With a CD changer, onboard hard drive, dedicated iPod adapter and auxiliary and USB jacks at their disposal, Dodge representatives could have loaded whatever music they wanted into our seven-passenger 2009 Dodge Journey. We listened for "Faithfully," but Prince was cued up.
Good, we thought. Dodge is trying to distance the seven-passenger 2009 Dodge Journey from the soggy rock band. After all, the company hopes to attract 30-year-olds with budding parental instincts to its first-ever crossover SUV, and these people probably don't have "Separate Ways" on their iPods.
Nevertheless, the first 2009 Dodge Journey will be delivered to Jackie Rohner and Blake Humphrey of Rock Island, Illinois, winners of a Dodge contest titled, "Journey of a Lifetime." Their wedding will take place at the 2008 Chicago Auto Show — and a Journey cover band will provide the entertainment. In addition to their appreciation for Steve Perry, the couple enjoys building snow forts.
Midsize Crossover With Minivan Kit
Built on the corporate Avenger/Sebring platform, the 2009 Dodge Journey is about the size of a Chevrolet Equinox, and the competition includes the Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe and even the Toyota RAV4. The Journey is narrower than the Edge or Santa Fe, but its long, 192.4-inch body opens up plenty of room for an optional third-row seat.
As this is a Chrysler product, there's almost nothing the rear seats won't do. Both rear rows have reclining seatback cushions, and the second-row seats adjust fore/aft, allowing you to move infants closer to mom and dad. What's more, older children should be able to seat themselves in the third row without help. A simple yank on a sturdy lever activates the tilt-and-slide mechanism for the second-row seats and requires only minimal upper-body strength.
The rearmost bench folds flat into the floor in 50/50 partitions, as does the second row, albeit in 60/40 sections. Maximum cargo capacity is 67.6 cubic feet — on par with the Equinox but a few cubic feet short of the Edge and the rest. Although you can't get a power-operated liftgate for your Dodge Journey, the gate itself is composite rather than steel, which means it's relatively lightweight and easy to pull shut.
Instead of trying to come up with entirely new innovations for its first crossover SUV, Dodge imported features from its minivans. In-floor storage bins in the second row can be used to stash some snacks, and thanks to their removable plastic liners, you can add ice and use them like coolers. You can also order built-in booster seats for the outboard positions of the second row.
Other useful touches include a hideaway compartment under the front passenger seat cushion (Flip 'n Stow), a self-cooling glovebox (the Chill Zone) and a conversation mirror (Spy 'n Drive).
Three Trim Levels, Two Engines
Dodge is offering the 2009 Journey in familiar SE, SXT and R/T trim levels. The base SE squeaks in under the $20,000 mark and it's the only Journey with a four-cylinder engine, a 2.4-liter rated at 173 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque. A four-speed automatic transmission drives the front wheels.
That's not much in the way of motivation for a 3,800-pound vehicle, although the base Journey comes with a decent list of standard equipment, including antilock disc brakes, stability control, full side airbag coverage, air-conditioning and powered accessories.
Dodge expects most buyers to move up to the SXT, which starts at $22,985 (including destination). The main upgrade here is a 3.5-liter V6 that delivers a 235 hp at 6,400 rpm and 232 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, and a six-speed automatic transmission makes the most of it. You also go from 16-inch steel wheels to 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels, while picking up stain-resistant cloth upholstery and conveniences like keyless entry and — we're not kidding — interior grab handles.
Finally, there's the Journey R/T, which comes in at $26,345. Leather upholstery and automatic climate control are the major additions in the cabin, while on the outside you'll find 19-inch wheels wrapped in 225/55R19 Kumho rubber. Also included are firmer dampers and a quicker steering ratio.
All-wheel drive is optional for both the SXT and R/T, and it's a front-drive-biased setup that sends power only to the front wheels under perfect traction conditions. On slippery surfaces or under full-throttle acceleration, up to 58 percent of engine torque can be diverted to the rear wheels, according to Dodge officials.
Unfortunately, SXT buyers who want AWD are obligated to buy an appearance package with the 19-inch wheels and quicker steering, a costly $2,500 jump. It's only $1,750 to upgrade on the R/T. Fuel economy is pretty dismal, too. You're looking at 15 mpg city/22 mpg highway EPA estimates for AWD Journeys.
Dodge has decided not to offer its 2.7-liter V6 in U.S.-market Journeys, though it will be available in Europe, and with a six-speed automatic to boot.
Quiet Ride, So-So Drive
After spending a day with a front-drive 2009 Dodge Journey R/T in greater Las Vegas, we were impressed by its serene demeanor while cruising the smooth, wide highways.
Although the V6 is light on low-end torque, it proves sufficient in rush-hour passing and merging situations despite delayed downshifts from the six-speed automatic. Dodge officials claim the Journey will match the Edge for acceleration, which if true, would suggest a front-drive version will reach 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, then pass through the quarter-mile in 15.8 seconds.
Other aspects of the driving experience could use fine-tuning. The ride proves smooth on the asphalt-paved roads encircling Lake Mead, yet our Journey had a busy, insubstantial feel on Vegas freeways.
We expect more sure-footed handling from a car-based SUV. Yet even the upgraded R/T rolled a lot in the corners while the steering felt imprecise. Add a soft brake pedal feel to the mix and it doesn't take you long to figure out the Journey wants to be driven nice and easy to the supermarket and back.
Weight is likely the issue, as Dodge lists the front-drive R/T at 4,000 pounds, and that's before you add a third-row seat or our test vehicle's full load of electronics. Compared to a seven-passenger Santa Fe or RAV4, the Journey weighs between 200 and 500 pounds more.
Judged purely from the standpoint of family usability, the Journey's cabin is hard to fault. Legroom is adequate in all three rows, and there are so many storage slots and cupholders, you'll be able to corral every last cell phone and sippy cup. There's also an extensive array of entertainment options for an SUV in this price range. You could, for instance, order up the rearview camera and MyGIG music hard drive while skipping the navigation system.
A standard tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel makes it easy to find a good driving position, but an upward slope to the dash detracts from forward visibility. The shift lever is located too far back relative to the driver seat, making it difficult to use the transmission's manual mode. Small, plain gauges look like relics from the 1980s. The navigation system features a joystick control instead of a touchscreen.
All the good stuff is here, but clearly there are compromises that have to be made when you get so much for so little money.
Wheel in the Sky Keeps on Turnin'
We've had to wait a long time for a true crossover SUV with a Dodge badge, and the 2009 Dodge Journey packs a useful seating layout and an amazing number of storage containers into a body of reasonable proportions.
Yet every other manufacturer now has an entry in the compact and midsize crossover SUV segment, so standards for driving dynamics and cabin design are high. If the Journey were the least expensive seven-seater in town, you might write off its faults, but the V6-equipped Mitsubishi Outlander, Suzuki XL7 and Toyota RAV4 are all priced within $1,000.
It might not be as easy to be a Journey fan in the future as it used to be, no matter what our friends from Rock Island might say.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.