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Dodge Magnum: America’s Meanest Station Wagon

The Dodge Magnum was part muscle car, part grocery-getter, and all attitude. We explore the rise and fall of America’s meanest station wagon.

Innovation is Harder than it Looks

It’s a truism both Biblical and secular: there is nothing new under the sun. The Ford F-150, the Porsche 911, and the Toyota Corolla all follow a formula for automotive success that rewards consistency over innovation. And it works. Even when developing a new vehicle, manufacturers, like movie studios, tend to stick with ideas that have a proven track record of success. This is to be expected. All creative projects build on what has come before. And so it was with the Dodge Magnum.

2006 Dodge Magnum SRT8
2006 Dodge Magnum SRT8 on netcarshow.com

The trouble with this approach emerges when otherwise successful ideas, like say a large engine, bold styling, and practical application, are combined haphazardly or incongruously. The Dodge Magnum, perhaps America’s meanest station wagon ever, should’ve had a good fighting chance. Just look to the success of the Subaru Outback or the cult status of the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG wagon. People like wagons, people like powerful wagons. So why then did the Dodge Magnum see such a short production run?

Two words: John Carter.

Mass Appeal

The movie John Carter, based on the popular sci-fi novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, was intended to be the genesis of a new blockbuster franchise for Disney. Unfortunately, the combination of derivative and muddled storytelling from the filmmakers and alternately wooden and overacted performances from its actors produced a historic flop at the box office. Today John Carter is best enjoyed ironically, a la Mystery Science Theater 3000, with viewers adlibbing their own comic additions to the unintentionally silly dialogue.

2005 Dodge Magnum SXT
2005 Dodge Magnum SXT on netcarshow.com

What does this have to do with the Dodge Magnum? You see, like John Carter, the Dodge Magnum was intended to appeal to a mass audience, and the execution ended up being so ham-handed that it struggled commercially. But, like the Avatar wannabe John Carter, there turned out to be a small but devoted number of people out there who actually love their Dodge Magnums.

Under the Hood

The Dodge Magnum was in many ways a throwback vehicle. It was a big, heavy station wagon, like say the Ford Country Squire. It also had a big, growly V-8 achieving impressive 0-60 times, like its cousin the Dodge Charger. The novelty of the Magnum was in merging these two themes.

2005 Dodge Magnum RT
2005 Dodge Magnum RT on netcarshow.com

The Magnum ran 16.5 ft. in length and over 4000lbs.; OG station wagon stats. But it also came with some serious muscle to move all that car. Of the four engine options, the SE’s 2.72-liter V-6, the SXT’s 3.5, the RT’s 5.7-liter V-8, and the SRT-8’s 6.1-liter V-8, it’s the latter two that deserve real consideration.

The tricked-out SRT-8 was introduced in late 2005 as a 2006 model and wasn’t as widely produced as the lower trims. It came with 20-inch, 5-spoke wheels and Brembo brakes, as well as a stiffer suspension and distinctive trim elements. These extras, plus its rarity, have the SRT-8s running approximately $8-10,000 higher than their lower trim counterparts.

The RT is the reasonable alternative as it comes with both a V-8 and a price tag of around $7-8,000. Yes, you can get an SE or SXT for between $4-5,000, but without the V-8 you’re just left with a cool looking, yet somewhat sluggish station wagon.

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If Looks Could Kill

Ultimately, the Dodge Magnum was a car born outside its time. Was it the savior of the boring family wagon come two decades too late? Or was it the stylish innovation to save us from an SUV takeover that ultimately proved too radical?

2005 Dodge Magnum
2005 Dodge Magnum on netcarshow.com

Whether ahead or behind the times, the Dodge Magnum was and remains a striking vehicle on the road. Its stance is hunkered down like a square-jawed high-school wrestling coach squinting menacingly at you from under its low roofline. It’s practically begging for confrontation. If cars could talk, the Magnum would say, Come at me, Bro! The proportions of the Magnum first appear to be those of a larger vehicle, yet it’s surprisingly, at times frighteningly, agile. It wants you to underestimate it.

