The 2009 Dodge Journey at the LA Auto Show

2009 Dodge Journey Review

The Dodge marque has a history that is long and storied. Unfortunately, it's a long, storied history full of muscle cars, trucks, and Hemis. And despite plenty of warning, Dodge has been caught woefully unprepared to respond to recent market shifts and governmental legislation, both of which threaten to relegate many of Dodge's core values to the history books alongside the Coronet, Ramcharger, and Super Bee.

Dodge's recent car and car-based offerings—yes, including the hot new Challenger—have given us little hope that the brand would get a clue. But just as we started preparing to number Dodge's days, it has shown us a shiny new crossover called the Journey, ready to do battle in a crowded—but white-hot—market. Since for all intents and purposes the Journey is yet another mid-size crossover with few truly unique qualities, we figure Dodge wanted to come up with another way to pitch it.

Besides, who wouldn't appreciate such handy features as theater-style seating, a window line low enough for children in back to see out, an optional emergency-size split third-row seat for carpool day (on SXT and R/T models), available rear-seat entertainment, and integrated booster-seat cushions in the second-row bench, which slides fore-and-aft nearly five inches?

Other nifty bits include a telescoping steering wheel (something all too rare among domestic offerings), LED interior lighting, Bluetooth connectivity, double-decker glove boxes with an air-conditioned upper section, and the optional voice-activated MyGIG infotainment system, which takes a bit of time to master but, once figured out, works pretty well. The second-row seats slide and fold forward for third-row access in a one-handed operation, and the third-row seatbacks split, fold forward, or recline up to six degrees. The rear doors open nearly 90 degrees for ease of entry and loading, and there's a clever concealed storage area under the front-passenger seat cushion.

But the most unique aspect of the vehicle by far: the standard, removable underfloor cooler/storage bins that can hold a dozen cans of soda—on ice—without leaking. Younger transistites can fill them with baby toys, Cheerios, and baby bottles. Wigs and heels will also fit.

The front head restraints angle a bit too forward. Finally, like so many recent Chrysler products, there's a serious overreliance on hard, poorly cut plastics. To Dodge's credit, the Journey's interior is much better than that of the Avenger—at least in upper trim levels, thanks to a tasteful sprinkling of chrome.

Whereas the Avenger comes with a choice of three powertrain combos, the Journey uses just two of these. The base SE is offered only with the 173-hp, 2.4-liter inline-four mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. The V-6 would have a much better time handling the vehicle's weight when full of cargo and/or passengers—and is the only model rated to tow a 3500-pound trailer (the SE can only pull 1000 pounds)—making the upgrade from the SE seem more than worth it. And to its credit, the fuel-economy penalty is only about 10-to-20 percent (19/25 for the SE compared with 16/23 for the front-wheel-drive V-6 and 15/22 for the all-wheel-drive V-6).
Dodge's planned drive involved gloriously scenic but agonizingly benign roads in state parks east of Las Vegas, offering us few—okay, absolutely zero—opportunities to discover the edge of the Journey's dynamic capabilities.

The Journey SE's $19,985 base price seems attractive—and is only a few hundred bucks more than the Avenger's—undercutting competitors such as the Hyundai Santa Fe and Toyota RAV4 by about a grand. However, add a few options, and the Journey's price rises quickly and steeply to more than $35,000 for an R/T with all-wheel drive and navigation.

Another Review of the 2009 Dodge Journey

Not long before the Journey was brought out, Dodge dropped its short-wheelbase minivans, leaving many to compare the Journey to the former Dodge Caravan. From the firm front seat of our 2008 Dodge Journey R/T with all wheel drive, all seems well. The black plastic dashboard and upper door panels are set off by the cream-colored roof and roof supports, and lower door panels; and the chrome breaks up what would otherwise be large expanses of plastic. Even the seats are two-toned; and it works.

The center stack in our high-end R/T was not typical of every Journey, because it featured the three-zone climate control (each with separate thermostats) and the MyGIG system, sans navigation but still featuring a great big color screen. Either alternative allows drives familiar with the system to work by touch; the current Chrysler system requires visual monitoring, a dangerous choice, especially when the system is placed all the way at the bottom of the stack (reportedly, ordering the navigation system moves it up to the top, replacing the little bin).

The system is wondrous in some ways - the 30 gigabyte hard drive is certainly convenient, allowing most people to carry their entire music collection along, albeit in MP3 format (not my favorite - AAC provides a better compression/sound quality balance). Amusingly, roadability improves a little if you get the iPod option. Our test vehicle also had rear seat video, which is the traditional DVD- based system with external audio inputs, in case you destroy the DVD player or want to hook up some other system; it's ceiling-mounted, which is convenient and avoids damage at the expense of rear visibility; and has two sets of headphones with a remote. The rear seat video is good quality and has a nicely sized screen; and the system provides a mounting point for the roof-mounted rear climate controls, which may be too high up for younger passengers. As one would expect from a vehicle designed to replace minivans, there are plenty of storage places, including a center armrest in the back seat that doubles as a cupholder; map pockets with integrated large-drink holders on every door; a dual glove compartment whose upper level is designed to keep a large drink bottle cold; a small but deep covered center bin; a smaller center bin and a large bin under the center stack; an upper storage area aboe the center stack; a sunglass bin that doubles as a clever mirror to let parents keep an eye on all five rear seats; and underseat storage. The front underseat storage is easy to reach and fairly convenient, but can't be reached while someone is sitting in the seat, unlike the storage in the PT Cruiser's passenger seat.

