Dodge takes Journey on right path

The introduction of the first iteration of the Dodge Journey made so much sense – it was comfortable, flexible and it offered seven seats without one having to drive an oversized rig. The problem was that its final execution did not live up to its potential – the plastics were cheesy and the up-level 3.5-litre engine was not exactly frugal in its thirst for fuel. The second time around, these two concerns have been addressed very effectively.

By far the biggest improvement is the overall upgrade in the interior and the manner in which it is finished and fashioned. Gone are the recycled plastics that left such a poor impression in favour of some much richer materials -the key components are all now soft-touch plastic. There’s also a new-found attention to detail. For example, the tailgate pulldown is lined with a nice rubber pad rather than just left with the usual bare plastic. It’s a small item in the scheme of things, but it is one that speaks to the work that went into the latest Journey.

Likewise, the layout is much cleaner. The reworked instrumentation is eye-catching and uncluttered, there’s a neat screen nestled between the gauges that houses a message centre, the steering wheel-mounted controls have been simplified to the point where they make sense and there is a second 4.3-inch screen that is tied into the optional UConnect handsfree system. That is, perhaps, one of the few interior quibbles. In this day, Bluetooth should be standard across the board rather than costing $300 -on the test vehicle it was bundled in a $925 option package that included a remote start function. Why?

The other bonus is that unlike so many taller vehicles, the step-up height into the Journey is just about perfect. The seat sits at the bottom height so one just slides right in. The cabin comfort is also where it should be -the well-bolstered front seats deliver plenty of long-distance comfort and the second-row seat, which is split 60/40 and slides back and forth to increase third-row legroom when it is in use, is equally accommodating. The third row mirrors most in that it is best left for those times when it’s easier to take one vehicle and a little whining than it is to drive two vehicles.

Storage space abounds and it includes some well thought-through twists. Space-wise, there is 10.7 cubic feet with all seats up, 37 cu. ft. with the third row folded down and a generous 67.6 cu. ft. with the lot down. The twists are found in the storage bins in the floor ahead of the middle-row seats (each holds a dozen pop cans) and a third storage bin that’s incorporated into the front seat -lifting the squab reveals a decently sized compartment. It is a novel use of space that is, for once, fully functional.

The second major improvement is the new Pentastar 3.6-litre engine. This V6 puts a rewarding 283 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque at the driver’s disposal. Fire that through the SXT’s six-speed manumatic transmission and you have a powertrain that’s more than up to dealing with a full load of riders. Mat the gas and the Journey scampers to 100 kilometres an hour in 8.1 seconds and accomplishes the 80-to-120-km/h passing move in about 6.5 seconds. Both are good times for what is first and foremost a utility vehicle.

The real advantage, however, is found in the Journey’s thirst for fuel. In spite of the hike in power and the performance it brings, this powertrain delivers much better fuel economy. The 12.6 and 7.8 litres per 100 kilometres city/highway numbers represent an improvement of 0.7 and 0.5 L/100 km, respectively, when compared with the previous 3.5L V6.

Ride and handling also take steps in the right direction. The touring suspension that is an option on the lesser models is standard on the SXT. It firms things up noticeably but not to the point where it puts a crimp in the ride quality. This means it controls body roll nicely. While it is true that nobody will ever mistake the Journey for a sports car, compared with many other crossovers, it has a planted feel that is accentuated by the feel and feedback afforded by the steering. Push quickly and some understeer does surface, but it’s not to the point where it becomes an issue in everyday driving. The lone wish is that the all-wheeldrive system that’s standard on the up-level Journey R/T was available on all models. It would add an extra measure of ability and some welcomed winter weather civility.

I liked the first-generation Journey simply because it was eight-tenths minivan without the associated stigma. This version takes an enormous step in the right direction, making it, arguably, the best of its kind on the road. It has the right flexibility, plenty of space without feeling too large, ample power, surprising fuel economy and it stickhandles its way through a series of sweeping bends without leaving the riders with white knuckles. All in all, a job well done.


Type of vehicle Front-wheel-drive crossover

Engine 3.6L DOHC V6

Power 283 hp @ 6,350 rpm; 260 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm

Transmission Six-speed automatic

Brakes Four-wheel disc with ABS

Tires P225/65R17

Price: base/as tested $25,995/$28,895

Destination charge $1,400

Transport Canada fuel economy L/100 km 12.6 city, 7.8 hwy.

Standard features Manual air conditioning, power locks, windows and heated mirrors, cruise control, cloth seats, height-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, tilt and telescopic steering, vehicle information centre with 4.3-inch screen, AM/FM/ single CD/MP3 radio with six speakers, auxiliary input jack and steering wheel-mounted controls, 115-volt outlet, push-button start, rear wiper/washer Options Convenience group ($925), includes remote start, UConnect w/Bluetooth, garage door opener; flexible seating group ($1,375), includes third-row seat, easy-entry system, rear A/C w/ heater; six-way power driver’s seat ($600)

Photograph by: Chrysler, handout