Nobody drives cars or trucks anymore. We drive "vehicles," pronounced with an over-emphasized "h," the word cops use when they're writing tickets or chasing suspects. Call the 2009 Dodge Journey a crossover, but "crossover" is a new-age marketing conceit. The Journey is the perfect example of a thoroughly modern vehicle: designed to have the ride and handling of a car, the looks and ride height of a truck/SUV, and the passenger capacity and handy storage of a minivan while offending no one who holds anti-minivan prejudices. It's far from the first of its kind, following to market key crossover vehicles like the mediocre Chevrolet Equinox, the competent Hyundai Santa Fe, and the disappointing Ford Edge.
Its size is just right for an automaker desperately trying to go global: big enough for North America and small enough for the European market (where Chrysler expects it'll become the company's best-seller, with stick-shift and VW-supplied diesel options), priced within reach of most every new-vehicle buyer, and offering most contemporary non-luxury features.
As a thoroughly modern vehicle, it'll neither excite nor offend anyone.
Empty-nesters and young couples starting a family will cross-shop the Journey with the Equinox, Edge, and Santa Fe, and with myriad configurations and pricing in the $20K-$28K range, the Journey also takes on Toyota Highlander and RAV4, though Dodge eschews the former. Is it afraid we might stage a comparison test against the Highlander? Topline R/T and the popularly priced, mid-level SXT come with a 235-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 and a choice of two or three rows of seats and front or on-demand all-wheel drive. The SE, front-drive and two rows only, with a 173-horsepower, 2.4-liter "global" four its only engine, allows Dodge sell the Journey for just under $20,000 ($10 more than a base Chevy Malibu). Why does the SE exist? A much better equipped SXT starts just $3000 (FWD) to $5000 (AWD) higher. But the SE will draw first-time buyers into showrooms and seems to anticipate harsh interim Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards early in the next decade. If Dodge has to shift the SE from loss-leader to CAFE leader, it'll want to replace the 2.4's four-speed automatic with the 3.5's six-speed. The SXT was supposed to get the flex-fuel 2.7-liter V-6, but Dodge dropped the engine from Journey's lineup to reduce build and order complexity.
For now, the V-6 Journey stands as Chrysler's best product on the flexible Mitsubishi Lancer-derived GS platform, which includes the Dodge Caliber and Avenger (the Journey's wheelbase is 4.9 inches longer than Avenger's) and Chrysler Sebring. The automaker plans a Chrysler version of the JC49/Journey, although it may rethink the program as it works to combine all Dodge and Chrysler-Jeep dealers.