Road Test: 2009 Dodge Journey
Day Tripper: There's nothing like a good old-fashioned American station wagon
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.
The Journey's overall design and interior have been improved over those siblings from substandard to standard, maybe even to "kind of nice." The hard plastic that forms the top of the dashboard isn't overly shiny. And there's some soft padding on the center of the dash and above the door panel armrests. The R/T has tastefully thin horizontal chrome strips in the door panels and one across the dash in front of the passenger; the SXT eliminates the dashboard chrome and the SE has no chrome on the doors or dash. None, happy to report, has plastic woodgrain. But the R/T's nicely designed center stack, with thin chrome accents surrounding HVAC and audio control panels, gives way to a less-successful brushed-chrome-look plastic on the SXT and SE.
The dash is raked for the feeling of roominess, and the gearshift base also is raked so that you push the lever downward as you shift from drive to park. Chrysler president Jim Press, fresh in from Toyota, ordered some last-minute changes, including adding the R/T's exclusive instrument panel's shroud to the SXT and SE. Heated seats are available in YES Essentials cloth as well as leather. Noise, vibration, and harshness characteristics are good; wind and road noise are perhaps a bit better than average for this segment, although the SE four-banger's idle is rougher than most modern four-cylinder engines.
The V-6 is harsh under full-throttle acceleration, but otherwise is a decent engine for this vehicle, offering enough power to launch you and a few passengers onto freeways with no worries. Can't vouch for it under a full load of cargo or towing a small trailer. Towing capacity is typical for this segment at 3500 pounds. There was little opportunity to wring out the chassis and suspension on the intro ride, though the Journey suffered no excessive body roll on the turns and the ride is comfortable and controlled. Expect moderate, predictable understeer.
Steering is nothing to write home about. It feels artificially heavy and imprecise, requiring many tiny corrections. There's some torque steer in FWD V-6 models; not so for the FWD I-4 SE, which makes all kinds of noise trying to get out of its own way and little of that noise transmitted as power to the front wheels.
|2009 Dodge Journey|
|Vehicle Layout||Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|Engine||2.4L/173-hp/166 lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4, 3.5L/235-hp/232 lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6|
|Transmission||4- or 6-speed automatic|
|Curb Weight||3800-4250 lb (mfr)|
|Length x Width x Height||192.4 x 72.2 x 66.6 in|
|0-60 mph||8.0-10.0 sec (MT est)|
|EPA City/Hwy Econ||15-19/22-25 mpg|
|CO2 Emissions||0.91- 1.11 lb/mi|
|On Sale In U.S.||Mar-08|