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The Journey also cruises quietly and with solid stability at highway speeds.

Ingo Barenschee

Rating
0

It's no secret that Chrysler's future is up in the air these days. Will it get more government bailout money? Will it pull its operations out of Canada? Will Fiat be a part of the company's future? What models will survive if it does pull through?

At this point, it's anyone's guess, but if the company gets out of this mess (and I, for one, hope it does), one model they should definitely retain is the Journey SUV.

Introduced last year, this is a practical, driveable and surprisingly affordable carry-all that's meant to fill the void left by the discontinued short-wheelbase Dodge and Chrysler minivans. Based on the Sebring/Avenger platform, it can seat up to seven adults and comes with an impressive list of standard features.

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The base SE model, in fact, has an MSRP of under $20,000 and comes with things like air conditioning, anti-locking brakes, one-touch-up power windows, power door locks and tilt/telescoping steering. Just for the sake of comparison, Ford's new Flex, for example, does not have telescoping steering, even though it's up a category or two in the crossover market.

My tester, a middle-of-the-pack SXT version, also had a V-6 engine, all-wheel-drive, Sirius satellite radio, 19-inch alloy wheels and a pile of convenience goodies and extras. The larger wheels and tires, incidentally, only come with AWD models, and the base SE is strictly FWD with 16-inchers. AWD is a very reasonable $1,250 option with the SXT, as is the V-6 engine ($725).

But all versions have storage nooks and crannies seemingly everywhere - under the front-seat cushions, under the floor and under the rear cargo area. There's also a chilled glove box for keeping beverages cool, and an illuminated centre console.

Depending upon the model, you can also get second-row seats that tilt forward and fold flat without having to remove the head-rests, third-row seats with a 50/50-folding/reclining feature and a fold-flat Flip 'N Stow front-passenger seat.

Chrysler designers clearly worked overtime to make the interior of the Journey as accommodating as possible and they've done an excellent job.

As far as the drivetrain is concerned, this is not the most refined engine/transmission I've ever encountered. There's a fairly pronounced engine racket during hard acceleration and, on the highway, road noise is definitely higher than it should be. I attended the launch of this vehicle last year in Las Vegas and remember how quiet it seemed on the highway at the time. That doesn't appear to be the case with this particular test car and I can't explain the disparity here.

Power output for the 3.5-litre V-6 is 235 horsepower and this engine is used elsewhere in the company's lineup. It's not as refined as some of the competition, which includes, oh, the Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Murano, Mazda CX-7 and Toyota Venza, among others.

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The engine's kind of a wheezer, but propels the 1,910-kilogram Journey well enough, with just one or two occupants. Fill it up with seven passengers, and it definitely won't set the roads on fire.

Nor is fuel consumption what it could be with the V-6 AWD model: 14.2 L/100 km city and 8.9 highway. Most of the Journey's rivals output it when it comes to fuel economy. The Toyota Venza, for example, is pegged at 11.5 city/7.9 highway for the V-6 with AWD.

I suppose one could also kvetch about the interior accoutrements. The inside of the Journey has a utilitarian quality to it - some might say cheap, but, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Don't look for wood trim here, although you can get leather upholstery with the R/T model. All others have Chrysler Yes Essentials stain-resistant cloth as standard issue.

That said, pop open the rear tailgate and you open up the Journey completely, with all kinds of cargo capacity. Completely flat floor and no obstructions.

In total, with second- and third-row seats folded flat, there's some 1,915 litres of cargo space available behind the front-row seats, and this is almost minivan territory. By way of comparison, the Mazda5, which must be considered a competitor, has 857 litres, while the Toyota Venza, also in the ball park, has 1,985 litres. Usable storage space, and the Journey's accessible price tag, is one of its strongest points.

In fact, that's what will make or break this model. The crossover/SUV market is absolutely replete with models vying for buyer's affections. This may be the most cutthroat segment in the industry and manufacturers like Honda, Toyota and General Motors have competitive models on the market that sell well and do exactly what the Journey does. However, none of them do it for less than $20,000 to start, and that's the Journey's ace in the hole.

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*****

2009 DODGE JOURNEY SXT

Type: Mid-size crossover

Base Price: $22,945; as tested: $26,545

Engine: 3.5-litre V-6

Horsepower/Torque:

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235 hp/232 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel-drive

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km):

14.2 city/8.9 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Toyota Venza, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda5, Chevrolet Equinox, Mazda CX-7, Nissan Murano, Honda Pilot

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Like

Priced well

Lots of accessible interior space and storage

Nice driveability

Don't like

Lack of drivetrain refinement

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Cheap-looking interior

globeauto@globeandmail.com

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