By Jeff Weidel
Declining minivan sales doesn’t mean people movers are outdated. School carpools and youth sports teams still need transportation versatility and large families require seven-passenger vehicles. Understanding the concept, Chrysler came out with the Dodge Journey for 2009.
Much like the family station wagon evolving into minivans, the latest incarnations are midsize crossover sport utility vehicles like the Journey.
The idea behind crossovers is creating a practical vehicle with size and versatility. While the concept is solid, Chrysler’s mistake is waiting so long to produce its first midsize model. The Journey has serious competition in the established Toyota Highlander, Ford Edge, Subaru Tribeca and Hyundai Santa Fe.
Despite its late arrival, the Journey could find a niche. One of its major pluses is affordability, which can’t be overlooked in the current economy. At $20,625 for the 4-cylinder base model and $23,125 for the SXT version, a much peppier V6, the price is right for the Journey.
The Journey was smartly engineered with a long list of interior conveniences like multiple cupholders, various storage cubbyholes and bins with lids. It also has several smart innovative features that will probably be imitated.
One of those unique elements is what Chrysler calls a Chill Zone glovebox, designed as a mini beverage cooler. Another unusual feature is a passenger seat cushion that can be lifted to provide a hidden area for small package or a woman’s purse. Covered floor bins can also store several different items.
Based on the sedan platforms of the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger, the Journey has solid space and versatility, but is not as polished as some of its primary competitors. The interior has too much hard plastic and driving dynamics fall short in some areas.
Despite the surface imperfections, the interior remains a plus. The Journey provides comfortable seating with good head and legroom for even taller folks, although the third row is for kids only. The interior niceties include reclining backs and easy access to seating. The second and third rows fold flat for great hauling capability.
The Journey SXT, test driven for a week, is a 3.5-liter V6 with 235 horsepower and 6-speed automatic transmission. It possesses solid passing capability in freeway situations and showed its power on the challenging, steep hills during a trip toSan Francisco. The 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder base model with 173 horsepower is reportedly underpowered.
All Journeys offer nondescript handling typical of unsophisticated vehicles. It has some body roll and is only adequate while taking tight turns. What does stick out is a muted ride that remains relatively quiet even on uneven pavements.
FAST FACTS: Dodge Journey, 2009
Power — 3.5-liter, V6, 235 horsepower; Mileage Estimates — 15 mpg (city), 22 mpg (hwy); Standard Features — traction control, brake assist, antiskid system w/rollover sensors, center console, in-dash 6-disc CD/MP3 changer, satellite radio, rear defogger, 6-way power driver seat, automatic headlights, compass, rear privacy glass, all-wheel drive; Warranty — Bumper-to-bumper, 3 years/36,000 miles; Corrosion 5 years/100,000 miles; Free roadside assistance, 3 years/36,000 miles.