Reviews: Dodge Magnum versus Chrysler 300 C

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Update: This is the last year for the Magnum so good deals could abound.

A perfect license plate for either the Chrysler 300C sedan or the Dodge Magnum station wagon would be “Attention Hog.” That’s right, these cars gather eyes as easily as Donald Trump fires people. Call it risk taking or just plain back to the future thinking, but DaimlerChrylser has created two family haulers that are credit friendly, handle well, and stir the juices. What is more noteworthy is the company has brought back the HEMI engine and that brand name still has cachet with many buyers, even though we feel that having 340 horsepower in a passenger sedan or wagon is clearly overkill. However, Chrysler did it responsibly providing good gas mileage figures of over 20 mpg. After driving models with the base six cylinder and the bad boy HEMI we whole-heartedly recommend you drive both the sedan and the wagon with each of the three available engines because you might be surprised. Although a lot of attention has been placed on the HEMI the other eight-cylinder engine and the base six-cylinder model are more than adequate except for mountain driving and towing.Inside the Dodge and Chrysler there is room for four with five a possibility. The interior is modern and certainly not what one would expect of a Chrysler product in the past. The trunk has a very handy cargo net and except for a short-range remote, is easy to open and load.Of course, our favorite was the Magnum because of its in your face chopped top appearance. Indeed, it reminded us of the coveted Chevrolet Nomad wagon with it small windows and high waistline. This is one Dodge that looks like a custom car and can even be modified to make it even trendier.

Riding this bumper crop (pun intended) of DaimlerChrysler products the company has decided that the HEMI should be modified even more and is going to provide one with 425 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque, special Brembo brakes, retuned suspension, and supercar performance. Can you say world class?

With most new products there is some need for refinements. The seats can be uncomfortable, especially the less adjustable passenger seat, and the visibility to the rear and to the sides is restricted for both the Dodge and Chrysler. The plastic seems to be less attractive looking than in other vehicles in this price range and we noticed the covering of the front headlights had small irregularities. Tire noise is noticeable, but the wind noise made is very subdued. We also noted that there is just one key lock and that is for the driver’s door. Small quibbles aside, this is a superior first effort from DaimlerChrysler.Mom’s view: Understated would not be a term to describe these two fellows. They are in your face, larger than life, and appear to have been dipped inside and out in the chrome tank. That being said, it is not a bad ride and the cars have very good safety ratings and certain to be someone’s pick for car of the year.Chrysler offers three engine choices starting with a base 190-hp V6, a Touring version with a 250-hp V6, and the HEMI. When this large displacement engine is tucked into the sedan it continues one of the alphabet Chrysler cars being labeled a 300C model. I have no idea what they are going to call the sedan when it hosts an even more powerful engine with 425 horsepower planned should anyone need to fulfill some primal need for speed.Between the wagon and sedan my choice would be the sedan. I found the Dodge Magnum station wagon’s leisurely ride, limited rear visibility, difficult to activate horn, and hard seats not to my liking when compared to the 300 sedan.Although there is no doubt the Magnum is an excellent station wagon and one of the best bargains we have ever driven with a base price of just $21,870 (US) for the six-cylinder model. Perhaps my love hate relationship with the Magnum was the rear hatch. It was huge and allowed me to load more than any other wagon ever did. Unfortunately, closing this hatch was next to impossible unless you grabbed the rear wiper arm. There is just not an adequate handle and it drove me to distraction, as I had to wrestle it down. Perhaps for a few hundred extra Dodge could put in the power lift gate from their fabulous mini van. It would be well worth it. Another concern was the limited horn activation area. There are just two small places you can push to complete the circuit to sound the horn making it very difficult to use in an emergency. The positive news is the horn has a beefy sound similar to the Cadillac.

Finally, it is difficult to explain what an improved ride these two vehicles had over previous front wheel drive models. There are easy cars to drive long distances once you find a comfortable seating position.Dad’s view: The Buzz is all HEMI, but that is not what impressed me the most about these two new products from DaimlerChrysler. The pricing is stunning. If you can avoid the need for the HEMI these can be in your driveway with a terrific six cylinder willing to provide you with 250 horsepower for well under $25,000 (US). That is a bargain of the first magnitude.However, since we can not argue with the public we did feel that the 340 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque the HEMI engine provides is notable not so much for its obvious grunt, but for the fact you can honestly get well over 20 mpg with it thanks to Chrysler’s Multi-Displacement System, which deactivates four cylinders in idle and cruise conditions to save fuel. Indeed, the EPA fuel-economy estimates range from 21/28-mpg city/highway for the 2.7-liter six to 17/23 for the Hemi even when equipped with optional all-wheel drive.We tested the 300C and it comes very well endowed. There are standard four-wheel disc brakes, ABS and antiskid/traction control, tilt/telescope steering wheel, power driver seat, 18-inch wheels, and such options as curtain side airbags, satellite radio, navigation system, and a hands-free wireless link to a cell phone.The transmission for the 2.7-liter and 3.5-liter V-6 engine in the Dodge Magnum wagon had a four speed automatic transmission while the HEMI used a fine five speed automatic unit that comes with Chrysler’s AutoStick driver-interactive manual control for shift it yourself fans. I never bothered as the big HEMI had enough torque to pull you free of any traffic without the need for my input.

