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ROYAL FORD

Strong, and not silent

Dodge Magnum SRT/8 is a rare breed of high-performance station wagon

You won't sneak up on a weekend yard sale in this station wagon. The 2007 Dodge Magnum SRT/8 is not a utilitarian suburban vehicle. Instead, it is one of a rare breed of high-performance station wagons that, while offering some utility, are actually sportier than some sports cars and high-powered sedans and coupes.

And while it is fair to ask why we need a vehicle like this one at a time when gasoline prices are soaring, it should also be noted that the cost of gas has not affected Americans' thirst for the open road, at least for now. Besides, this wagon is so specialized that anyone who falls in love with its looks and/or performance will not likely be worrying about gasoline consumption.

For the record, the Magnum's 6.1-liter Hemi V-8 engine delivered 16.1 miles per gallon in Globe testing -- certainly making it fodder for those who disdain the nation's gasoline gluttony. But our job here is to tell you what is rolling on today's roads and whether a particular vehicle lives up to its promise.

The Magnum has the distinct look of a 1950s wagon that has been chopped and channeled by an urban car club. That includes big wheels (featuring 14-inch Brembo brakes with red calipers that are clearly in view), a pronounced hipline topped by thin top-to-bottom glass all-around, and a roof that looks like it surely crunches the heads of those seated inside.

But remarkably, the car does have ample headroom. There also is plenty of legroom, front and rear. The interior space that suffers is the rear cargo area, which feels pinched. There is lower cargo storage in the back, which helps. And considering what the power of this roaring wagon could do to groceries, an optional tie-down package for them is recommended. Or you could just purchase ratcheting nylon straps and save money.

The leather-bolstered seats (there's a grippy material in center to prevent slipping) are some of the most comfortable around, front and rear. This means the ride for four is superb, but the poor passenger in the middle rear seat will have to "hump" it on home.

Gauges are pronounced, with a black-on-white display and a comforting blue glow at night.

So you have rugged retro outside looks, a modern cockpit feel to the interior, and a tremulous rumble to announce your arrival. That rumble comes from the Hemi V-8 with its 425 horsepower -- 85 more than the standard Magnum R/T. Yes, it would be an insane motor in a high performance car, but in a station wagon? Why not? Just think of it as a hot sedan with a very high trunk lid.

The sound the engine makes is guttural even when barely stoked by the gas pedal. When pulling out to pass, a driver has the distinct sense that keeping the rear behind the car could be a challenge, if various electronic stability controls were turned off.

Firm in the corners and stable on the straights, the Magnum is a remarkably smooth if frisky ride. The Mercedes-Benz-derived five-speed automatic transmission (with manual option) held low gears into the high-rev range for those who like to wind out their power plants.

There was some wind noise at higher speeds, but the sound of the engine, while noticeable, was soothing. It is, after all, a sound enthusiasts pay extra to hear.

The Magnum is certainly not a car for everyone, not even in its base form, and most certainly not in this ready-for-the-drag-strip-after-the-groceries-are-unloaded version.

But there was a time when getting a car with the specialized looks, performance, and sounds of the Magnum meant ordering aftermarket parts and engineering, and paying for lots of custom body work.

Now, someone can just go buy it off the showroom floor.

Royal Ford can be reached at ford@globe.com.

2007 Dodge Magnum SRT/8

THE BASICS

Base price/as tested: $37,670/$41,900

Fuel economy: 16.1 miles per gallon in Globe testing/premium fuel

Annual fuel cost: $2,447 (at $3.03 per gallon, regular, 13,000 miles per year)

THE EARLY LINE

Yes, it sucks fuel, making it politically incorrect. But it does fill a small niche in the market.

THE SPECIFICS

Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive

Seating: 5

Horsepower: 425

Torque: 420 lb.-ft.

Length: 197.7 inches

Wheelbase: 120.0 inches

Height: 58.3 inches

Width: 74.1 inches

Curb weight: 3,896 pounds

THE SKINNY

Nice touch: Surprisingly good visibility all around for a car with such a crunched greenhouse.

Annoyance: The cruise control stem sits where the turn signal stem should be. Really annoying.

Watch for: A revised 2008 Magnum, perhaps even more muscular.

SHOP IT AGAINST

LAND ROVER RANGE ROVER SPORT Really more SUV than wagon, but with the 4.2-liter, 390-horsepower supercharged V-8, it can also be more hot rod than SUV. It's also a world-class off-road machine. To fully load this Land Rover, you'll pay about $70,000.

AUDI A6 AVANT 3.2 S-LINE Its 255 horsepower may seem puny in this context. But it drives and handles like a sports car and comes with the added feature of Audi's superb all-wheel drive. Priced in the 50s and 60s.

2007 MERCEDES-BENZ E63 AMG You can buy a couple of Magnum SRT/8s for what this costs, but raising horses can be expensive -- about $90,000 for 507 horsepower and a seven-speed automatic with manual option.

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