Manufacturers are always looking for another niche, into which a new model can be slipped. Dodge's latest venture in that direction, the 2009 Journey, is a midsize "crossover" SUV. Two midsize Dodge SUVs already were on the market: the Durango and the more recent Nitro. Not only is the new Journey smaller than either of its mates, it's more carlike in road behavior, thus warranting the crossover designation.
Seating five occupants in regular form, the Journey can be equipped with a third-row seat for seven-passenger capacity. The Journey's 113.8-inch wheelbase is 4.9 inches longer than that of Dodge's Avenger sedan. Dodge claims third-row headroom is 2 inches greater than leading North American competitors. Rear doors open 90 degrees. Integrated child booster seats are available for the second row.
Journey comes with a choice of powertrains. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine goes into the SE models. SXT and R/T editions get a 3.5-liter V-6 and six-speed Auto Stick automatic transmission. Developing 173 horsepower, the four-cylinder model gets an EPA gas-mileage estimate of 19 mpg in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway. The 235-horsepower V-6 earns EPA estimates of 16/23 mpg with front-drive, or 15/22 mpg with all-wheel drive. SXT and R/T models can have either front-wheel or all-wheel drive, but AWD is not offered on the SE version.
Three-row side-curtain airbags are standard. So are antilock braking, an Electronic Stability Program, and Electronic Roll Mitigation. A backup camera is optional.
In NHTSA crash-testing, the Journey has earned five-star ratings all around: for both front occupants in a frontal collision, and for front and rear occupants in a side impact.
Up front, the Journey flaunts a chromed Dodge "signature" crosshair grille. According to Dodge, the Ram's head in the center signifies that the Journey is "bold, powerful and capable." Standard tires are 18-inch size, but 19-inch rubber is available.
Easily manageable in size, the Journey is easy to enter and more appealing than expected - if a bit on the lackluster side. Performance from an R/T edition with all-wheel drive is not exactly exuberant, but that Journey's responsive acceleration ranks on par with rivals. The automatic transmission tends to slide between gears, making it more noticeable than some, though the ratio changes come relatively quickly.
Easy to drive, the Journey stays on course well enough and runs quietly, with a well-controlled ride. Steering feel is good, producing a secure sensation, but nothing extraordinary.
Illuminated instruments are especially easy to read, and stereo and climate controls are mounted on neat panels. Front seats are roomy and comfortable with ample bottoms, though little side bolstering. Second-row legroom is adequate unless the front seat is pushed significantly rearward. On the down side, the third-row headrests (if installed) block a considerable portion of the rearward view. Cargo space is minimal if the third-row seats are in the up position.
Satisfying overall, the Journey R/T doesn't quite stand above the competition.
As the TV commercials have proclaimed, Dodge Journey prices start at $19,985 (including the $625 destination charge). The top model, an all-wheel-drive R/T, goes for $28,295, Sales began early in 2008. Options include a ParkView Rear Backup Camera, DVD entertainment, and a navigation system with 7-inch display screen. Remote Start also is available.
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