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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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The Dodge Magnum 3.5L is, perhaps, the most fun car I’ve rented. This is not to say it’s a good car, but let’s dwell for a moment on the nice parts about the car:

  • It’s rear-wheel drive
  • The engine sounds tasty
  • It goes decently fast
  • It has about much carrying capacity as a light pickup
  • It actually has decent peripheral visibility
  • Aux input jack on the stereo
  • Trick (though flimsy) cupholders that adjust to the size of your beverage organically.

I think the Magnum is a perfect muscle car. It embodies everything muscle cars were supposed to be. It’s chief qualities:

  • Sort of fast
  • Horrible brakes
  • Horrible handling
  • Cheap
  • Heavy
  • Huge

I hate bullet points. I really wanted to get into the whole muscle car experience and love this ride, but it is, to be accurate, a disaster. Let’s start working through this beast in detail.

First off is the engine. It sounds brilliant. And it keeps sounding brilliant. Rev it to 4000, and it takes (yes, I timed it) 12 seconds for the needle to come back to idle. Heaven knows how long it would take without the rental car rev limiter. I don’t know if it’s a flywheel made of tungsten or some sort of goofy ECU thing, but it’s ridiculous. Does this matter? Not really, but it’s weird.

As long as we’re talking powertrain, I have two more issues. First off is the transmission. It has one of those tiptronic things, which we know are crap, so I’ll just abbreviate that rant with “it’s as bad as you would imagine.” But, even under normal driving, the shifting is horrible. Downshifts under moderate throttle take between 1-4 seconds and are unrefined. Upshifts under acceleration are a mess as well, poorly timed and extremely rough.

The steering is surprising in its precision, but it lacks even a hint of feedback as to what the car is doing. It brings me pain to admit htis, but I actually prefer the WRX steering, and that’s a first. I’ve found better steering in a minivan, and the steering in a base-model Jetta or Golf is so much better it’s embarassing.

I’m quite confiden the car was engineered to sound like it is out of control, while not actually permitting the user to get into any trouble. A gentle turn in the parking lot makes all sorts of squealing tire sounds, and an attempt to follow the curves of the road at the posted limit is enough create a symphony of tire and asphalt. Accelerate moderately out of a corner and the inside wheel tries to spin; a limited slip differential would do wonders for this monster.

This is not to mention that the thing handles like a pickup truck. The body roll is absurd, and attempts to turn the vehicle are meant with a slow ambling adjustment. Imagine driving a school bus, but make it about half as responsive. You just imagined yourself into a Dodge Magnum, only the school bus was the cooler car.

At 40 mph, hit the brakes at a moderate pressure. I’m not talking emergency stop here, I’m talking just a little bit harder than normal red-light stopping force. Say the pedal is depressed at 30% of maximum, for argument. The amount of squealing and complaint heard from the tires is absurd; if you close your eyes, you’d imagine that you’d gotten the car sideways, turned off ABS, and slammed on the brakes, but in fact you’re just executing a moderate stop in a straight line. It makes zero sense.

So yes, the nannies. The ESP ensures that this rear-drive vehicle understeers more than a Saab. Luckily, there’s an EPS off button in the cabin, though this exposes the second weakness: There is no traction control disable. Mind you, this doesn’t stop the inside wheel from losing grip and complaining on a gentle turn, but the car is engineered to be perfectly dull.

So let’s get right down to it. The car is huge. It’s heavy. It handles like a bus, doesn’t really go that fast, makes a lot of noise, and has about as much life in it as a Ford Focus. Its only trick is straight line acceleration, and it’s not nearly as satisfying (or fast) as a cheap turbo Japanese car.

Perhaps the HEMI version is more interesting, but this car is a waste. It gets a couple of points because it might make a good light truck replacement, but I’ll take a minivan, thank you. 2/10.