great deal of concentration." And Edmunds adds a sober note: "The downside to choosing the SRT8 is lousy gas mileage, and most buyers will find that the R/T offers a better compromise of performance and economy." The EPA rates the engine at 13 mpg in the city and 18 mpg on the highway.

Reviewers have mixed feelings about the fuel economy of the Magnum's Hemi engines, with Automobile Magazine complaining that the Hemi models "can be startlingly thirsty" while Edmunds praises the way that the R/T "doesn't gulp down gasoline as if this was still 1970." But most reviewers are impressed with the Multiple Displacement System, which saves gas by turning off four cylinders in the V8 models when they aren't needed. "Equally impressive was the way the Multi-Displacement System -- which disables four cylinders under certain speed, load and throttle positions to save fuel -- worked imperceptibly," says Road and Track. "The Hemi never lacked power when it was summoned with my right foot. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't catch the MDS system in action."

Reviewers largely dismiss the four-speed transmission that comes standard on the SE and SXT. "Not only is the four-speed a little lazy on downshifts, but we also noticed a few clunky gear changes that left us less than confident in its performance," says Edmunds. The other models have a five-speed automatic transmission with overdrive and Chrysler's Autostick manual mode (also optional on SXT all-wheel-drive models), and it gets better reviews. The five-speed automatic transmission "operates smoothly," says the Detroit Free Press, "and its manual mode is as good as any car offers." Road and Track says, "The 5-speed automatic with its AutoStick sequential shifting operates seamlessly." The Auto Channel reviewer enjoyed playing with the manual mode: "We used it as a manual on a couple of trips up and down my favorite hillclimb roads and it worked fine. On these roads, I'm not sure the performance was that much better than the automatic, but it was fun shifting." Motor Trend, however, didn't find AutoStick quite as much fun: "It's unfortunate to have to take your hands off the wheel to shift while setting up for a corner ... We also take issue with the amount of self-shifting these trannies provide when you think you're in full manual mode."

Handling and Braking

Most reviewers find the 2008 Dodge Magnum's handling very good for a station wagon. "The handling is surprisingly composed on higher trim levels," says Edmunds, "and the hot-rod SRT8 is a downright blast to drive, with tons of torque, a sport-tuned suspension and bigger brakes that allow you to maneuver quickly through tight corners." Automobile Magazine finds the Magnum to be "relatively agile. Smooth, linear steering, a low center of gravity, four-wheel independent suspension, aggressive tire fitment, and solid structure give it an enjoyable alertness when the road turns twisty," though the reviewer adds that it nonetheless "doesn't move with the finesse of leading midsize cars." There is particular praise for the way the Magnum's tires grip the road. "For a big car," says U.S. News reviewer Rick Newman, "the Magnum grips curves like a kid holding on to a rollercoaster bar."

Reviewers generally like the way that the Magnum's independent front and five-link rear suspensions smooth out the ride. "[T]he suspension does an excellent job minimizing body roll," says Cars.com. "It also damps out major undulations to prevent excess shaking and rattling." Edmunds writes, "By using a suspension setup similar in design to that of upper-class Mercedes sedans, the Magnum is able to deliver ride and handling qualities that rival many sedans, let alone other wagons." The Boston Globe finds that the Magnum is "[f]irm in the corners and stable on the straights...a remarkably smooth if frisky ride." And the Orlando Sentinel says that "the R/T's ride is an ideal compromise between comfort and responsiveness."

The Magnum's rack-and-pinion steering "is precise," according to the Chicago Sun-Times, but they also find it "slightly heavy." MSN agrees: "While a little heavy, the steering is quick and feels good, with a nice linear action. Curves can be taken quickly and safely." Road and Track isn't so sure and "would prefer just a touch more effort [in the steering], especially at medium and higher speeds."

The Magnum is a heavy car, but its brakes are up to the job of making it stop: "There's definitely no lack of confidence when it comes to the brakes," says Edmunds, "as the Magnum's four-wheel discs provide the kind of immediate stopping power typically found only in high-end European sedans." "All SRT8s provide deep reserves of braking from their huge red Brembo calipers," says Motor Trend. The few complaints about the brakes are relatively mild: Cars.com says, "The pedal in my test car felt a bit mushy, but it produced adequate stopping power," and Consumer Guide notes that "some testers complain of long pedal travel."

All-Wheel Drive

Dodge offers all-wheel drive versions of the SXT and R/T as an extra-cost option. Reviewers generally prefer the rear-wheel drive versions for their powerful acceleration -- all-wheel drive is "an unfortunate sapper of the Magnum's joie de vivre," according to Automobile Magazine -- but several agree with Consumer Guide that "AWD is the recommended solution for all-weather traction." Kelley Blue Book takes a step back and notices, "The all-wheel drive models have a higher ride height that doesn't appear to affect handling but creates a noticeable gap between the tires and the tops of the wheel arches."

Performance Trims

 Magnum SE RWD

The Magnum SE RWD comes with a 178-horsepower 2.7-liter 24-valve V6 engine, four-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel independent touring suspension, power four-wheel disc brakes and rear-wheel drive.

Magnum SXT RWD

The Magnum SXT RWD comes with a 250-horsepower 3.5-liter high-output 24-valve V6 engine, four-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel independent touring suspension, anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes and all-wheel drive.

Magnum SXT AWD

The Magnum SXT AWD comes with a 250-horsepower 3.5-liter high-output 24-valve V6 engine, five-speed AutoStick automatic transmission, touring suspension, performance anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes and all-wheel drive.

Magnum R/T RWD

The Magnum R/T RWD comes with a 340-horsepower 5.7-liter HEMI multi-displacement engine, five-speed AutoStick automatic transmission, touring suspension, performance anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes and rear-wheel drive.

Magnum R/T AWD

The Magnum R/T AWD comes with a 340-horsepower 5.7-liter HEMI multi-displacement engine, five-speed AutoStick automatic transmission, touring suspension, performance anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes and all-wheel drive.

Magnum SRT8 RWD

The Magnum SRT8 RWD comes with a 425-horsepower 6.1-liter SRT HEMI V8 engine, five-speed AutoStick automatic transmission, touring suspension, performance anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes and rear-wheel drive.

Review Last Updated: 2/23/09

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