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car review

2013 Dodge Journey

I don't think I've ever been more conflicted about a vehicle than with the Dodge Journey. I like its affordability, practicality, comfort level, performance and thoughtfulness. If I needed a crossover/SUV, it would be right up there on my shopping list.

But the Journey has a significant problem, which would probably keep me from signing on the dotted line: its quality ratings.

First, some specs. Well into its fifth year, the Journey is the smallest SUV in Dodge's stable, now that the unlamented Nitro is no longer with us. Originally built on the Avenger platform, it's available in five trim levels and can be had with a 173-horsepower four-cylinder or, as was the case with my tester, a 3.6 litre V6 – Dodge/Chrysler's so-called Pentastar power unit.

This engine develops 283 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. More than enough for this 1,900-kilogram-plus SUV and, all things considered, the proper engine for this model. That additional 110 horses makes all the difference. Transmission choice is a six-speed automatic only with the V-6 and you can also get it with either front-drive or all-wheel-drive. My test R/T had the latter and it's of the "slip and grip" variety. I never used it and would probably not pay extra for it, but it's nice to know it's there.

You can seat up to seven people in a Journey, though it won't be an exercise in comfort, and even six is a little on the snug side. Interior cargo room, with all the seats folded, is 1,914 litres, which is surprisingly adequate. One of the Journey's closest rivals, the Chevrolet Equinox, has 1,803 litres, so storage capability is one of the Journey's strong points. It has little nooks and crannies all over the place, including a front passenger seat that folds flat, a storage compartment under the front-seat cushions and nifty little storage bins under the floor in the second-row seating area. Not to mention power points all over the place. No complaints here.

Nor with affordability – if you choose the Canada Value Package. For less than $20,000 (before taxes and extras), you're getting a nicely equipped version – air conditioning, tilt-telescoping steering, cruise control – that does everything its fancier stablemates do, but with less stuff. Yes, you have to content yourself with the four-banger, but this, the base model, is some $10,000 cheaper than the one I drove. Like the Grand Caravan with the Canada Value Package, this one is hard to ignore.

My tester, a RT Rallye AWD, also had heated front seats, heated steering wheel, Sirius, a navi system ($825), and a "flexible seating group" ($1,475), which included rear seat a/c, third-row 50/50 folding seat, and a slick folding second-row seat that makes getting into the back reasonably straightforward.

The Journey also has a good sense of driveability about it. Easy to get in and out of, lots of elbow room, sensible and easy to understand ergonomics and switchgear, and a nice everyday utilitarian useability. Your heart won't beat faster every time you slide behind the wheel, but you will be comfortable and the Journey does what it's supposed to, with a minimum of fuss. So, no gripes about price, interior volume, or performance.

That said, the Journey has consistently scored poorly when it comes to reliability and overall dependability. Consumer Reports describes the Journey as "mediocre" with a new-car reliability rating 60 per cent below average. This is based on the magazine's 50-test evaluation process, covering areas such as drivetrain, suspension and handling. It scores just 61 points out of a possible 100, which puts it near the back of the pack. Top scorers, such as the Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4, are well up into the high 80s. Problem areas with the Journey are wonky transmissions and fuel economy not being as advertised. Says C.R.: "Reliability has been well below average."

Market research firm J.D. Power gives failing grades to the 2012 Journey in areas such as overall quality, predicted reliability and overall performance and design. Owners report problems with crude transmission shift points and mediocre fuel economy, in particular. These areas have been an issue with the Journey since its introduction in 2009.

Which is worrisome. Buying an automobile because of its price is a false economy. The axiom that "you get what you pay for" is never truer than in the car business. Journey competitors, such as the RAV4, Forester, Sorento and so on, may have higher price tags, but they also have higher ratings and better service records.

Food for thought.

Tech specs

2013 Dodge Journey R/T Rallye AWD

Base Price: $32,795; as tested: $38,890

Engine: 3.6-litre V-6

Horsepower/torque: 283 hp/260 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.8 city/8.2 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Chevrolet Equinox, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Mazda CX-7, Toyota RAV4, Volkswagen Tiguan, Ford Escape

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