James Riswick, New and Used Car Editor
Like a wheel in the sky, automotive tastes are turning as fuel prices climb to a higher place. Dodge executives are no doubt a bit glum as people welcome crossover SUVs into their driveways with open arms. Americans are stone in love with these lighter, more efficient family mobiles instead of Dodge's more traditional batch of minivans and big truck-based SUVs. For Dodge, the solution was to cook up a crossover like the 2009 Dodge Journey before it was too late.
Derived from the same platform as Dodge's Avenger and Caliber, the Journey is a midsize crossover. In terms of size, it's a little bigger than the Ford Edge or Toyota RAV4 but smaller than the new Ford Flex. For some buyers, our nearly loaded Journey R/T test car could very well be in the Goldilocks, "just right" SUV category: small enough for daily use but with more than enough room for all the kids' junk, while offering an extra pair of seats for the neighbors' kids. Plus, with the ability to equip the Journey any way you want it — storage bins everywhere, integrated child booster seats and ample kid-sedating entertainment options — the Journey has the potential to be the family vehicle of a lifetime for many.
And yet, like so many recent Chrysler products, a wealth of good ideas and interesting features has been sullied by flawed or nickel-and-dime execution. In general, the Journey lacks the levels of refinement found in the many family crossovers it competes with, such as the RAV4, Honda CR-V and Hyundai Santa Fe, and larger models like the Chevy Traverse.
Don't stop believin' that Dodge and Chrysler can climb out of their massive rut in these trying times, but if the 2009 Dodge Journey is a look into the future, who knows if they'll come out of it dead or alive. We're clearly not hopelessly in love with this all-new midsize family crossover, and we think consumers can do better.
Oh, and it got a whole heap of Journey songs stuck in our heads.
The top-level Journey R/T packs a 3.5-liter V6 with 235 horsepower under its hood, but it's tasked with motivating a pudgy 4,200-pound vehicle. On the open road, the Journey struggles up hills even when unladen with passengers and cargo. Highway passing can be an adventure, and the six-speed automatic transmission perpetually yo-yos among 4th, 5th and 6th gears to keep up with traffic flow. At our test facility, our Journey R/T test vehicle went from zero to 60 mph in an unremarkable 9.2 seconds.
The Journey's performance at the gas pump was no better. EPA estimates are 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined. On a road trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back, we averaged 20.3 mpg, while the fuel log showed 18.2 mpg for the Journey's entire two-week time in our hands. That mileage isn't any better than larger and quicker crossovers like the Ford Flex. By comparison, the similarly sized Toyota RAV4 V6 puts up a 0-60 time of 7.3 seconds and EPA combined fuel economy of 22 mpg.
Like the Avenger sedan upon which it's based, the 2009 Dodge Journey is fairly unremarkable to drive. Steering is a little nonlinear in effort and there's not much road feel transmitted through the blocky steering wheel. On-center feel is decent, though, and it's easy to keep the Journey on the straight and narrow. Brake feel was mushy, sounding and feeling like we were stepping on a Nerf football. Braking distances were similarly only so-so, as the Journey came to a stop from 60 mph in 132 feet.
The Dodge Journey's suspension does a good enough job of soaking up road imperfections, and if you're used to trucky SUVs like Dodge's Durango, you should find it pleasant. However, sudden road dips make the suspension nautically bob up and down more than other crossovers do. Road and wind noise are kept reasonably in check, although the engine can belt out a raspy tune when you start to push it.
Inside, families with one or two children should find more than enough room in the first two rows, with our test car's 50/50-split third-row seat serving as a sort of emergency backup for kids. Legroom was sufficient up front for even our tallest driver, and the telescoping steering column assured a good driving position for all. The second row reclines for greater comfort and slides forward to provide more legroom in the cramped third row. Unfortunately, all seats are hard and flat.
Years ago, someone noticed that people adjust the radio more frequently than the climate controls and figured it would be better to place those controls higher so they could be more easily seen. Since then, most cars have followed this convention — except the 2009 Dodge Journey. Which results in audio controls that are close at hand, but far from sight. This was exacerbated by the "utunes" touchscreen in our Journey R/T test vehicle. We found the interface's menus and small icons confusing.
Despite its ergonomic foibles, utunes controlled the great many entertainment options found on our fully stocked R/T Journey — it lacked only a navigation system. Our vehicle had satellite radio, a hard drive for digital music storage, DVD video capabilities and direct control for the iPod. The latter works well, with quick processing time and logical enough menus. However, with only four playlists, songs, etc. shown at any given time, it can take awhile to find what you're looking for (which makes the stereo location all the more problematic). Bluetooth was easy to program, but its controls are located on the head unit, not the steering wheel.
What the Journey does very well, though, is store things. There are two gloveboxes, one of which has an air-conditioning vent for cooling drinks. There are big door pockets, a large tray under the center stack and a deep bin under the armrest. The passenger seat actually flips up to reveal another bin. A pair of removable waterproof bins for storing beverages and other items resides underneath the second-row floor. The rear cargo area is also quite large when the third row is folded (there's practically nothing when the seats are raised), and with the second row down, maximum cargo space is just a bit shy of the CR-V, RAV4 and Mitsubishi Outlander.
Optional on the Journey is a pair of integrated child booster seats that pop up from the second row. For those with younger kids, normal child seats fit quite easily.
Design/Fit and Finish
Recent Chrysler products have by and large featured disappointing interior materials and construction — the Dodge Journey is no exception, even if it is a slight improvement. For instance, there's squishy, soft-touch plastic on part of the dash top, but the doors' upper sill and armrest (areas you actually touch) are hard. Most of the plastics look and feel cheaper than those in competitors. To brighten things up, the Journey gets splashes of chrome on the two dash-top bins, control knobs, the doors and center console. Unfortunately, it's all prone to catching sunlight and flashing in the driver's eyes. Fit and finish on our test vehicle also left something to be desired. For example, the outboard air vents bend slightly inward, but they meet straight surfaces, creating an unfinished appearance.
Who should consider this vehicle
With so many good midsize-to-large crossovers in the 2009 Dodge Journey R/T's price range, it's hard to recommend.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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