Dodge Journey – worthy of a trip

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

If we had an old trophy we would take it out of the attic, dust it off, re-engrave it and hand it to Dodge for best SUV crossover interior design.

It seems the Dodge boys have hit all the right notes when designing the inside space of the all-new mid-sized 2009 Dodge Journey.

Good thing, too, because in other areas including exterior styling, quality of materials, performance, gas mileage and overall driving dynamics the Journey is about average in a segment brimming with new, stylish and in a few cases cutting-edge vehicles. And it seems the list of competitors grows longer every year.

But the new Dodge brings enough stuff to the table to make it worthwhile.

Dodge, which is loaded with high horsepower machines, think Hemi, along with its fair share gas-guzzling sport utilities and pickup trucks, needs something that will bring people who don’t much enjoy frequent trips to the gas pump into the showroom.

While the Journey is certainly not the epitome of gasoline conservation, it offers decent economy in a vehicle capable of hauling seven people or a generous combination of people and cargo. It’s aimed at the person who favors the high-riding SUV look to that of the traditional sliding-door minivan. We would call it a reasonable example of the 21st Century station wagon.

So what’s so special about the interior that elevates the Journey into drive-it-before-you-buy-something-else status?

A few examples: (1) Under-floor storage bins with removable and washable liners in the second row big enough to haul camera equipment, baby supplies, a 12-pack of soft drinks plus ice, golf balls, a laptop computer and even grandma’s casserole on the way to the kid's place for dinner; (2) A hidden storage compartment under the front-passenger seat cushion good for keep a purse from intruding eyes; (3) Two gloveboxes with a chill-zone in the upper compartment; (4) LED reading lamps, two in front and two in the second row that provide focused light without distracting the driver; (5) Illuminated cup holders making them easy to find in the dark; (6) A center second-row child booster seat that raises children into the adult belted zone; (7) Second-row seating that reclines and moves fore and aft about five inches for long-haul comfort. Third-row seats also recline and are easily accessed by a single pull on a lever that slides the second-row seat forward and tilts it up out of the way. The third row also folds in a 50-50 configuration for more cargo/passenger flexibility; (8) Purse hooks on the back of the driver’s seat; (9) Numerous cubbies up front including a deep center storage bin; and (10) Removable and rechargeable flashlight mounted in the cargo area.

Some of these innovations have been taken from the Chrysler minivans. But we applaud Dodge for making use of all of Chrysler’s family-oriented technology.
In addition, we enjoyed the giant satellite radio readout in the navigation screen high atop the center stack in the middle of the dash. It was as easy to read as any vehicle we have encountered since the advent of satellite radio.

We also like the illuminated gauges highlighted by a rather soothing green background.

Most of the new crossovers have many useable features, but we usually find a thing or two we wish for during a seven-day driving experience. The Journey comes as close to answering every question as anything we’ve driven.

The ordinariness of the Journey begins with the engine choices, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder making 173 horsepower and 166 pound feet of torque mated to a four-speed automatic; a better choice would be the 3.5-liter V-6 generating 235 horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque mated to a modern six-speed automatic.

Also ordinary is gas mileage measured at 19 mpg city and 25 highway for the 4-banger and 16/23 for the front-wheel drive V-6 model and 15/22 for the all-wheel drive version.

The V-6 we tested had more than adequate power to successfully navigate highways and interstates under a full load. We drove a 4-cylinder during a media program before the actual public launch and we think it would be satisfactory for the owner who doesn't carry more than a couple of people and a minimum amount of cargo.

We would recommend an extensive test drive before purchasing the slightly cheaper and slightly more fuel-efficient four. As a matter of choice we would opt for the V-6; however, there’s a $3,000 difference between the base SE, the only trim level with the smaller engine and the front-wheel drive mid-level SXT, $19,985 vs. $22,985. That might be enough incentive to go with the base vehicle.

While the Journey is commendably quiet inside at all speeds, the V-6 under hard acceleration is somewhat noisy compared to Japanese counterparts. But we could live with it.

All-in-all the handling characteristics were pretty good with a nice feel and no ugly surprises. Journey was firm but compliant so the ride was a plus. No excess bounces and bumps and a good road feel that provided a confident drive experience.

Also rather average is the dashboard that features a lot of hard plastics and a rather plain design. And while we applaud the great audio readout provided by the optional navigation screen, we have seldom encountered a radio with more look-alike buttons.
If you haven’t reached a comfortable familiarity with the myriad of switches and buttons, we advise not trying to perform a function while driving.

Never-the-less we weren’t off-put by the dashboard’s overall look, and the cool gauge package more than satisfied our sensibilities.

There is the requisite amount of standard equipment on the base 20 grand Journey. And there are numerous upgrades available in the SXT and the top-of-the-line RT including 19-inch wheels, navigation, premium audio, and rear entertainment. In our opinion the rear entertainment is a must if you have younger children or grand children.
Standard equipment across the lineup includes front side-airbags, side-curtain airbags for the second and third rows, stability control, tire pressure monitoring, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, air conditioning, power windows and locks, all the aforementioned storage bins, and an audio system with six-disc changer, six speakers and auxiliary MP3 input.

All-wheel drive is available on SXT and RT for about $1,500. The SXT starts at $22,985 and the R/T begins at $26,545.

Our test vehicle was a front-drive SXT with a few extras including navigation with backup camera, the 368-watt sound system and 19-inch chrome wheels. Bottom line was $27,895.

We think the 2009 Journey is a worthy contender in the mid-sized crossover segment with loads of useable features inside.


Base price, $19,985; as driven, $27,895
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 235 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 232 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3/2
Wheelbase: 113.8 inches
Length: 192.4 inches
Curb weight: 4,001 pounds
Turning circle: 38.5 feet
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Luggage capacity: 39.6 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 68 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 20.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 23 mpg highway, 16 city
0-60: 8 seconds (Road & Track)
Also consider: Toyota Highlander, Ford Taurus X, Honda Pilot

The Good
• Interior well supplied with useable features.
• Relatively inexpensive in base trim. 

The Bad
• Dashboard adorned with acres of hard plastics

The Ugly
• Disappointing gas mileage