The Dodge Journey is a family-friendly type of vehicle that we found to be very user-friendly. A midsize crossover sport-utility, the Journey offers the cargo and passenger space of an SUV but with the smoother ride and better fuel economy of a car. The keys to this balance is its carlike unitbody structure, which is lighter than a truck chassis, fitted with front-wheel drive and a carlike suspension.
Most models come with a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 235 horsepower. The V6 offers plenty of power for driving around town, a 3500-pound towing capacity, and decent passing punch. The base model comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine of 173 horsepower. We feel the base four-cylinder engine is rough and noisy and offers too little power for a vehicle of this size. The Journey is available with all-wheel drive for superior traction and confidence in bad weather.
Interior versatility is where the Journey shines. It comes standard with seating for five and a big cargo space, but the Journey is available with seating for seven. 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 hard-drive radio and a rear DVD entertainment system.
For 2010, changes include improved fuel economy for the V6 engine, a fuel-saver lamp in the instrument cluster, driver and front-passenger active head restraints, a larger nine-inch video entertainment screen, and a new Dark Slate interior color. New as standard on all models are remote keyless entry and four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes. There have also been several changes to the options packages.
With prices starting around $20,000, the Journey offers affordable utility. We recommend the V6 engine, which provides that extra margin of power that many buyers will want. Be careful when it comes to options, though, as it is possible to get the Journey over $30,000, money that can buy larger and more refined SUVs.
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 the SXT and R/T 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 feature two war paint chrome stripes and the tailgate is made out of a composite material to reduce weight. 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 only slightly shorter than the Ford Explorer, and it's 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, including the Pacifica.
The Journey's main strength is its well thought-out cabin. It offers plenty of room for passengers and cargo, available seating for seven, and several smart and convenient storage solutions.
The interior materials represent a step forward for Dodge. While there is still evidence of the cheap plastic of recent Dodge products, there are also more soft-touch materials that look and feel much better. The improvement is most evident in the R/T model, which has a black dash center section that looks good and feels better than the center stack in the SE and SXT models.
That center stack contains an easy-to-use climate control system with three knobs and eight buttons. The radio can be a little complicated, especially when ordered with the available MyGIG Infotainment System, which includes a navigation system and a hard drive to hold songs, pictures and map information. The radio and navigation controls are set low, with many buttons that will take some time to learn. The navigation/MyGIG screen is set at the top of the cluster, so occupants will have to move their eyes up and down to change settings and see their effects.
The driver's seat offers plenty of head and leg room for just about any occupant. The view is generally unobstructed front and rear. It is the unique storage and convenience features, however, that really make the Journey shine. Up front, models without the navigation system get a storage bin in the top of the center stack. 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 SXT and R/T 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.
The SE model comes with seating for five, but the SXT and R/T can be ordered with the Flexible Seating Group, which expands seating capacity to seven. 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.
With all the seats down, the Journey has 67.6 cubic feet of cargo storage space. 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.
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 hands-free cell phone link is also offered, and it comes with an iPod interface.
The Dodge Journey is nondescript when it comes to road manners. The ride is generally good, with little of the pounding from bumps that comes with a stiff, sporty suspension. There is also little of the head sway that is associated with larger, truck-type SUVs. 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.
When it comes to handling, the Journey offers little to get excited about. 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 improved the handling characteristics. The way it's engineered however, means the Journey leans more in turns than some other crossovers and is also slower to react in quick changes of direction. The steering is light, but accurate. In short, the Journey doesn't offer the sporty driving character that can be a strength of crossover SUVs.
We found the brakes worked well and were easy to modulate. Antilock brakes with brake assist are standard, and Dodge should be commended for making traction control and electronic stability control standard equipment.
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 3.5-liter V6, standard in SXT and R/T models, is much better, but it lacks the refinement and flexible power of the V6s offered by other manufacturers. With 235 horsepower, 0-60 mph comes in about 9.3 seconds, making it adequate but considerably slower than V6-powered SUVs and crossovers offered by the competition. Still, the V6 will help you keep up with traffic, pass confidently, and permit towing up to 3500 pounds.
The 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. With the V6 and front-wheel drive, those numbers are 16/24 mpg, and with the V6 and AWD, they are 15/23 mpg. Dodge recommends midgrade fuel for the V6.
The all-wheel-drive system is meant for slippery surfaces, not off-roading. It does not have low-range gearing. It's a great aid in wintry conditions, rain or any slippery surface.
The Dodge Journey is an all-new entry in the midsize crossover SUV class. It isn't particularly sporty, and lacks the available power and refinement of some competitors. However, the Journey makes up for those deficiencies with intelligent cabin design and the availability of 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 storage and entertainment options to keep the kids occupied.
Kirk Bell filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Dodge Journey on the desert roads around Las Vegas.