Pros: Affordable 3-row seating; clever under-floor/in-seat storage; stellar optional 8.4-inch touchscreen; quality interior; strong optional V6; available all-wheel drive

Cons: Inadequate base powertain; comparatively snug cabin; so-so fuel economy

What's New: Added feature content and/or lower prices for certain models

Introduction

When the Dodge Journey launched in 2008, it seemed compelling on account of its tidy size and clever interior, which had innovative under-floor storage and 7-passenger seating. Sadly, its plasticky interior and unremarkable performance prevented the boxy crossover from rising anywhere near the top with consumers.

The 2013 Dodge Journey has grown into the vehicle it was meant to be all along thanks to the complete interior overhaul given to the Journey back in 2011, which also brought a massive suspension upgrade and a silky optional V6. Best of all, the Journey remains a bargain at its sub-$20K starting price. While its crossover styling looks conservative on the outside, the interior design and materials remain top-notch and the available 8.4-in touchscreen is arguably the one of the best in the business. Clever touches abound, and the price is supremely competitive.

Demerits? Just two, really, though we admit they're pretty significant. First, the base powertrain is a 2.4-liter inline-4 that generates unpleasant noises and lackluster acceleration, especially as it is paired with an unrefined, efficiency-sapping 4-speed automatic transmission. Second, the Journey is a tad small compared with most crossovers that can hold so many people. And let's face it: space is important when it comes to family cars.

Still, we have a lot of love for Journey models powered by the excellent optional V6. In general, Dodge has turned the Journey into a wonderfully well-rounded vehicle. Especially considering the bargain price, the Journey can be considered one of our favorite -- if underappreciated -- family haulers.

Comfort & Utility

The 2013 Dodge Journey is offered in five trim levels: AVP (American Value Package), SE, SXT, Crew and R/T. The base AVP model ($19,590) comes with 17-in steel wheels with covers, keyless entry with push-button ignition, power accessories, dual-zone manual climate control, cruise control, a 4.3-in touchscreen and a 6-speaker audio system with USB connectivity. To gain access to a longer list of optional creature comforts like illuminated visor mirrors, power seats, satellite radio, passenger seat cushion storage, floor mats and the 8.4-in touchscreen infotainment system, one must step up to the SE ($21,590) which also comes standard with roof rails, dark-tinted glass and LED taillamps.

The SXT ($22,995) adds more stylish front and rear bumpers, 17-in alloy wheels, fog lamps, satellite radio and Bluetooth connectivity. The fancy Crew model ($27,995) comes standard with the 3.6-liter V-6, 19-in alloy wheels, a tuned suspension, the 8.4-in touchscreen (optional on SXT), six Infinity speakers, dual-zone automatic climate control, remote start and optional leather upholstery with heated front seats. The R/T ($28,995) is basically a Crew with heated front seats, dimpled leather upholstery, a 368-watt sound system, a high-performance suspension and a sport-themed exterior styling treatment.

Note that 5-passenger seating is standard and 7-passenger seating is optional on all Journeys.

The Journey's front seats offer mediocre support, but they do sit you up nice and high, affording an expansive view of the road ahead. The steering column telescopes on all models, although those with long legs might still find the wheel too far away. The materials are upscale in look and feel and the dashboard manages to look sleek and dressy without compromising the Journey's gauge legibility or ergonomics.

There's still plenty of adult-friendly space in the Journey's second row, but the available third row seat is better suited to kids -- though that's true of any 3-row vehicle at this price other than a minivan. Cargo capacity behind the third row is just 10.7 cu ft, i.e. a few grocery bags' worth, but there are 39.6 cu ft behind the second row and 67.6 cu ft behind the first row. Those are competitive numbers for this type of vehicle.

Technology

The standard 4.3-in touchscreen is unusual in a sub-$20,000 automobile, reminding us of Volkswagen's standard touchscreen stereos -- a premium touch.

But the big technology news in the Journey is the 8.4-in touchscreen (optional on the SXT model and standard on the Crew and R/T models) which brings iPad-like crispness and ease-of-use into your driving experience. It's one of the best infotainment interfaces on the market, and it even includes an SD-card interface to give you more options in portable media. We highly recommend it. Crew and R/T models can be ordered with integrated navigation functions as well.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The Journey AVP and SE are powered by a 2.4-liter inline-4 rated at 173 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque, which is paired with a 4-speed automatic transmission. Unlike the Journey's early years, when the whole vehicle was mediocre, today the lackluster 4-cylinder/4-speed combo sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb considering how much better the rest of the vehicle has become. Acceleration produces more noise than progress, and the transmission shifts clumsily at times.

Happily, relief can be found -- and then some -- in the 3.6-liter V6, which livens up the SXT, Crew and R/T models with 283 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. The transmission here is a superior 6-speed automatic with manual shift control. There's plenty of power on tap in a Journey V6, even with a full load aboard. The V6 sounds better, too.

Front-wheel drive (FWD) is mandatory with the 4-cylinder engine, but the V6 can be paired with either front- or all-wheel drive (AWD). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates the 4-cylinder Journey at 19 miles per gallon city/26 mpg highway, while the FWD V6 is nearly as good at 17 mpg city/25 mpg hwy. The AWD V6 drops a tick to 16 mpg city/24 mpg hwy.

Safety

The Dodge Journey comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and seven airbags (front, front side, driver knee, and full-length side curtain). Optional on SXT, Crew and R/T models is a backup camera and parking sensors.

In government crash testing, the Journey received an overall rating of four stars out of five, including four stars for frontal impacts, five stars for side impacts and four stars in the rollover test. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the Journey its highest rating of Good in every category.

Driving Impressions

The Journey's high driving position and angled steering column may bring school buses to mind. Fortunately, the Journey's dynamics are much better, as this car-based crossover has no trouble navigating rutted roads and tight streets. Underneath, the Journey is related to the Dodge Avenger sedan and it shares that car's soft, quiet ride on the highway. Big enough to be useful, yet not too big to be manageable, the Journey should strike many families just right. If you want to spruce up the Journey's performance, the R/T model's more responsive suspension and powerful standard V6 make shuttling the kids to school quite enjoyable.

Other Cars to Consider

Kia Sorento - The Sorento ($23,150) also offers a third seating row, and its mid-level engine offering (a direct-injected inline-4) serves up an appealing mix of fuel economy and power.

Toyota RAV4 - The RAV4 ($23,300) is all-new for 2013, and looks to be a segment leader once again with its versatile interior and vastly upgraded interior and exterior design. Powered only by an inline 4-cylinder engine, the RAV4 offers no available V6 as an upgrade and thus may turn off go-fast drivers, but fuel economy is strong with 24 mpg city/31 mpg hwy for 2-wheel drive models.

Dodge Grand Caravan - Want way more interior space than the Journey offers? The Grand Caravan ($19,995) is available in the same price range, and it has a huge cabin and a standard V6.

AutoTrader Recommends

The sweet spot for the 2012 Journey, in our opinion, is the SXT model with three key options: the 8.4-in touchscreen, third row seat and V6 engine. You get cutting-edge technology, strong power and room for seven, all at a killer price.

What do you think of the new Journey? Let us know in the comments below.

author photo

Steve Siler is a freelance automotive journalist and presenter based in Los Angeles, California. Known for his ability to make automotive subjects accessible to both enthusiast and non-enthusiast audiences, Siler has contributed to dozens of lifestyle and enthusiast publications, including The Robb Report, Automobile Magazine, Edmunds.com and Car and Driver Magazine.

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