The Dodge Journey occupies a hazy space between minivans and midsize SUVs. More than just about any model on the market, Journey has a foot in each camp, promising strong value for a variety of potential owners. Yet, for reasons that are unclear, it’s been largely overlooked by folks who are shopping for a practical vehicle.
Larger than most compact crossovers that compete for the family market, the Journey falls among the least-expensive vehicles that offer a third-row seat. Gas mileage is appealing, and the Journey handily meets the needs of larger families, bypassing the bulkiness of bigger seven-passenger crossover SUVs, such as the Toyota Highlander or Nissan Pathfinder. Body lines are refreshingly different from the crossover pack, if no longer fresh and new.
First introduced as a 2009 model, Journey got off to a poor start with a disappointing interior, but a quick mid-cycle update for 2011 improved it substantially and the current model offers a good value.
For 2016, Dodge has trimmed the Journey model line to four choices: SE, SXT, Crossroad, and Journey R/T, along with a Crossroad Plus package. Garmin navigation is available, which we rank among the best for this vehicle class.
The Dodge Journey offers a choice of two powertrains. The standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine makes 177 horsepower and, with an antiquated 4-speed automatic and front-wheel drive feels strained if anyone other than the driver is aboard.
Better to take the strong 3.6-liter V6, with 283 horsepower and 6-speed automatic, and either front- or all-wheel drive. That version feels modern and authoritative in acceleration and responsiveness. It’s quieter, too.
Ride comfort is a strong point, with appropriate damping and roll control for a family vehicle. Steering is somewhat quick for a vehicle of this nature.
Although the Journey can be a solid family vehicle, it lacks some active-safety features. Crash-test scores have been adequate, but not good enough to provide full confidence for families. NHTSA gave the Journey four stars (out of five) for frontal crash and rollover protection, four stars for side-impact protection, and four stars overall (five with AWD). The Journey’s aging structure was devised in an earlier era. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it a Good score in most testing, but particularly poor for the small-overlap frontal test.
The styling is dated after eight years of production. Even so, its slab-sided profile, augmented by sheetmetal that exhibits a chiseled appearance, is distinctly different from the crossover SUV pack. The look is helped by flared wheelwells, as well as squarish shoulders and sporadic creasing of the body metal.
More than most, the Journey slips into a middle ground between a traditional wagon and a modern SUV. Despite that styling difference, lacking the customary curves of a crossover SUV, the Journey could be perceived as a somewhat anonymous vehicle. Some might even dub it a relic of an earlier automotive era, but with merits and demerits similar to those of its modern competitors.
Smooth, simple and swooping in shape, the Journey’s interior conveys less of a warmly upscale appearance than other Dodge models. Materials are high in quality, if dark, but offset by sufficient brightwork to reveal a little more upscale aura.
Dials and knobs are large, with fuss-free, easy-operating climate controls. The infotainment screen is big, too.
Seats are smartly arranged in the Journey’s nicely configured, family-focused cabin, which contains many small storage spaces. The front seats are wide and accommodating.
Second-row seating is among the best in this size vehicle. The rear seatbacks adjust for rake, and the bench slides fore and aft several inches. The rear seats are contoured to fit adults. Sliding the second row forward eases access to the optional third row, where space is acceptable for smaller-size adults.
An extra step is needed to fold seats forward for cargo hauling, which results in a lower and flatter floor. Cargo space totals 37 cubic feet behind the second row; or 10.7 with the third row (if installed) raised. With only front seats up, it’s 67.6 cubic feet.
Visibility can be an issue, due to the tall-shouldered design. A rearview camera is available on upper trim levels, helpful when backing up in this vehicle.
When equipped with the optional V6 engine, the Journey is pleasant and responsive. The V6 and 6-speed automatic work well together, even when pushed hard, though the transmission has been known to shudder at times in low-speed stop-and-go driving.
With the four-cylinder, however, acceleration scores no higher than average. The four-cylinder is relatively rough, and the 4-speed automatic transmission that comes with it is disappointing throughout.
Fuel economy is acceptable, but fails to approach class-leading level. The four-cylinder model is EPA-rated at 19/26 mpg City/Highway, versus 17/25 mpg City/Highway for the V6. All-wheel drive drops the V6 figure a notch, to 16/24 mpg City/Highway.
Handling ranks as reasonably responsive, and the Journey’s suspension loads and unloads confidently. In fact, it reacts somewhat like a lower and leaner vehicle. Even while taking a corner swiftly, there’s no excessive bounding or wallowing when hitting a bump. Ride comfort excels, helped by hydraulic-type power steering that’s weighted well, no electric steering here.
The Dodge Journey excels in value and stands apart with its distinctive design. An older vehicle, it lacks the latest active-safety features. The V6 engine is a better choice than the overtaxed four-cylinder.
Driving impressions by Bengt Halvorson, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.