The 2009 Dodge Journey carries the size and shape of a typical crossover, and it has seating for seven and all the amenities you could possibly ask for at $30,000. On paper, the Journey has a plenty of things in its favor, yet we had our doubts.
First off, it looks a lot like the Dodge Caravan, which works against the Journey when considering that many crossover buyers want to avoid the minivan stigma. It's also based on the less than impressive Chrysler Sebring platform, which we have found to be just awful. Then there is Chrysler's corporate 3.5L engine, which is less powerful, refined and efficient than similarly sized engines from its competition. Chrysler's recent track record for vehicles that are less than class competitive also lent support to our notion that the Journey might be a letdown. Regardless, we tried to clear our minds of these things when the Journey arrived for a week-long stay in the Autoblog Garage. Hit the jump to see how Chrysler's new crossover fared.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.
Our well equipped Journey R/T FWD finished in Inferno Red Crystal Pearl Coat Dodge came equipped with a sunroof, leather seating surfaces, a navigation system, second row DVD screen, and MyGig multimedia system among its many options. We basically got the "works" package, which tipped the price up considerably from the $26,785 base price of the Journey R/T to $32,375.
On the outside, the Journey has clean, straight lines and an athletic stance. The design also holds true to the main design themes of Chrysler's crosshair division. Our R/T model came equipped with large 19-inch chrome wheels that are shaded by the vehicle's bulging wheel arches. The minimalist corporate crosshair grille helps keep things simple up front, yet doesn't help the Journey make a memorable impression in the very crowded CUV segment. True story: on two occasions we walked right by the Journey while trying to find it in a parking lot. That doesn't happen when you're driving Nissan's new Murano, for instance.
Chrysler has struggled with interiors over the past several years, and the Auburn Hills-based automaker worked hard to get things right with the Journey. Materials are considerably better than they are in the Dodge Avenger, for example, with soft-touch surfaces on the dash and a more comfortable center console. Unfortunately, the improvements over other Chrysler interiors just aren't enough. For instance, while designers provided a flat surface for the driver's left arm to rest on the window sill, it's made of hard plastic and made our arm sore. The arm right below that's built into the door has a little give to it, but it's too low for a short arm to reach. The Journey's seats are also stiff and lacking in proper thigh support for long drives.
One thing Chrysler excels at is adding nifty features that make life easier for both the driver and passengers, and the Journey excels in this area. There is a storage area under the front passenger seat, a place above the glove box to keep your beverage cool, and gaming ports for the LCD screen. Oour personal favorite is the integrated child safety seats, which can be accessed by simply pulling a cord. As the father of two five year-olds, it's nice not switching car seats between my wife's car and mine. The integrated safety seats also mean I don't have to haul around two thoroughly stained pink booster seats that just get in the way when the kids aren't in the car.
We were left scratching our heads, however, with Dodge's decision to put seven seats in a space that can only comfortably fit five. The third row is so small that my 12-year-old and her friend had their knees up to their chests because there was no leg room. To make room for the ill-fitting third row, Chrysler also had to move the second row forward, which has far from class-leading leg room as it is.
While the crossover segment isn't where you'd expect to find a well-heeled, athletic chassis, the segment overall has improved greatly in this area over the past couple years. Given that the Journey is based on the floating, ponderous Sebring platform, we didn't have high hopes for it. Fortunately, our bias was easily stripped as the Journey was surprisingly capable on the open road. A trip to Chrysler's Chelsea proving grounds showed that the Journey could take hard cornering with relative ease and not a scary amount of body roll, and the Journey felt solid and in control on rough pavement.
Steering was another area where the Journey surprised us based on our exposure to the Sebring, as it provides good feedback of the road beneath your feet. While the Sebring's lifeless steering wheel is downright scary, the Journey's actually communicates the road to you and isn't so overly assisted that it feels like a wet noodle in your hand.
Chrysler's 3.5L V6 is the top shelf engine offered in the Journey, and while it provides adequate grunt to get you going, this ancient mill is still far from similar engine offerings by Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford and GM. With 235 horsepower and 232 lb-ft of torque, It's missing too much twisting force off the line and during highway passing situations. After driving other CUVs with 3.5L and larger V6 engines, the Journey gives the impression that there's an even smaller engine under hood. The six speed-automatic transmission, however, felt smoother than one we tried in the Sebring, which felt choppy and ill-calibrated. We would have liked the slush box to hold its gears a little longer during spirited driving, but Chrysler did provide a manual shifting mode. The Journey averaged a ho-hum 20.6 mpg during our time behind the wheel, which is almost exactly what we got in the much larger and more powerful Ford Flex.
While our one week with the Dodge Journey R/T was anything but exciting, Chrysler's newest crossover did perform beyond our expectations. Unfortunately, our expectations for the Journey were low, and this segment is filled with machines that virtues more appealing than the Journey. Chrysler has done a great job differentiating the Journey from its competition with neat features like storage bins and integrated child seats, but the issues we have with it are much more fundamental. While not quite good enough to stack up against the best vehicles in its class, the Dodge Journey R/T should find a few buyers who are enamored by its tricks.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.