By on July 5, 2005

 Hot rods are preposterous. That's why people love them. The new Magnum SRT-8 is a perfect example; the moment pistonheads clock The Dodge Boys' hot rod hauler they break into a big, stupid grin. Much of the comedic impact comes from simple nostalgia; the Magnum SRT-8 reminds them of pre-pubescent fantasies of unbridled power and unabashed style. In fact, I reckon the chop-top, dub-clad station wagon was born in the back seat of a '67 Chrysler Town and Country, when a proto-car designer watched a young Buck in a hopped-up sedan blow his Mom's doors off. So to speak.

In this case, adult reality matches childhood fantasy. If we're talking about straight line performance (a sensible restriction considering the uber-wagon's wheelbase and weight), the Magnum SRT-8 is fully capable of humiliating even the most muscular metal. Chrysler claims the Magnum SRT-8 will accelerate from zero to sixty in the low five's, and complete a quarter mile in the high 13's. After bellow blasting the beast from a standing start (in the breakdown lane) to a triple digit sprint (down the "set the radar detector on stun" lane), I believe them. This sucker is quick with a capital "K"; as in I'm gonna KICK yo' ass.

 Let's pause a moment for a word from our sponsor. In standard trim, Chrysler's 5.7-liter, 340hp Hemi is a smooth, fast and relatively frugal powerplant. To create Magnum force, the hot heads at Street and Racing Technology (SRT) ditched the frugality, added cubes, dialed-up the compression ratio, redesigned the cylinder head, intake and exhaust systems; and escalated engine speed. The resulting 6.1-liter, 425hp lump transforms a reasonably rapid load lugger into a serious playa. Again, any non-exotic automobile that dares match wits with the Magnum SRT-8 risks finding themselves totally tongue tied.

OK, fine. Once the deed is done, then what? A lot of these retro machines are like humorous T-shirts: after you read the joke, they're still there; until you start to wonder if the joke was all that funny in the first place. There's no denying that the steroidal Magnum is a cartoon character, with its pavement-sniffing stance, carnivorous front fascia, roof-mounted spoiler, bling wheels and 3.5" chrome exhaust tips. This on top of a basic shape that looks like something squeezed out of a toothpaste tube (or worse). All the Magnum SRT-8 really needs is a punch line: something like a bumper sticker saying "I eat minivans for breakfast". Ba-doom-boom.

 And yet, the Magnum SRT-8 makes a much more convincing case for itself than quirky hot rods like the Chevrolet SSR (a pickup that can't pick up much more than a single bale of cotton) and the dearly-departed Plymouth Prowler (a mustachioed coupe that was about as practical as a tattoo). The Magnum SRT-8 is, after all, a station wagon. Although its raked roof sacrifices stackability, lifestyle schleppers are still well-served by the genre's traditional fold-flat cargo capabilities. And like all of Daimler-Chrysler's new millennia sedans, die machheissewagon is both spacious and civilized, offering all the sat-navery and commodious comfort buyers once expected from a truly humongous American automobile.

Well, maybe not quite as much comfort as its lesser-engined cousins. That's because Dodge did everything in its power to make the Magnum SRT-8's handling match its prodigious power: track-tuned dampers, spring rates and suspension bushings; larger sway bars, plenty o' rubber, plus-sized Brembo brakes, the works. The breathed-upon behemoth is a far stickier affair when slammed through the twisties, but it still floats alarmingly over crests and skitters sideways over broken surfaces. And the wagon's rock hard ride leaves no doubt that you don't have to actually hit something to crash.

 Speaking of which, the Magnum SRT-8 is suffused with safety, from its occupant-sensing front passenger airbag to its National Highway Transport Safety Association crash test ratings (five stars all 'round). While anyone with a foot for fun will terminate the traction control in the dry and steer with their right foot, the Magnum SRT-8's handling Nanny provides a much-appreciated measure of wet weather confidence, and a reasonable chance of making it through the snow come winter. Muscle cars of old may have the edge in raw excitement, but the Magnum SRT-8 let's you have your tail-sliding, rubber-smoking fun and children too.

In fact, the Magnum SRT-8 isn't anywhere near as preposterous as it looks. For 42 large you get a monster engine, predictable handing, superb stopping power, sybaritic satisfaction and a rare opportunity to make people smile. If the Magnum SRT-8's hot rod aesthetic makes you giggle, then consider adding it to your family car shopping list. It has enough depth of character to keep you smiling long after the laughter subsides. In any case, we should all give thanks to Chrysler for having the cojones to hire Hot Wheels collectors in their design department. After all, driving is easy. Comedy is hard.

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5 Comments on “Dodge Magnum SRT-8 Review...”

  • avatar

    Wow — not one comment in over 2 years! And now the big brute has been discontinued — what a shame!
    Thank God I own one — it is the most satisfying car I ‘ve ever owned — like a Swiss army knife: practical, and impractical. I could never pull the trigger on a Corvette because the 2 seater just didn’t make sense for me, but now I have both: utility and performance. A tremendous car that the masses didn’t know what to make of, and the maker didn’t know how to market. I’ll have mine for many years to come.

  • avatar

    I have the Magnum hemi. 2005 I have had more fun with that car than any other car I have ever had. It is understated, stealthy, utilitarian and fun! I am looking to upgrade to the SRT-8 and keep my present magnum. I think the SRT-8 is a slam-dunk collector car. Instead of going for the Porsche or other typical “mid-life crisis” car choices I think the magnum is the one! I hope it is another two years before you get another comment on this car. I love that the masses have not bought into the magnum.

  • avatar

    I’ve loved the Magnum since the first time I saw it back in concept form. Now that I’m in a position to consider getting one, I don’t think it’ll happen… it’s just too bad on gas compared to the other cars I’m looking at.

  • avatar

    I have a 07 srt8 Magnum with a little “tweaking” to the engine. The feverish acceleration and unexpected looks from stunned fellow stop-light warriors never ceases to amuse.. Especially with a surfboard on the racks and a dog or two in tow makes it just that much better.

  • avatar

    Well, here I am at work on a Friday afternoon just daydreaming of the weekend when I can get home and back my Magnum SRT-8 out of the garage. I was doing some surfing and happened upon this little article and thought I would add my $.02. R.I.P. Magnum. But I gotta say, I’m kinda happy knowing there aren’t ever going to be too many on the road. I had my eye on the Magnum since they first came out. I drove an R/T a few years ago and loved it, but my wife wanted a minivan instead. Just my luck. After that, I began to get more and more interested in the SRT-8. I read reviews and collected a few magazine articles… even saved the brochure I got from the Dodge dealer/test drive. It had all the specs and details of the SRT-8 in it. Last fall, I was finally in a position where I could afford a 2nd car for kicks. Production had ended, but there were still a few 2008s on lots here and there across the US. I preferred the 1st generation though. It was a little more understated, if that’s possible, than after the styling changes Dodge gave the ’08s. I found a beautiful black 2006 (showroom condition, with only 7k miles on it) in FL. I hopped on a jet, and drove it back to NY. What a trip! What a car! It’s the wildest ride I’ve ever owned. The only thing I had ever driven prior that could come close to the same feeling was a 1987 Buick Grand National. For some time I have been fascinated with late 60’s era muscle cars. Now, I feel like I own a modern day version of one. And it comfortably fits my wife and 3 kids. The Dodge’s 425 horses, burbling exhaust, fantastic looks, excellent handling, and fine audio system make it a keeper. Someday, I’ll probably pass it along to my children. But until I do (I’m 44), I’ll be cruising around the streets in upstate NY – good weather only – every chance I get.

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