The 2011 Dodge Journey benefits from significant upgrades. The Journey is a midsize sport-utility that offers the smoother ride and better fuel economy of a car with the cargo space and roominess of an SUV. It seats five or seven, depending on model.
The 2011 Dodge Journey features a new V6 engine, a much more upscale interior, added sound deadener, and revised suspension tuning. Inside, the 2011 Journey gets Dodge's latest infotainment system, which is called UConnect Touch. Exterior styling is tweaked for 2011 as well, with new front and rear fascias, a revised grille, and LED taillights.
The Dodge Journey uses a lightweight unitbody structure similar to that used by cars instead of a body-on-frame truck chassis. It's considered a crossover vehicle because it straddles the line between car and SUV. The Journey is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive for superior traction and confidence in bad weather.
The new V6 for the 2011 Dodge Journey is a modern 3.6-liter engine that replaces an older 3.5-liter engine. The new 3.6-liter engine has plenty of power but is ill-matched to the 6-speed automatic transmission, making it feel less powerful than it actually is.
The 2011 Journey comes standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine of 173 horsepower. We found the four-cylinder engine is rough and noisy and offers too little power for a vehicle of this size.
Inside is where the Journey shines. The new interior design and materials give it one of the nicest cockpits in the class. It comes standard with seating for five, with a two-passenger third row optional. Either way it has useful, though not class leading, cargo space. Filling the Journey with adults won't make all your passengers happy, but the rear seat should work well for children. Seats flip and fold to provide a wide range of versatility in hauling people, cargo, or both. The Journey offers a fold-flat front passenger seat that will allow loading items up to nine feet long. It features some unique storage solutions owners will find useful. Among them: a bin under the front passenger seat, storage under the floor in the second row and behind the last row of seats, a dual glove box with Dodge's Chill Zone that cools soda cans, and all the usual cubbies up front, including a fairly deep center console. Entertainment options are plentiful, as the Journey has a six-disc CD changer standard and offers a rear DVD entertainment system and a hard-drive radio.
With prices starting around $22,000, the Journey offers affordable utility. We recommend the V6 engine, which provides that extra margin of power that many buyers will want, as well as much more refinement. Be careful when it comes to options, though, as it is easy to get the Journey over $30,000, money that can buy larger and/or more premium SUVs.
Dodge Journey Express ($22,245); Dodge Journey Mainstreet FWD ($24,245); Dodge Journey Mainstreet AWD ($25,945); Dodge Journey R/T FWD ($28,245); Dodge Journey R/T AWD ($29,945); Dodge Journey Crew FWD ($29,240); Dodge Journey Crew AWD ($30,940); Dodge Journey Lux ($32,740); Dodge Journey Lux AWD ($34,440)
On the outside, the Journey announces its presence with the familiar Dodge crosshair grille. The look might be described as bold. But the upright shape of the grille and its relation to the aluminum hood and windshield is very reminiscent of the current Dodge Grand Caravan, and no SUV ever earned sales by looking like a minivan.
Beneath the grille, the Journey has a larger air intake than the Grand Caravan. Actually, it runs the full width of the vehicle and is flanked on either side by integrated fog lights on Crew, R/T and Lux models. Around the sides, the Journey features pronounced wheel arches and a creased character line that starts at the top of each headlight, angles upward, and wraps completely around the vehicle. The roofline flows nicely from the windshield, curving down slightly front to rear. The B- and C-pillars are blacked out to, as Dodge puts it, give the look of a car-like greenhouse and an SUV-like lower half.
At the back, the Journey's taillights wrap around the sides of the vehicle and continue into the tailgate, which opens upward. The taillights themselves are now ringed by LEDs. The rear bumper has an integrated step pad that matches the height of the load floor. Models with the V6 engine can be distinguished by their dual chrome exhaust tips.
The Journey is bigger than it looks. In overall dimension, it is actually longer than such seven-passenger crossover competitors as the Toyota Highlander, Subaru Tribeca and Hyundai Veracruz. The Journey's size translates to plenty of interior cargo room, but the design isn't as space efficient as some of its competitors.
