During a recent trip to Baltimore, I was able to spend time behind the wheel of a rented 2008 Dodge Magnum SXT. Attracted by its aggressive appearance and apparent utility, I had dubbed it one of my favorite cars long before actually getting any seat time.
One of the first things I noticed was the short greenhouse and wide pillars, although proper adjustment of the seat, steering wheel (with tilt and telescope), and mirrors solved any visibility problems and resulted in a rather cliche feeling of tank-like security.
The interior was nicer than expected, with tasteful chrome lines breaking up the dark grey plastic interior. The controls for the satellite radio and climate controls felt good and not cheap. I had no trouble figuring out how to work either although some of the passengers had some slight trouble. The dashboard was easy to read and was uneventful without being dull, and there was enough space for four people and a weekend's-worth of luggage for each. As gimmicky as it may sound to some, having the hinge for the liftgate so far forward is an effective way to enlarge the rear cargo opening and makes loading bulky cargo easier.
Once underway, I was pleasantly surprised by the grunt of the 3.5 liter V6. It was able to hustle the Magnum up to highway speed without delay, although the relationship between my right foot and the rear wheels wasn't quite as direct as I prefer. The Magnum is very stable at speed, and wind noise was less intrusive than I expected given the blunt front end. Looking in the rear-view mirror gave the impression of staring into a tunnel, and the Magnum's road manners did nothing to dispel the impression that this is a long vehicle; not particularly unwieldy, but definitely occupying a sizable chunk of road.
Shod with all-season tires there wasn't an abundance of grip, although I was never wanting for brakes and, with one exception, I was never in a position to even determine which end of the wagon would slide first. Once in the upper rev range the engine sounds like it means business, and the transmission shifts before the grunt becomes a buzz.
Driving in and around Baltimore, I found myself either on the highway or in the city. Following a rain shower one afternoon, I decided to switch off the Electronic Stability Program to see if it had a noticeable effect. Much to my chagrin, while turning left through an intersection, and while going rather slowly, the back end of the Magnum came around with surprising ease under power. It was easy to catch, and easy to prevent at the next turn, but I nonetheless switched the apparently-quite-effective ESP back on.
My overall impression of the Magnum was decidedly positive and I am discouraged by Dodge's decision to axe the wagon from their lineup, however that was not an opinion shared by those I was with. There were aesthetic remarks ranging from simply "ugly" to the more descriptive "looks like a hearse!" More significantly, there were usability complaints about the aforementioned greenhouse: One driver complained that not enough light came into the cabin, and two proclaimed they "couldn't see a thing" because of the pillars, long hood, and distant rear. I was able to solve those issues through careful adjustment of the cockpit, but your results may vary.