The Dodge Journey crossover has always offered plenty of people space and features per dollar, as well as a low price.
Within the company, it was seen as the de facto replacement for the short-wheelbase Dodge Caravan, which left the market right around the time that the Journey first appeared in 2009. What it lacked was a sense of refinement and quality, with a squeak-prone and plastic-heavy interior that didn’t impart much confidence.
That didn’t stop Canadians from snapping up the then-least expensive seven-seater on the market, landing it amongst the five best-selling SUVs (fine, crossovers) in the country in its first full year on sale. Chrysler likes to tout it as the best-selling crossover in the country, based on 2010 sales figures from R.L. Polk, even though the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Hyundai Santa Fe all outsold it in 2010, according to sales figures compiled by DesRosiers Auto Consultants. A likely case of creative distinctions between SUV, crossover and/or tall wagon segments, but nevertheless, the Journey is undoubtedly one of the most popular SUVs in the country, as it has surpassed the Santa Fe and CR-V’s sales so far this year, according to the latest DesRosiers figures available.
For 2012, the Journey receives serious refinement upgrades courtesy of a major interior rework, as well as a much more sophisticated drivetrain. A six-speed automatic now connects to Chrysler’s new and impressive Pentastar V-6 that’s livening up so many of its products this year.
Looking at the Journey’s specs and features, there’s a ton of family-friendly features that don’t add much to the cost column. Plus the Journey’s MSRP pricing has always been flexible, Chrysler slapping on a two-grand discount on the Journey’s 21-grand base price soon after it hits the market, and it’s still there.
The just-about fully loaded Journey I drove for a week topped out at an as-tested MSRP of just over 35 large after freight. Not cheap compared to the base ones that are advertised all over for about 20K, but still less than most fully loaded rivals. And at least it finally looked the part, with standard leather seats on the R/T, illuminated cup holders and a cohesively designed mix of quality materials and surfaces.
What most impressed with the Journey is how it continually surprised and delighted the driver with unexpected features, such as the second-row seat with the integrated child seats (for $200): pull a loop in the second-row seat cushion, and the centre portion of the seat easily rises up to provide a comfortable perch for little ones that would otherwise need a booster. It seemed tailor-made for my four- and seven-year olds, lifting them both up high enough to use only the shoulder belt, just as an adult would, meaning the two big booster seats we’re continually lugging in and out of press cars could stay in the garage for a week. If the third row is ordered (for $1,475), those second-row seats can slide back and forth to adjust legroom for both rows, plus there’s an easy-entry system to allow third-row access.
We were all similarly happy to see a real two-pronged 115-volt outlet in the back, which meant there would be no cries of anguish at running out of juice on the road on their Nintendo DS, tablet, or our cell phones, as long as we remembered the regular charging cord.
And even though the full use of the 50/50-split third row of seats leaves less cargo room than a seven-person family might want on a week-long trip to the cottage or down south, it’s still plenty for a full load of groceries.
Other niceties include a rear DVD option, remote start, plus hidden but handy cargo compartments under the fold-flat front passenger seat, in the second-row floor and under the cargo area.
A similar but less equipped Journey bested two similarly new Jeep Wrangler and Jeep Compass rivals to be named AJAC’s Best New Crossover Under $35,000 for 2012.
Though nicely equipped, the version at the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada TestFest didn’t crack 30K, even after freight, and shared the same powerful 283-hp, 3.6-litre Pentastar V-6. In fact, it came in at about a thousand dollars less than the four-cylinder Jeep Compass, aka Jeep Grand Cherokee-light.
Why was it only Chrysler-owned crossovers battling it out in this group? Under AJAC rules for the Canadian Car of The Year competition, the vehicles have to be all-new or largely new to qualify – or else we’d still be there testing them all – and the new Honda CR-V was hit by production delays that meant it didn’t arrive in time for the annual late-October TestFest.
But the one concern still with the Journey is quality, perceived and real, as it still doesn’t seem as high as the best in the segment. The Journey I drove at TestFest had a rear door that rattled noticeably when closing it, though my week-long tester didn’t, body panel gaps seemed unusually large or uneven, and the brake pedal still makes a loud hissing noise when first depressed, as every Journey I’ve driven has done. Plus it has scored relatively poorly in Consumer Reports’ reliability rankings, which has to be a concern if you plan on keeping it past the three-year basic or five-year powertrain warranty period.
Chrysler may still have some work to do on the Journey’s quality, but the overall packaging and unique features like integrated booster seats, seven-passenger capacity, plus handy under-seat storage make it a tempting value proposition.
2012 Dodge Journey R/T AWD
Type: Mid-size five- or seven-seat crossover/SUV
Base price: $20,995; as tested, $35,045
Engine: 3.6-litre, VVT Pentastar V-6
Horsepower/torque: 283 hp/260 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drive: Front- or all-wheel drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.6 city/7.8 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander, Toyota RAV4