The incongruity of a family station wagon with a growling V-8 and a mean disposition has always been the big appeal with the Magnum. Many you’ll see on the street are modified to play up this persona. Tinted windows, massive rims, loud exhausts, and even louder stereos. Ironically, today’s Magnums are the polar opposite of the staid family station wagon of yore.

The Short Happy Life of the Dodge Magnum

So, why then did this powerful, practical, stylish wagon not live to see the end of the decade? No one thing doomed the Magnum. Instead, a combination of factors probably contributed to its demise.

2005 Dodge Magnum RT
2005 Dodge Magnum RT on netcarshow.com

Take the styling. Some car buyers liked the Dirty Harry grimace of the Magnum, but that low roofline meant short windows which limited visibility for the driver and restricted light for rear passengers. Plus, the vaguely tank-like lines were not what suburban moms were looking for in a family vehicle.

Or take the competition. Some reviewers hailed the Magnum as a serious, and seriously fun, challenge to the hegemony of the SUV. But most car buyers didn’t see the point. A wagon was still a wagon, no matter the shape or how big an engine you dropped in it (tragically short sighted, I know).

Poor sales numbers. Once the initial hype had worn off, even the release of the SRT-8 couldn’t redeem the Magnum in the eyes of the public. As Chrysler prepped for its merger with Fiat, they looked to trim its lineup and the underperforming Magnum, along with the PT Cruiser, Crossfire, and Pacifica, got the ax.

For those out there looking for a big powerful used wagon and who can’t quite muster the cash for a Mercedes-Benz or Audi, there’s always the Dodge Magnum ready to rumble. It trades out the German refinement for some much-needed American swagger. And if we, the car buying public, couldn’t love this muscle car for the whole family, then maybe we just don’t deserve nice things.

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Chris Kaiser

With two decades of writing experience and five years of creating advertising materials for car dealerships across the U.S., Chris Kaiser explores and documents the car world’s latest innovations, unique subcultures, and era-defining classics. Armed with a Master's Degree in English from the University of South Dakota, Chris left an academic career to return to writing full-time. He is passionate about covering all aspects of the continuing evolution of personal transportation, but he specializes in automotive history, industry news, and car buying advice.

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33 Comments

  1. Mark Garcia January 19, 2020

    I have owned 3 magnum wagons I still have my 2006 I love the ride it still runs hard and smooth ride on the highways I have driven this magnum from San Jose ca. To texas then drove it to Miami Florida and back and still my everyday car and still runs and rides like I just got it love my magnum I’m always getting compliments on my magnum

    Reply
    1. Josh April 21, 2020

      I drive a 2008 magnum! Definitely couldn’t agree more for a wagon they pull!

      1. Carsforsale.com Team April 21, 2020

        How long have you had it?

    2. Carsforsale.com Team April 21, 2020

      That’s great, thanks for sharing!

    3. Tyana Kershaw August 21, 2020

      I’ve owned my 2005 Magnum for 10 years and ABSOLUTELY LOVE HER!! From the first time I had ever seen one, I WANTED IT!!!!

  2. Dee June 9, 2020

    I have my 2005 sxt with 195000 miles on her and still going, love this car.

    Reply
    1. Carsforsale.com Team June 10, 2020

      That’s great Dee, thanks for sharing!

  3. David June 21, 2020

    I love my 06 awd hemi magnum with over 180k and still going strong

    Reply
    1. Carsforsale.com Team June 22, 2020

      That’s great, thanks for sharing!

  4. Anonymous July 1, 2020

    I have owned 3- dodge magnums currently have. 2008 and would give anything for them to bring this car back

    Reply
    1. Carsforsale.com Team July 2, 2020

      They are great cars! Thanks for sharing!

