May 24, 2006 Review and photos by Peter Bleakney For those of you who think "minivan" is really just an acronym for Manhood Is Not Intact, Vasectomized And Neutered, Dodge has built the ultimate anti-soccer-mom car for you - although calling the 2006 Magnum SRT-8 a domestic hauler might be a bit of a stretch. I highly doubt the lads at Dodge's Street and Racing Technology skunkworks, while sliding a specially prepped 6.1-litre 425-horsepower Hemi V8 under the hood of the all-ready brutish Magnum R/T, were thinking "family". Well, maybe the Adams Family. The Dodge Magnum SRT-8 took top honours this year in AJAC's inaugural Modern Muscle Car category - and for good reason. The pumped-up Hemi also puts out a tire-smoking 420 lb/ft of torque @ 4200 rpm. This engine is more than just a bored out "regular" 5.7-litre Hemi. The compression ratio jumps from 9.6:1 to 10.3:1, and the engine benefits from higher-flow cylinder heads, a new intake manifold with shorter and larger-diameter runners for better high-end performance, a hotter cam, and stainless steel headers. The valves are larger, with hollow stems (sodium filled for the exhaust), and the bottom end is beefed up with a forged steel crankshaft, high strength connecting rods, and an oil pan modified to manage oil return at high engine speeds. The floating-pin pistons are cooled by oil squirters All this adds up to a Hemi with a power peak arriving at 6000 rpm, up 1000 rpm from the 5.7-litre version. And what a peak it is. While the standard 340-hp Magnum is merely very fast, this iteration is ferocious in the way it explodes down the tarmac when all 425 horses stampede from the corral. The Hemi bellows in the finest NASCAR tradition, and if you're using the manual override of the Mercedes-derived 5-speed Auto/Stick tranny, you'll be bumping up against the rev limiter in second gear before you can say, "Oh hello officer. Here's my license and here's a lighter." The madness continues as long as you have the nerve to keep your foot in it. So what can one call this bizarre vehicular apparition? A muscle car? A family vehicle? The world's fastest hearse? I'll tell you what it is. It's the sneering, snorting mutant offspring of a Country Squire and the devil's own hell-wagon. It's a Gothic gorilla for the urban jungle. It's just plain silly. Dodge claims the SRT-8 hits 100 km/h in the low fives, dispenses with the quarter-mile in the mid-thirteens, and will howl to 160 km/h (100 mph) and screech to a dead stop in just over 16 seconds. Not bad for a 1932-kilogram station wagon... er, sports tourer. Ah, yes. We must address that nasty issue of fuel economy. The 6.1-L Hemi requires premium fuel, and doesn't benefit from the multi-displacement system of the 5.7-L Hemi engine. Therefore, all eight cylinders are firing all the time, and they're thirsty puppies. I saw a sobering 14.1 L/100 km over a week of mixed city and highway driving. Interestingly, this is exactly the same mileage I got from a Dodge Charger R/T Daytona with the 5.7-L I recently tested. The SRT-8 is not all about anti-social hooliganism. Treat the throttle with a modicum of restraint and it's a pussycat around town. The massive 20-inch wheels and half-inch lowered ride height make it a tad harsher than the regular Magnum R/T, but otherwise the SRT-8 exhibits all the attributes of the other DaimlerChrysler LX vehicles that use this modified version of the previous generation Mercedes E-Class chassis. We're talking a big tourer with a refined, rock-solid and comfortable comportment. This muscle car has been to finishing school. But no muscle car ever handled or stopped like this. Although the helm is too numb for my tastes, it is quite accurate, enabling one to guide the Magnum SRT-8 with precision. As would be expected with such footwear, grip is astounding, but the well-sorted chassis follows suit with a flat and balanced attitude. The Brembo brakes (360 x 32 mm vented front, 350 x 28 mm rear) haul the big beast down effortlessly, with excellent pedal feel. Electronic stability control (ESP) is a real good idea in a car like this, and Dodge has special calibrations for the SRT-8. Hammer the throttle in second gear while attacking an on-ramp, and the back end will kick out before the electronic nannies rein things in. Press the ESP OFF button on the dash, and the Hemi can smoke the huge 255/45ZR20-inch Goodyear Eagle F1s until the neighbours call the fire brigade. Or so I heard. Inside, the Magnum SRT-8 features aggressively bolstered (but still extremely comfy) sport seats with red stitching, suede inserts and an SRT-8 logo emblazoned on the headrest. The pedal cluster is power adjustable. The standard 11-speaker Kicker sound system with in-dash six CD/MP3 changer and steering wheel-mounted controls deserves honourable mention here. It is beautifully clear, rich and accurate. Although the interior is not opulent, it is elegant in its simplicity, and the materials and build quality are very good. The only available colour scheme is a Dark Slate Grey/Slate Grey combo with an SRT specific Satin Silver finish on the centre stack. Visibility is somewhat compromised by the low roofline, but not as bad as you'd expect. A couple of ergonomic nigglies bugged me. The cruise control stalk sits right above the turn signal stalk, and I found myself continually flicking the wrong one when trying to indicate a turn. In addition, the deep-set speedo (300 kph) and tach (6250 rpm red-line) are hard to see in bright daylight. And believe me, you really want to know how fast you're going in this car. With the speedo divided into 30 km/h chunks (and each of these divided into four… you do the math), it would benefit from a Porsche-like digital readout below the gauge. The Magnum SRT-8 comes in only three shades - Bright Silver, Red Crystal Pearl Coat and Brilliant Black. At a base price of $46,190, the Magnum STR-8 is a performance bargain. The only direct competitor I can think of is the 469-hp Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG Sport Wagon, which will deplete your child's college fund by well over twice that amount. My tester's options included the $895 SRT Option Group I (dual zone air conditioning, air filtering, heated front seats, rear cargo organizer) and the $390 supplemental side airbags. A selling feature for wannabe hot-shoe parents will be the Magnum's obvious utility. Granted, the load space is somewhat compromised by the stylish sloping roof, but there is a decent 773 litres (27.3 cu. ft.) of space behind the 60/40 split rear seats, which swells to 2027 litres (71.6 cu. ft.) when they're folded flat. There is also a carpeted compartment under a clever folding false floor, a 12-volt outlet, and retractable cargo cover. Although no rear seat DVD system is available, the Magnum SRT-8 has another family-friendly feature that works wonders in quelling back seat bickerers. A firm prod on the happy pedal has the young 'uns going all quiet and wide-eyed as the mighty Hemi clears its throat and presses their little backsides into the seat. Tres effective. My sojourn with the Magnum SRT-8 ended without incident. I still have my license, I got to embrace my inner grease-ball with a couple of honest-to-gawd burnouts, and I now have enough points on my gas card to get a toaster-oven. All in all, a pretty good week.