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2005 Dodge Magnum

    The new Dodge Magnum is a great station wagon with only one problem: Dodge won’t call it a station wagon.
     Instead, the marketing geniuses in Detroit demand we call it an Active Hybrid Sport Crossover Utility Something-or-Another Vehicle, but they’re not fooling anybody. It’s still a station wagon, and a darn good one at that.
     Whatever you call it, the Magnum neatly bridges the gap between sedan and SUV by offering the best attributes of both. It drives like a big, comfortable family sedan, complete with four doors and seats that are easy to slide into. At the same time, it offers tough-guy styling, a roomy cabin and huge cargo capacity — all the features that made SUVs so popular in the past decade.
     It’s a brilliant combination.
     For some, the Magnum is all about styling. It’s nearly impossible to ignore the wagon’s sleek, futuristic lines and truck-like nose — an obvious Dodge Ram rip-off. It has a squatty, muscular, athletic look that seems to be influenced by American street rods, giving it the self confidence and spunky personality that so many of today’s cars lack.
     Although some potential buyers may hate the flamboyant look, Dodge deserves credit for bringing a love-it-or-hate-it design to market without letting focus groups and committees sap all the style out of it. That took some guts.
     If the aggressive styling doesn’t thrill you, Dodge has one more trick that might: an optional 5.7-liter, 340-horsepower Hemi V8.
     The Hemi is one of the best engines on the market today, not only for its way-cool, musclecar name. It’s powerful enough to feel like a Boeing jet taking off every time the light turns green, but it’s also relatively smooth and quiet — certainly more refined than other V8s offered in Dodge trucks of recent vintage.
     Better yet, the engine can deactivate four cylinders when it doesn’t need the power from all eight. It results in about 20 percent fuel savings, Dodge claims, even though you can’t feel when the engine changes from four-cylinder to eight-cylinder mode. It’s a seamless transition.
     Although the base Magnum is rear-wheel drive in the grand musclecar tradition, all-wheel drive is available on the SXT and RT models to offer more balanced power for cornering and more traction on snowy or wet roads. Coupled with electronic traction and stability control, it’s about as failsafe as cars get.
     If you care more about the functionality of your vehicle than the style or power, the Magnum still delivers.

     The interior is spacious and nice looking, offering ample room in both the front and back seats. When you need to haul something from the home improvement store, you can fold down the back seat to create a cavernous cargo area that rivals many SUVs.
     My only gripe has to do with a couple of controls. For one, it has the most idiotic cruise control system ever devised. It’s a stick that moves in five different directions to do five different functions. You move it one way to engage cruise control, a second way to set your speed, a third way to accelerate, a fourth way to decelerate, and a fifth way to cancel cruise control. I doubt politicians could develop a more needlessly complex control to do something so simple.
     Similarly, the radio has too many small buttons that aren’t labeled well. Most Chrysler group products have the same problem — buttons that are all the same size, all the same color, and with tiny white writing on them to tell you what they do.
     Despite these two little drawbacks, I loved my week behind the wheel of this musclecar for the 21st century. It had plenty of style, plenty of power, and plenty of practicality.
     So what more could you ask for?
     Only a little honesty. It’s a station wagon, and Dodge should dang well call it one.

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