There is going to be a lot of arguing about whether the HEMI is worth the extra thousands. A check with can give you the latest sales evaluation numbers, but it is safe to say that with the additional insurance premiums and higher fuel usage it would be hard to justify the 340 horsepower option as an investment especially when the six cylinder is so darn good. I doubt many people would even notice the difference especially since it provides more horsepower than the police special Ford Crown
Victoria with its V8.
Although it may look large, the 300C is not nearly as large as the Ford Crown
Victoria. It has a length of 196.8 in. compared to the Fords 212 and is four inches narrower. However, both weigh nearly the same at a rotund two tons and, surprisingly, the Chrysler has the longer wheelbase by six inches. The interior space of both vehicles is nearly identical, but the Ford has a huge trunk that is much easier to load than the Chrysler’s.
As might be imagined, the handling in the wagon was much softer than the 300 C due to its softer and more pliant suspension settings. In both vehicles the brakes were very good, however I would have liked more brake pedal feel in the Magnum. The steering for such large vehicles is precise and the ESP technology takes over when you over extend yourself in corners.Both the Magnum and the 300 are brutish looking and nothing else on the road can be mistaken for them. That is both good and bad. The good news is that you are going to be driving a vehicle that makes a statement. The downside is that people tend to believe that statement is an invitation to race. Call if the influence of the Chrysler ad campaign, but outside of a BMW or Porsche, we have never been invited to so many stop light challenges as when in these two family oriented vehicles.A word about the spaciousness of the Magnum wagon’s interior is well worth noting as it measures 133.1 cubic feet. Even with the rear seats folded, there’s 71.6 cubic feet, or 27.2 cubic feet with rear seats up. That is right up there with a Ford Explorer.Young business woman’s view: Understated would not be the operational word when you see these two parked in your driveway. Their looks demand your attention. Even the interiors, although much less outspoken than the exteriors, are not for the trendy. Call it meat and potatoes, but elegant it ain’t. Still, the ride is fine and the highway miles fly by without much notice.There is a lot to like and a lot to consider with these newcomers. Driving in town is a different experience as the side and back visibility is impinged upon by the wide C pillars. The ignition key fits into the dash, which is always nice, and the gauges are easy to read. The heat and stereo controls don’t fall as readily to hand. The stalk for the cruise control is easily confused with the turn signal stalk, although you push it in a different direction. The one area that business people are going to appreciate is the strong position DaimlerChrysler’s pricing policy has placed on sales. These are what I call “peg” cars. The set a pricing standard that others manufacturers must meet to be competitive. There are a few of these cars such as the base Honda Accord, the Scion C, the Ford Escape hybrid, the turbocharged Neon, and the base Toyota van that serve as price points that are difficult to match. For example, the Ford Escape is almost priced the same as a loaded Toyota Prius and offers much more room and even an all wheel drive option.However, despite the excellent values, these rear wheel drive car of the year candidates are not my dream cars for three reasons. First, the image they convey is too bold for me. Secondly, even though they ride smoothly, have good balance, and appear to be well built, I don’t need that much cargo room and I don’t like the side visibility issue every time I change lanes.Young working male’s view: You can clearly tell that the DaimlerChrylser marriage has produced an interesting, but not elegant, offspring. The 300C looks like a Dodge Ram truck mated with a Mercedes E Class. Anyway, I dropped the genetics class so I might be off a touch with that insight.In a nutshell, both cars ride on independent suspensions that earn their keep by steadying these 4000 pounders in all but the most extreme situations . The wide tires and bulk of the cars seem to push most bumps back into the pavement and only a nervous twitching when the tires try to relay messages from diamond cut concrete highways prevents you from feeling totally isolated from the road. The acceleration for both cars was not brisk, despite the HEMI’s reputation. I figure it takes over six seconds to get to 60 mph in the 300C and about nine in the six cylinder Dodge Magnum. That is fast enough for me when driving such large cars, but for the speed challenged the new 425 horsepower HEMI should be the cure.Of the two I really liked the Magnum the most. It had a nasty top chop look, held all my sports equipment and other unused items such as a nearly unopened genetics textbook, and was fairly frugal on regular fuel. The optional sound system is quite good and the safety equipment typical for this segment with advanced airbag system with front and side-curtains available, anti-lock brakes, all-speed traction control system, and electronic stability program.Family conference: American cars are clearly making a comeback and Chrysler is doing more than its share. We really like the new offerings, especially when you keep the option list under control. For a list of all vehicle websites go to and click on business.