The Journey's cabin features a new design for 2011 that is much more inviting. It offers plenty of room for passengers and cargo, available seating for seven, and several smart and convenient storage solutions.
The hard plastic surfaces of previous Dodge products are replaced with rich soft-touch surfaces in an attractive layout for 2011. The dashtop, door panels, armrests and center console are all soft to the touch. Added sound-deadening material makes it quieter underway. The look, feel and calm places the Journey at or near the top of the class for interior quality. The same couldn't be said last year.
The center stack is completely redesigned for 2011 with three low-set knobs surrounded by several buttons. The climate controls are arrayed around the center knob, and they're easy enough to use.
The infotainment system choices are all new for 2011. Instead of MyGIG, it's now called UConnect Touch and it's offered in four varieties. The base version has a 4.3-inch touchscreen and a standard audio input jack and USB port; it's offered with or without Sirius satellite radio. The next step up comes with an 8.4-inch touchscreen and a 30-gigabyte hard drive that can hold up to 6700 song files. There is also a premium version of this unit that adds Bluetooth streaming audio, voice command, a Garmin navigation system with Sirius Travel Link, and pre-programmed hands-free texting responses. We've had limited exposure to the new system but it works fairly well. Given Garmin's reach, more people should be familiar with the navigation system, but we think it looks cartoonish. We also like the idea of hands-free texting.
The Journey offers plenty of entertainment features for all occupants. An AM/FM radio with in-dash six-disc CD changer and six speakers is standard. An available rear DVD entertainment system has a nine-inch screen and wireless headphones. Dodge's UConnect Phone hands-free cell phone link and a premium Infinity sound system are also offered.
Space is good but not great. The driver's seat offers plenty of head and leg room for just about any occupant. The view is generally unobstructed front and rear. The Journey's unique storage and convenience features, however, are what really make it shine. All Journeys have a dual-level glove box with Dodge's Chill Zone up top. Chill Zone uses the air conditioning system to keep up to four soda cans cool.
The Journey's center console/armrest has a lid that slides forward three inches. It has enough storage space for up to 10 DVD cases. Two cupholders are located in front of the console, along with a tray for cell phones and the like. An additional, more discreet storage space is standard in R/T, Crew and Lux models. The front passenger seat bottom flips up to reveal a storage bin that has about enough room for a good-sized purse. The seat back also folds flat, allowing items up to nine feet long to be loaded into the Journey. And to help drivers keep an eye on the kids, there is a popular minivan feature, a fisheye conversation mirror.
The second row is equally as ingenious. The three-passenger bench seat is 1.6 inches higher than the front seat to give passengers a better view of the road. It slides forward and back up to 4.7 inches in seven-passenger models, and can be ordered with integrated child booster seats for the outboard positions. The Journey also has two in-floor storage bins with removable liners. Each bin can hold up to six soda cans plus ice. The seat backs are split 60/40 and fold flat. When the optional Flexible Seating Group is ordered, the second-row seats fold in a scissors action, with the seat bottoms tilting up, the seatbacks tilting forward, and the seats sliding forward, to provide easy access to the third row. The rear doors also open 90 degrees, making entry and exit easy.
Base seating is for five, but the Crew and Lux models come standard with the Flexible Seating Group, which expands seating capacity to seven. It is also offered as an option. The third row is 0.6 inches higher than the second row, is split 50/50, and folds flat. Dodge says it offers enough head room for a 95th-percentile male. That's all well and good, but leg room is tight and the bottom cushion is low to the floor, so adults sit with their knees up. It will be possible to fit seven adults in the Journey, but the third-row passengers and second-row middle occupant will be none too happy about it. Younger children will have plenty of room, though.
Both the five- and seven-passenger Journeys have a shallow under-floor storage bin that extends from the rear of the vehicle forward to just behind the last row of seats. That means the five-passenger version has considerably more space under the floor than the seven-passenger version. The cover for this bin is reversible, too, with carpet on one side and plastic on the other. The plastic will allow for worry-free stowage of items such as muddy boots.
