The Dodge 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 options. And with a significant price reduction, Chrysler claims the 2013 Dodge Journey to be the most affordable seven-seat crossover sold in the U.S.
Dodge Journey offers lots of choices: four or six cylinders, five or seven seats, basic trim or full-lux leather. And like most crossovers it offers front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
Journey is considered a crossover vehicle because it straddles the line between car and SUV. It uses a lightweight unit-body structure similar to that used by cars, instead of a body-on-frame truck chassis. Available all-wheel-drive traction adds confidence in bad weather.
Up-level models are powered by the same modern 3.6-liter V6 that's becoming ubiquitous in Chrysler Group vehicles. It has plenty of power but is ill-matched to the 6-speed automatic transmission, making it feel less powerful than it actually is. The V6 produces 283 horsepower at 6350 rpm, 260 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm.
The Journey's standard motivation is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine of 173 horsepower. We found the four-cylinder engine rough and noisy, with too little power for a vehicle of this size. The V6 is the one to get, in our view.
Inside is where the Journey shines. Its 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 ample versatility for 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 CD player standard and offers a rear DVD entertainment system and a hard-drive radio.
2013 Journey R/T models come with new perforated leather seats, a dimpled leather heated steering wheel and dimpled shift knob, red accent stitching on the steering wheel and a new performance suspension for even more responsive handling.
New for all 2013 Journey models is the addition of a max air conditioning setting for the climate controls, and an instantaneous fuel consumption indicator in the color Electronic Vehicle Information Center screen.
With prices starting at $18,995 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.
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.
That said, the Journey's front end is somewhat simpler than the Grand Caravan's, with more straight lines and straightforward shapes. Journey AVP and SE breathe through a full-width lower air intake, superficially resembling the Grand Caravan's but again more decisively shaped and divided into three segments. Upmarket SXT, Crew, and R/T Journeys sport a more aggressive front fascia with a single, centered lower opening arched at the top and defined by a faux skidplate below. Flanking it are round fog lights set into ersatz brake ducts.
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 LEDs on all but the base model. 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 Dodge Journey is bigger than it looks. In overall dimension, it is actually longer than such seven-passenger crossover competitors as the Toyota Highlander and Subaru Tribeca (although the Journey is just an inch longer than the 2013 Honda Pilot). 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 Dodge Journey features an inviting cabin, offering plenty of room for passengers and cargo, available seating for seven, and several smart and convenient storage solutions.
Rich, soft-touch surfaces form an attractive layout. The dash top, door panels, armrests and center console are all soft to the touch. Generous sound-deadening material makes the Journey quiet underway. The look, feel and calm places the Journey at or near the top of the class for interior quality.
The center stack features three low-set knobs surrounded by several buttons. The climate controls are arrayed around the center knob, and they're easy enough to use.
Infotainment choices (Chrysler calls them Multimedia Systems) begin on the base model with Uconnect 4.3, which has a 4.3-inch touchscreen, standard audio input jack and USB port; add SiriusXM satellite radio and this setup becomes Uconnect 4.3S. The next step up (Uconnect 8.4) 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 (8.4N) that adds Bluetooth streaming audio, voice command, a Garmin navigation system with SiriusXM Travel Link, Lane Guidance and pre-programmed hands-free texting responses. We've had limited exposure to this 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 CD player 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.
Cabin space in the Journey 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 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 and Crew and optional on SE and SXT. 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 Flexible Seating Group 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.
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, even after chassis changes for the 2011 model year that included stiffer springs and shocks, lower rolling resistance tires with more grip, a retuned steering gear and linkage, and modified rear suspension geometry.
Ride quality 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 other crossovers. 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 3.6-liter V6 produces 283 horsepower at 6350 rpm, 260 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. The V6 is plenty modern, equipped with double overhead camshafts (that's four cams) and four valves per cylinder. However, it seems hampered by transmission and throttle tuning.
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 3.6-liter engine should provide 0-60 mph runs in the high seven-second range. Towing capacity is 2500 pounds, but a Dodge Grand Caravan minivan with the same engine can tow 3600 pounds, nearly have again as much.
Fuel economy numbers are decent. With the four-cylinder engine, the Journey is EPA-rated at 19/26 mpg City/Highway. The V6 is rated at 17/25 mpg with front-wheel drive, and with AWD it's rated 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 Dodge Journey has one of the nicest interiors in the class, as well as an intelligent design with family-friendly entertainment and versatility features. Its handling is controlled and reasonably carlike. The four-cylinder engine lacks refinement, but the V6 doesn't, though it could use better transmission programming. Still, for the young family on the go, the Journey offers 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. Additional material by John F. Katz.