  5. John Laughlin July 2, 2020

    My 05 dodge magnum is really fun to drive and I get compliments everyday

    Reply
    1. Carsforsale.com Team July 6, 2020

      Great cars!

  6. John Laughlin July 2, 2020

    HAVE AN 05 DODGE MAGNUM ITS REALLY FUN TO DRIVE AND I GET COMPLIMENTS EVERYDAY MY DAUGHTER PICKED IT OUT TO

    Reply
    1. Carsforsale.com Team July 6, 2020

      That’s great! What color is it?

  7. Amy Williams July 10, 2020

    I have a 05 Dodge Magnum and after 13 years it’s still rolling Strong. Best car ever. It pulls those mountains like a champ.

    Reply
    1. Carsforsale.com Team July 13, 2020

      That’s great, thanks for sharing!

    2. Francis Layton October 9, 2020

      I have an 06 rt that I’m in love with also I wish I can post a picture

      1. Carsforsale.com Team October 12, 2020

        Post it on our Facebook page!

        http://www.facebook.com/carsforsalecom

  8. James Mankilla July 15, 2020

    So glad to see all the love. For the magnums their my favorite realistic vehicle. I’ve got an 06 magnum rt with awd and it’s amazing. Kids love it wife. Loves it, it’s quick and comfy. Can’t beat it.

    Reply
    1. Carsforsale.com Team July 16, 2020

      Thanks for sharing! What color is your car?

  9. Barbara Bell July 29, 2020

    Hello sir how you doing , well my Nane is Barbara and I wanna know are you selling your Doge magnum I love the car , Always wantedon by any chance are you selling it if so how much please respond thanx stay Blessed

    Reply
    1. Carsforsale.com Team July 31, 2020

      You can view listings of Dodge Magnums on our website and find one that fits what you are looking for! Let us know if you have any questions!

  10. Tyana Kershaw August 21, 2020

    I’ve owned my 2005 Magnum for 10 years and ABSOLUTELY LOVE HER!! From the first time I had ever seen one, I WANTED IT!!!!

    Reply
    1. Carsforsale.com Team August 24, 2020

      That’s great!

  11. TipTop August 27, 2020

    I’ve always loved long roofs. Loved the Magnum first time I saw one. Bought an ’05 sxt as our go everywhere family car. 250k later trans went, that was it, no other issues ever. In 2017 I found a beautiful, immaculate completely stock silver Hemi RT with every option ever made for it with only “37K” miles on it! What a find! Have 65k now. I love these cars! So wish they we would bring back the magnum, love to have a new one sitting next to my ’05 RT!

    Reply
    1. Carsforsale.com Team August 27, 2020

      It would be great if they brought them back!

  12. Tom August 27, 2020

    I have a 2008 Magnum SXT and a 2005 Magnum RT. I initially bought the SXT for it’s badass looks but wanted more power so I found an older RT. Wow, the RT is almost as much fun as my teenage car, an all around drum brake ’65 GTO, and later years a BMW M535i (in Germany).
    They both are so much fun to drive, the SXT would be a much better car if it only had the slap 5 spd like the RT.
    My only complaint with these cars is they attract door dents from careless drivers and manual trannies were not available on any Dodge LX platform (Magnum, 300 and Charger) that I’m aware of. My wife continually asks me to sell one, but they both have their moments and uses. The SXT gets better mileage and is a great everyday car.

    Reply
    1. Carsforsale.com Team August 27, 2020

      Thanks for sharing!

  13. Anita Givens September 22, 2020

    Please bring them back had a 2006 would love to get me another one please bring them back it a smoke gray smoke gray come back

    Reply
    1. Carsforsale.com Team September 22, 2020

      Maybe someday they will! Thanks for checking out our blog Anita!

  14. Jeff October 4, 2020

    Just bought a silver 2006 R/T AWD, always wanted one and a little love and attention she will be a stunner!

    Reply
    1. Carsforsale.com Team October 5, 2020

      That’s great!

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