First Drive: 2008 Dodge Magnum SRT8
Dodge is toughening up the look of its butch Magnum for 2008 with more menacing front-end styling and upgraded interior materials. Little has changed in the powertrain and chassis departments, but the SRT gang decided to throw a little track-day party to launch the hot-rod 6.1-liter, 425-horse Magnum SRT8. Its new hood scoop is functional, and air inlets in the fascia improve cooling to the front brakes. The fascia design also is credited with reducing aerodynamic lift by a small margin. Front Bilstein monotube shocks and rear Nivomat self-leveling shocks each get minor revisions in tuning, as do those on the SRT8 versions of its Charger and Chrysler 300C platform mates, which boast Bilsteins at all four corners this year (previously, they all had the Nivomats in back).
Inside, the Magnum gets agate-color accent stitching, carbon-fiber leather-trim door handles, an improved grip-enhancing carbon-fiber leather-trim steering wheel, and LED lighting in the cupholders and door-map pockets. The coolest new feature: a reconfigurable display in the instrument cluster can now track the vehicle's performance, measuring 0-to-60-mph time, eighth- or quarter-mile acceleration, braking distance from any speed, and lateral and longitudinal acceleration. The latter can be viewed graphically in real time via a friction circle, or the peak values can be expressed numerically, say at the end of a lap. This feature is shared with the Charger and 300C SRT8s, but not with the Grand Cherokee SRT8.
All four of these Hemi fire-breathers were available for hot-lapping at Virginia International Raceway, and back-to-back sessions reveal subtle differences in personality among the LX cars. The Chrysler's damping rates are about 25 percent softer, and in the few places on the track where the suspension gets compressed, this difference can be felt. The Charger and Magnum are tuned similarly, but the extra weight and different shocks in back make it easier to slide the rear end out on the Magnum when the ESP stability control is switched off. When ESP is on and these cars are driven on the proper racing line, the system never cuts power, it only trims wheel speeds slightly to stay on course. They return impressive performance, given their size and fitment with all-season Eagle RS-A tires (Eagle F1 Supercar tires are a no-cost option, which would doubtless further reduce the amount of ESP intervention).
The craziest vehicle to drive at VIR was the big boxy Grand Cherokee, which wins the award for most dramatic departure from the donor car. Its all-wheel drive puts the power down perfectly, and its ESP calibration allows gentle drifting in the faster corners. All of the cars feature an Autostick shifter, none gets the steering-wheel shift buttons we've come to expect. It's unfortunate to have to take your hands off the wheel to shift while setting up for a corner --especially in the more upright Jeep. We also take issue with the amount of self-shifting these trannies provide when you think you're in full manual mode. All SRT8s provide deep reserves of braking from their huge red Brembo calipers.
These are immensely entertaining vehicles to hurl around a race track, though they'd probably just feel immense if one were dicing with other cars for position. But if you want hairy acceleration, a burly exhaust rumble, and a dash of flash, the Magnum and its SRT8 sibs are hard to beat for the price ($38,993-$44,223, if current guzzler-tax estimates hold).
|2008 Dodge Magnum SRT-8|
|Vehicle layout||Front engine, RWD, 4-pass, 4-door, wagon|
|Engine||6.1L/425-hp/420-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8|
|Curb weight||4250 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||197.7 x 74.1 x 57.9 in|
|0-60 mph||5.1 sec (MT est)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||12 / 18mpg (est)|
|CO2 emissions||1.37 lb/mile (est)|
|On sale in U.S.||Currently|