An Also-Ran Matures Into A Real Competitor

2011 Dodge Journey
2011 Dodge Journey - Click above for high-res image gallery

With all of the Chrysler models receiving updates both significant and otherwise, it's understandable if you've gotten a little lost in the fray. Here's what you need to know: One of the most surprising bright lights to come out of the company's refresh bender is the 2011 Dodge Journey. While the 2011 Dodge Charger and Durango may have stolen the spotlight with their new sheetmetal, the Journey has transmogrified into a small family hauler that offers plenty of horsepower, acceptable fuel economy and a massively updated interior. There's even one of the quickest and largest touchscreens of any vehicle we've come across nestled in the dash.

Given Chrysler's recently discovered love of installing much-improved interiors in its vehicles, the newfound goodies indoors should come as no surprise. But the company's engineers seem to have spent just as much time tweaking the crossover's driving character, resulting in a complete package that has turned it from being a washed-up never-was into a competitor almost overnight.

Continue reading...

Related Gallery2011 Dodge Journey: Quick Spin
2011 Dodge Journey2011 Dodge Journey2011 Dodge Journey2011 Dodge Journey2011 Dodge Journey2011 Dodge Journey2011 Dodge Journey2011 Dodge Journey

Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL

Despite the significant changes under the Journey's skin, the designers at Dodge decided to stick close to the refresh playbook outside, giving the high-riding MPV a few mild aesthetic tweaks instead of a complete reskin. Look closely, and you'll notice a new fascia up front, complete with a revised corporate split-crosshair grille, along with fresh 19-inch alloys. The rear wears new LED tail lights, but otherwise, don't expect any bold styling announcements to differentiate the 2011 from the 2010 model.

Jump indoors, and that story changes instantly. Dodge said that when it came time to rework the cabin, the company's designers looked around and realized that coming up with new shades of gray plastic wasn't doing anyone any favors. While we're assured that Dodge plans on implementing more interesting colors in the future, right now we're quite smitten with the Pearl leather thrones of our tester. The white, high-quality hide stitched with dark orange thread make for three rows of beautiful, if stain-inviting, seating.

2011 Dodge Journey side view2011 Dodge Journey front view2011 Dodge Journey rear view

Chrysler is making a big push to implement single-piece, soft touch instrument panels in the majority of its products, and the 2011 Dodge Journey benefits from the effort. Moving away from multi-piece dashboards reduces the likelihood of squeaks and rattles while slimming the chance that something will be installed improperly at the factory. The soft-touch material, while nice to poke, also has the added bonus of allowing designers to throw in zero-millimeter tolerances for things like HVAC bezels. The combined effect is one very clean, very well-put together dash – a colossal improvement on what was one of the most haphazard and discount instrument panels in the industry.

But chances are that most buyers won't even notice the micrometer-thin tolerances thanks to the epic 8.5-inch touchscreen that hogs all the attention indoors. Along with crystal-clear graphics, the screen is lightening quick, offering none of the press-and-wait hassle of older units. Flipping through satellite radio stations is instantaneous, with no discernible pause between the second you click the next button and when the tunes kick in. We love it, and other manufacturers would do well to invest in similar tech.

2011 Dodge Journey interior2011 Dodge Journey front seats2011 Dodge Journey navigation system2011 Dodge Journey engine

Like most of the Dodge fleet, the Toluca, Mexico-built Journey is now available with the company's new Pentastar 3.6-liter V6. In this guise, engine delivers 283 horsepower at 6,350 rpm and 260 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. With 20 percent more than before, this seven-passenger bruiser feels downright spry compared to its predecessor. With shifting detail soaked up by a smart-swapping six-speed automatic, we couldn't find much of anything to complain about under the hood. With the V6 kicking all four tires, buyers can expect an acceptable 16 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, though front-wheel-drive guise nets a marginally better 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. For the truly frugal, the Journey is also available with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder, but its 173 hp at 6,000 rpm and 166 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm strike us as a bit underwhelming for toting around a vehicle of this size – particularly because it's yoked to a humble four-speed automatic.

From behind the tiller, the Journey doesn't drive like a beast capable of hauling around seven well-fed Americans, but it will do exactly that in a pinch (the third row accommodations remain a bit skimpy). Thanks to a quicker-ratio steering rack and a host of stiffer springs and bushings, the 2011 Journey is neither soft nor all that cumbersome in the corners given its size and weight. We're not sure how Dodge engineers managed to pull off this feat of physics, but we hope to see more of the same action in the future. The only time we got a sense of the substantial mass we were lugging around was after a quick decent down a winding mountain road on the launch around San Francisco. By the time we reached the bottom, the Journey's brakes had grown soft trying to scrub momentum.

2011 Dodge Journey rear 3/4 view2011 Dodge Journey headlight2011 Dodge Journey wheel detail2011 Dodge Journey exhaust system

Dodge will ask for just $22,245 for the base Journey Express, though that model packs the anemic four-cylinder engine from last year and not much else. Fortunately, if you want the more capable V6 (and believe us – you do), the oddly named Journey Mainstreet starts at $24,245. Our Crew-spec tester came in around $5,000 more than that figure, and threw in tricks like the excellent touchscreen and impressive leather seats among other niceties. Expect to tack on around $750 worth of destination charges for each model.

It's nothing short of amazing how much Dodge has managed to change the Journey in such a short period of time. By going back and addressing woes that kept this crossover from being competitive, the company has churned out the next best thing to a completely new generation of vehicle. With a little more work in the fuel-economy and exterior styling department, this could be an unlikely top-runner in a hotly competitive segment.

Related Gallery2011 Dodge Journey: Quick Spin
2011 Dodge Journey2011 Dodge Journey2011 Dodge Journey2011 Dodge Journey2011 Dodge Journey2011 Dodge Journey2011 Dodge Journey2011 Dodge Journey

Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL