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About this Vehicle

Trim: 2009 Dodge Journey R/T

MSRP: $27,585

Engine: 3.5L V6

Transmission: Automatic

Drivetrain: FWD, AWD

Fuel Type: Gas

Curb Weight: lbs.

Review

Life in the world of crossovers is not easy. Analysts have predicted this to

be the fastest growing segment in the auto industry and sure enough, it's turning out to be that way with staggering growth in market share year over year. In theory, this is the segment that is supposed to deliver it all. Buyers demand minivan-like practicality, SUV-like ride and styling, and the on-road manners of a car, and manufacturers are all too pleased to come up with their spin on the ideal vehicle.

But unlike a lot of manufacturers, Dodge doesn't have a crossover; they left that for the Chrysler brand to sort out with the Pacifica. Their family hauler lineup consists of more straight up traditional vehicles, like the Nitro SUV, the Durango full-size ute, the Magnum wagon and the Caravan minivan, all of which are practical solutions, but the brand doesn't have the one desired vehicle that blends everything into one. And, with the scheduled demise of the Pacifica, Dodge couldn't have timed the release of the Journey any better.

With the new Journey, Dodge isn't making any bold or provocative claims of shifting the segment or redefining what we know crossovers to be, but it's hinted from the start that it's going to be something different from what people traditionally expect from the brand. The Journey is a vehicle that Dodge is hoping will secure them a solid spot in Europe, and they've taken the development process seriously to match standards. During its development phase, Dodge benchmarked European vehicles, including the Ford S-Max, a multi-activity minivan that's captured the hearts of the European media.

Like the S-Max, the Journey is based off a smaller vehicle, or more precisely a stretched version of the Avenger platform, which means that it in turn is related to the Caliber. But it's not just a case of putting a vertical and horizontal stretch on the hard points of a small car.

In order to accommodate the ability to seat seven within a more compact dimensional form, Dodge shifted the engine and gearbox points forward while stretching the wheelbase to 113.8 inches, a process that involved pushing the wheels out to the corners.

Physically, it's a bit hard to determine what category the Journey fits into. It's bigger than a mini-minivan like the Rondo or the Mazda5, yet it's still a ways off the length of the Ford Edge or Nissan Murano, which are two-row, five passenger vehicles. Its profile is also unusual, resembling more of a tall station wagon than either a minivan or an SUV-like crossover – the closest vehicle in this regard is the Ford Taurus X (previously the Freestyle), although it's a whopping 11.8 inches longer overall. Dodge is offering the Journey as a two-row vehicle with plenty of cargo space, but if you need room for seven and have close to a grand burning a hole in your pocket, any Journey, from base to fully-loaded, can be equipped with a flat-folding third row which also includes such humanitarian provisions as extra overhead lighting, separate rear controls and air vents.

What's more is that the seating system you get in the Journey is actually pretty decent. The second row seats slide and tumble in a similar way to the GMC Acadia, with one easy to operate handle, and they also recline. The third row seats are a 50/50 split that are surprisingly comfortable to sit in, and come with two proper headrests. With stadium seating, there's still a reasonable view out the front, but also no shortage on headroom thanks to a hollowed out roofliner. Provided that occupants in front are kind enough to move their seating positions forward, a 5-foot, 10-inch adult can easily fit inside. Critically, unlike the Pacifica, there's also space for feet under the second row, and with the third row up, you can still fit in a hockey bag or a few backpacks.

Wrapped around the cabin is a look that's strangely conservative for a Dodge. Compared to the likes of the Avenger or the Caliber, the hard, sharp edges that create the “in your face” look have been

rounded off, and items like the headlamps and the grille fit in flushly. While still recognizable as a Dodge with the crosshair, chromed grille, it's a more sophisticated, classier look. Styling aside, the Journey features an aluminum hood and a composite plastic tailgate in an effort to reduce weight; the latter also allowed the fitment of an integrated tailgate spoiler, and due to its light weight, doesn't require a lot of force to shut.

There are two engine choices for the Journey, depending on the trim level selected. Base SE models are powered by the familiar 2.4-liter inline-four with variable valve timing, which comes mated to a four-speed automatic. Contrary to what was initially announced, Dodge has decided to opt out of offering the 2.7-liter flex-fuel V6 engine in North America, but don't worry, top-line models will be fitted with a 3.5-liter V6 that optimizes performance and fuel economy with a six-speed automatic transmission sporting AutoStick manual mode.

As is expected in the crossover class, the Journey can be had with

permanent all wheel drive, capable of sending 58-percent of power to the rear wheels, but only on when equipped with the larger V6. With little ground clearance and open differentials, and wheels shod with Kumho road tires, it has little by the way of SUV all-terrain credentials, which should be alright with those buying into this segment.

Climbing into the Journey, the thing that first struck me as different was the layout on the console and how odd it appears. I can't remember the last time I saw the stereo mounted below the HVAC controls, but with a bit of logical thinking it's not hard to see why this was done. I've always been told to drive with my hands at 3 and 9, but a lot of people drive with their hand resting on the shift knob, which, thanks to its angled positioning, is just a finger's length away from the stereo, something that's constantly being adjusted. Meanwhile, the climate control being placed higher on the center stack works well too, given that it's in closer proximity to the wheel for easier adjustment (should you drive with hands

at nine and three). This unique approach is also matched by some unusual instruments, in an almost '60s retro square pod bins with chunky numbering.

Interior quality has always been a big deal on Chrysler products; they're often knocked for integrating hard, cheap-looking and cheap feeling plastics. The Journey is a step in the right direction in that its fit and finish is much improved over older products, with better tolerances, and a generally solid feel and appearance – look at the Journey versus products that Dodge was launching less than a year ago, and there's a day and night difference as to what's batter. Although soft-touch plastics are used on the instrument panel and some of the door inserts, the materials will not win Chrysler much critical acclaim. Fewer surfaces, around areas like the armrest and the door panels, have sharp edges or extruded flash, but that's still a few too many; and the flat, grainless and easily deflected plastic that houses the instrument cluster is hardly premium. But, like I said, compare it to the stuff of Chrysler's past and this is a step in the

right direction.

But, from a practicality and feature standpoint, the Journey is downright brilliant. This is a car that was designed by people who have children, and therefore they've come up with some effective solutions to real life problems. Although it doesn't have a sliding side door (two reasons why crossovers will never be as convenient as minivans), the Journey's second row of doors open 90 degrees, providing easy access to the back seat. The second row bench slides forwards and backwards with over 4.7 inches, which is more than most SUVs, allowing mum or dad sitting up front to easily reach junior. When he or she grows out of their big, clunky baby seat, the Journey also can be had with integrated child booster seats, just as with those new Volvo wagons, and there's a flip-down convex mirror that provides a fish-eye view of who's hitting who in rows two and three. Should we expect anything less practical from the minivan company?

And don't get me started on the sheer number of storage spaces and cupholders that the Journey comes with; you could really lose (or, alternatively, organize) your entire life in there. In total there are eight different storage bins including three that were specially designed to transport beverages. Dodge says that its two in-floor lockers are good for 24 cans, plus two in the dashboard's ChillZone. Your family will never be thirsty on a road trip again, provided your Journey is stocked. But the one that's really worth mentioning is located under the front passenger's seat, and flips up to expose a storage locker big enough to stow a small-sized purse.

Journeys can also be loaded up with plenty of toys, and all the usual Chrysler group suspects can be had, like a remote starter, LED interior lighting and MyGig, and I quite like the fact that you can now have the MyGig system without navigation. The great 30 gig hard drive infotainment system gains an iPod interface and a backup camera, but you don't have to order it with nav so the price is right. If you do, then the center stack gets re-arranged, sprouting a separate binnacle on the dash that puts the

nav screen right in the driver's line of sight rather than way down at the bottom.

On the rolling, twisting hills that lead to Lake Mead, Nevada, the Journey is actually impressive. It's here that all the talk of practicality and family friendliness gets pushed aside; yes, this is actuality a pretty pleasing vehicle to drive. The R/T's sportier tuned suspension on 19-inch wheels gave the crossover a solid stance on the road, but the comfortable ride made sure that there was still a measurable level of body roll. Still, by no means is this vehicle unstable during high speed cornering. I really wish that the Journey's seats offered better lateral support; such would've been a great asset on the fast sweeping bends that carved through the Martian-red rock-scape of the Nevada countryside. It's an awesome sight to take in at 4:3 aspect widescreen, created by the wide yet short-height windshield. Lined by the A-pillars which unfortunately create some large frontal blind spots, the view out is unobstructed by the instrument bin which is tucked down, and out of the sightlines.

The steering isn't bad either, as the R/T is set to a heavier weight and receives a sharper

rack that feels more direct than the regular SXT, and also fairly direct in comparison to the vehicles it competes with. I wouldn't call it a driver's crossover, but the combination of smoothness and cruising refinement make it a very pleasant vehicle to cross the country in. The seating position is actually quite car-like despite the tall vantage point the Journey provides, and it's got a standard tilt and telescoping steering column for finding that ideal driving position. Unfortunately the shifter is about two inches too far rearward to comfortably use the AutoStick manual mode.

Between the four and the six, I would really have to say that the six is the way to go, primarily because it'd be hard to haul around 4,000 pounds plus people and cargo with the weedy four. The 3.5-liter engine found in the SXT and R/T, when fitted to the Avenger, is what Dodge describes as competitive, but you need to work the engine hard for strong progress, especially if you're going to be hauling five plus luggage. I also found the gearbox kept hunting for the right ratio on uphill climbs, but, its shift patterns weren't noticeable, and neither was engine noise.

I must give compliments to Dodge for making the Journey so unbelievably quiet; wind noise, engine noise and road noise were absent. Only at speeds above 75 mph is there a noticeable amount of wind noise, much of which is generated by the side view mirrors.

Realistic. That's probably the best word to describe Dodge's pricing. Base Journeys, which still include automatic air conditioning and power everything, plus the full count of safety features including stability control and curtain airbags start at just $19,985 including freight. Add on the third row, and that makes the Journey the cheapest seven-seater vehicle currently on sale too, undercutting the Rondo and Mazda5, the latter of which only seats six. Adding a V6 brings the price

up to $23K, while getting AWD requires $25,530. But, considering that the entire price range from bottom of the barrel to R/T AWD is just $8,310, excluding options, really goes to show just how serious Dodge is about getting the Journey into the driveways of American families.

And while value and the extra-affordable lease and finance payments are going to be big reasons for selecting the Journey over its pricier competitors, there really isn't any reason why you shouldn't buy it on practicality, safety, comfort or family friendliness either. Dodge just may have come up with the ideal vehicle for our uncertain times, when middle-class families are tightening their belts and therefore looking to get the most vehicle for their dollar.

Available Trims

Select a trim below to view details.

2009 Dodge Journey SE

MSRP: $20,925

Engine: 2.4L I4

Fuel Type: Gas

Transmission: Automatic

Drivetrain: FWD

Curb Weight: lbs.

2009 Dodge Journey SXT

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