Magnum begins new Chrysler era
'Sports tourer' is first rear-wheel drive Dodge in 30 years
By Ed Garsten / The Detroit News
LOS ANGELES -- First of all, don't call the Dodge Magnum SRT-8 a station wagon -- even though it's the spittin' image of a jaunty family hauler.
DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group prefers "sports tourer," a genre the automaker pioneered with the upcoming Chrysler Pacifica.
Making its world debut today at the 2003 Los Angeles Auto Show, the SRT-8 is what Chrysler design chief Trevor Creed calls a "production ready concept," meaning the Magnum that arrives in showrooms in 2004 will bear a strong resemblance to the auto show version.
Magnum is a key vehicle for Chrysler and represents a collection of firsts:
Its introduction marks the first all-new large car platform from Chrysler in a decade.
It is Dodge's first rear-wheel drive vehicle in more than three decades and the first in a lineup of rear-wheel drive models that will replace Chrysler's aging line of big sedans.
It is the first high-volume model to incorporate technology from Chrysler's corporate cousin Mercedes-Benz, borrowing its suspension, transmission and steering from Mercedes E-Class sedans.
Magnum will arrive on the market as part of a new product offensive designed to boost worldwide sales of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep cars and trucks by 1 million units annually by the end of the decade.
"In terms of performance, design and function, the Dodge Magnum SRT-8 concept will leave its mark as one of the coolest vehicles on the road," said Chrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche. "It is aimed squarely at the next wave of automotive enthusiasts looking for passionate performance, an all-new proportion and a vehicle you can use for just about anything."
To be sure, the Magnum is no sedate station wagon clone as Chrysler continues to position Dodge as a brand of power and performance.
A 5.7 liter Hemi V-8 engine will be available on production models while the concept vehicle is powered by a supercharged version producing 430 horsepower.
A long hood, sweeping roofline, large wheel arches and imposing grille combine to give Magnum a powerful and aggressive road stance.
If the concept version is any indication, the Magnum's interior is likely to feature machined aluminum accents, 60/40 split rear seats and overall seating 2 1/2 inches higher than current Dodge passenger cars.
The opening to the rear cargo area is maximized by placing the hinges for the rear hatch door further up the roof line rather than at the edge. The rear seats can be stowed to create a flat load floor.
"Our design objective with Dodge Magnum was to break away from the pack," Creed said.
Both rear-wheel and all-wheel-drive models will be produced.
After years of promoting front-wheel drive vehicles, which offer greater fuel-efficiency, better traction on bad roads and lower manufacturing costs, automakers are returning to rear-wheel drive, which offers the smoother handling and performance coveted by driving enthusiasts.
Many luxury brands, particularly Euruopean marques such as BMW and Mercedes, ignored the front-wheel drive phenomenon. Chrysler's relationship with Mercedes has made its move to rear-wheel drive easier, although Chrysler has said it was planning the change before the union with Daimler-Benz in 1998.
While Magnum pricing will be announced later, Creed said one challenge for Chrysler is to incorporate rear-wheel technology without sacrificing the affordability of mass market Chrysler and Dodge models.