Whatever you choose to call them — crossover vehicles, tall station wagons — Dodge has a new one in the 2009 Journey. It's an appropriate name because Dodge's first foray into this segment will be a tough one, with nearly 70 models expected to be offered by 2009. Though late entering this fast growing segment, the delay allowed an opportunity to size up the competition. Dodge did its homework, because the new Journey is gifted with noteworthy features at a competitive price.
An impressive fusion of minivan and SUV characteristics, the Journey is based on the stretched bones of the Avenger/Sebring sedans. As expected in the burgeoning crossover class, it's offered in front- or all-wheel drive. To distinguish the Journey from major players such as the Ford Edge, Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox and Hyundai Santa Fe, a third-row seat is optional on all models.
There are two powertrain choices for the Journey. Motivation for the base SE trim comes from a 173-horsepower 2.4-liter inline-four. Connected to a four-speed automatic, it earns an EPA city/hwy mpg rating of 19/25. Standard on the SXT and RT trims is a 3.5-liter V6 mated to a six-speed automatic, and both trims are available in either front- or all-wheel drive. The six generates 235 horsepower and provides a 16/23 mpg rating.
After sampling both, my nod goes to the V6. It's quiet, builds revs smoothly and is quick enough to handle most drivers' needs. The six-speed automatic provides smooth shifts and always seems to be in the right gear for conditions. If the Journey is used mainly for running errands and chauffeuring kids, the four-cylinder engine is adequate. But load it up with people and things for a road trip and this engine will be disappointing.
Given the Journey's near 4,000-pound curb weight it's not a corner carver, but the ride is nice and tight and the steering responsive. MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link independent suspension in back give Journey a sedan-like feel.
Did the Minivan Folks Lend a Hand?
Innovative, functional seats have become a hallmark of Chrysler's minivans, and the Journey has some of its own. Up front, the available Flip 'n Stow front passenger seat has a hinged bottom cushion that flips forward to reveal a bin large enough to stow a purse. Choose seven-passenger seating, and the Tip 'n Slide second-row seats allow quick access to the far back with a lever that operates so easily kids can do it.
Whether you choose seating for five or seven, the 60/40 fold-flat second-row seats can move fore and aft 4.7 inches. This can bring a child closer to the front seat, give the second or third row more legroom, or provide more cargo room behind the seats. For those with fast growing toddlers, the Journey can also be ordered with integrated child booster seats, and a flip-down convex mirror provides a rear-view look at who's hitting whom.
The Journey is full of ingenious places to stow things, with up to five open storage spaces and eight covered ones. Behind the front seats, two in-floor storage bins with removable liners can each hold a dozen cans of soda, plus ice. In the rear a nifty compartment securely fits grocery bags against a folding tray. All four doors have map pockets and large beverage holders.
Interior materials are a leap forward from what Chrysler vehicles have offered in the past, but are still a step behind some competitors. Overall, the cabin is attractive, the instrument cluster easy to read, and the radio and climate controls operate intuitively. The standard height-adjustable driver's seat and tilt/telescoping steering wheel will help most drivers find a suitable position.
The sheet metal wrapped around the cabin is a modest display of Dodge's "in-your-face" heritage design. While the chrome crosshair grille identifies the Journey as a Dodge, it's presented in a more sophisticated manner. Curves on the pronounced wheel arches are smooth and horizontal lines serve to stretch the profile.
Nice Safety Set
When it comes to standard safety features, the Journey has all the biggies: front, side and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; electronic stability and traction control; and rollover mitigation. Even with these standard features, the base SE has a starting sticker of $19,985, including destination charges.
The SXT starts at $22,985, the RT at $26,545. All-wheel drive adds $1,750. If the latest electronic gadgets and gizmos are your thing, you can have them: DVD entertainment, a backup camera, a navigation system, a MyGIG music hard drive to store your tunes, and more. But be careful: options add up quickly.
For a late entry into the crossover field, the Journey appears to have succeeded where others have fallen short. It combines the space and best features of a minivan with the drivability of a sedan, and its pricing makes this useful combo a real value.
Larry E. Hall is editor of Northwest Auto News Service and a freelance automotive journalist based in Olympia,Wash. He has an intense interest in future automotive technology.