The PT is often criticized by its owners for poor gas mileage, but they haven't seen anything yet - the Journey, while admittedly larger inside and out, can get a paltry 13 mpg city with all-wheel-drive and the V6, with EPA ratings of 15/22 (the four-cylinder, front-drive version is rated at 19/25, while the front-drive V6 is 16/23); with a stick-shift, the PT Cruiser stick can get 21 city, 26 highway. Automatic to automatic is more fair to the Journey, which is a bit faster in the sprint and gets about the same in mileage as the PT. Parking the Journey is not as easy because of its greater size, but mainly because of its much greater height, which explains some of the two-ton weight that punishes acceleration and gas mileage alike. Inside, yes, the Journey has more headroom, but how much do most people need? Edvan pointed out that the Journey is lighter than the Veracruz and gets the same mileage, though it is longer than the Veracruz. Likewise,

The interior of the Journey is not as large as even the first minivans, which were smaller outside; there is plenty of room for four or even five people, but the rear seats are cramped at best, despite the clever use of foot holes under the middle row. Staying in the back seat is the harder part, if anyone in the two rows up front has long legs or a large body. Seven short and skinny people can easily fit; add one obese person and suddenly the equation changes. Like the occasional-use rearmost seats, the middle seats can fold down to make more room for cargo; if all seats are up, there is very little cargo room. Front seats are firm but moderately comfortable; middle seats bring up the joke about scientists discovering a material harder than diamonds, which is being put to use in Chrysler seats. The rearmost seats are likewise made of park-bench materials. (We miss the old integrated infant seats, which made a big difference in safety for a group where correct fastening of the child seat is critical - and rare.)

The rear doors open 90 degrees, which makes access much easier unless you're parked in between other cars, in which case you'll be missing those sliding minivan doors. Most reviewers have praised the Journey for its road manners, and we will gladly join in that praise. The sound insulation is excellent, protecting occupants from blasting stereos of other vehicles as well as wind noise. The Journey will not be mistaken for a sports car, but it is more than adequate for most people.

The 3.5 liter engine in our test vehicle was unusually quiet, starting and idling with very little noise, and running more smoothly than we've been used to with this engine in other vehicles. While driving, engine noise generally was not part of the equation. The R/T includes Chrysler's usual trip computer, which provides compass and temperature by default, and can also show trip odometer, trip time, gas mileage, and fuel range. The engine temperature gauge tended to be hidden by the steering wheel.

From the driver's position, visibility is good going forward, but the rear window is fairly small and does not allow much visibility to the immediate rear of the tall crossover; and the rear quarter panel has a hopeless blind spot when the middle row of seats is up, compounded by the headrest of the rearmost seats, if equipped (and up). Even with the seats down, the rear quarter is fairly thick. On the lighter side, the headlights are fairly bright and well focused.

That price included the six-speed automatic, satellite radio, in-dash CD changer, side curtain airbags, 5+2 seating, and multizone heat and air conditioning, with all the refinement and speed of the R/T (and slightly better mileage than the AWD model we had), as well as the limited lifetime powertrain warranty.

The R/T with all wheel drive slams on enough features to raise the price to a startling $28,295, which includes those side curtain airbags for all rows and front seat-mounted side airbags, four-wheel antilock disk brakes, electronic stability control and roll mitigation, brake assist, alarm, interior observation mirror, and tire pressure monitor with warning signal. Luxury features include cruise, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, 8-way power seat, heated front seats, 40/60 middle-row seats with fore/aft adjustment, reclining middle seats, power windows and locks, satellite radio with CD changer, tilt/telescoping steering column, auto-dimming rear mirror, trip computer, wheel-mounted audio controlls, and Chill Zone™. Standard storage on all models includes second-row underfloor storage bins and under-front-passenger-seat storage.

Counting down from the other side, we had $1,220 for the rearmost seats, including a bigger alternator and rear air conditioner and heater with their own controls; $1,200 for the rear seat video with huge amp, subwoofer, and headphones; and $800 for the sunroof. Other options included $625 for the shiny 19-inch wheels, $700 for the Convenience Group II (air filter, roofrack, cargo compartment cover, LED lighting package, instrument cluster with display screen, UConnect, and electronic vehicle information center), $700 for the MyGIG system and backup camera, and $300 for the integrated booster seats with daytime running lights (no, we don't know why they're part of a single package).

In short, the Dodge Journey can look and feel like a luxury car when appropriately outfitted; has lots of natty features and great sound insulation; and provides room for seven when you really need it, in a parkable package, just like the original minivan. The SXT may really hit the price/performance sweet spot, providing the six-speed automatic, quick V6, and "enough" standard features for the price of a mid-sized sedan.

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