Cargo space expands to 67.6 cubic feet with all the seats down, which is average for the class but bested by the Toyota Highlander and even the smaller Honda CR-V. Loading cargo shouldn't be tough, as the liftover height is relatively low. It would be nice, however, if the tailgate had a separate opening glass. As an added bonus, a removable, rechargeable flashlight is included in the rear cargo area in higher line models.
The Dodge Journey is nondescript when it comes to road manners, though suspension changes for 2011 make it more controlled and a bit sportier. Those changes include stiffer springs and shocks, new lower rolling resistance tires with more grip, a retuned steering gear and stiffer steering mechanism, and modified rear suspension geometry.
The result is a ride that is generally good, with little pounding over bumps. The head sway that is associated with a high seating position is also minimal. Even with the available 19-inch wheels, the Journey does a good job of ironing out most jolts. But there are plenty of midsize crossovers and SUVs with similar ride characteristics.
While the high seating position affords a good view of the road, it seems to hurt the feel behind the wheel. This is not an off-road-oriented SUV, and as such it seems that Dodge could have made it sit a bit lower, which would have made it feel more carlike. The way it's engineered however, means the Journey leans more in turns than some other crossovers. The 2011 suspension changes control this issue a bit better and also make the vehicle more willing to react to quick changes of direction. It's still not as nimble as competitors such as the Nissan Murano, or even the larger Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer. The steering is light, but predictable, and the brakes are easy to modulate.
The engines are comparable to the handling: Capable but not as good as the best in the class. The base four-cylinder, Chrysler's 173-hp 2.4-liter World Engine, is loud in the Journey and delivers too little power in this 3800-pound package. The four-cylinder will certainly get you and your kids around town, but passing will require some planning and it's not rated for towing. With a 0-60 mph time of somewhere between 11 and 12 seconds, a four-cylinder Journey is one of the slower vehicles in its class.
The new 3.6-liter V6 is standard in all 2011 Journey models except the Express. The 3.6-liter V6 is plenty modern, but the tuning choices Dodge made with the throttle and 6-speed automatic transmission often leave it feeling unresponsive. Power is decent from a start, but the transmission shifts up as quickly as it can, meaning power is no longer readily on tap. It requires a deep stab of the throttle to coax a downshift and you practically have to floor it to get a two-gear downshift needed for highway passing. The problem is exacerbated by numb throttle response. We also found that with front-wheel drive, those foot-to-the-floor blasts can cause some torque steer (felt as a slight tug on the steering wheel) that temporarily disrupts fine steering control.
On the positive side, the new 3.6-liter engine is quieter and more refined than the outgoing 3.5-liter, and it should provide 0-60 mph runs in the high seven-second range, about a second quicker than its predecessor. It also offers improved fuel economy, though towing capacity is down from 3500 to 2500 pounds.
Fuel economy numbers are decent. With the four-cylinder engine, the Journey is EPA-rated at 19 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. The V6 is improved by one mpg all around. With front-wheel drive, it is rated at 17/25 mpg, and with AWD, it gets 16/24 mpg.
The all-wheel-drive system is mainly meant for slippery surfaces, not off-roading. It does not have low-range gearing. It sends the power to the front wheels in most conditions, but when more traction is needed, such as in wintry conditions, rain or on any slippery surface, it can send some of the power to the rear wheels. It can also aid handling, at least a bit. When traveling over 25 mph into a turn, the system sends power to the rear wheels to help the vehicle turn. It's not as sophisticated as systems from Acura and BMW that send the power to the outside rear wheel in turns, but it's a help.
The changes made to the Dodge Journey for 2011 make it better in every way. Though it still isn't particularly sporty, it's better controlled and reasonably carlike. The four-cylinder engine still lacks refinement, but the V6 doesn't, though it could use better transmission programming. Inside, the Journey has one of the nicest interiors in the class, as well as an intelligent design with family-friendly entertainment and versatility features. For the young family on the go, the Journey will offer a pleasant ride, plenty of room, and enough space and entertainment options to keep the kids comfortable and occupied.
Kirk Bell filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Dodge Journey in and around Las Vegas and Sonoma, California.