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Crossover vehicles are all the rage. There is nary a midsize sedan on the market that isn't in line to be redesigned as a small wagon or SUV loaded with family-friendly options and sold as a minivan substitute. Into this fray comes the 2009 Dodge Journey R/T AWD, riding on a stretched Avenger platform and squeezing a third row of seats into the bargain.
So how does Chrysler, inventor and ongoing proponent of the minivan, fare in its effort to de-minivan the minivan? A lot about the Journey is good, especially the available interior electronics. It's available with an onboard 30GB hard drive for navigation and the capability to rip music from CDs, or copy music from MP3 players and portable-storage devices via USB. Chrysler's experience with maximizing seating and storage capabilities is certainly on display in the Journey. General reaction to the styling from both the auto show circuit and our experience on the street seems to be positive; however, especially in the brightest colors, we found aspects of the exterior garish.
To get the most powerful engine and outfit the interior with the go-to gizmos gets to be expensive. Build quality, refinement, and interior materials don't convincingly match a fully loaded Journey's sticker price. Dodge also touts the Journey as offering best-in-class fuel economy (for the base engine package) but our V-6 equipped tester displayed some dismal average gas mileage after our week with the car. Frustratingly, a two-liter diesel engine mated to a six-speed dual-clutch transmission will be available on the Journey as sold in Europe, but not in North America.
Test the tech: USB me
At the heart of the Journey's $2,200 Entertainment Group II package is the MyGig multimedia system, which lets you store music files and pictures on its onboard 30GB hard drive. We've seen a couple of such systems before (notably in the Mitsubishi Lancer GTS and an earlier 20GB MyGig in the Dodge Grand Caravan SXT), but this time we decided to focus on the USB connection and its versatility to test the tech. We gathered up a myriad of devices and their USB cords from around the office and spent a lunch break seeing what MyGig liked and what it just plain ignored.
As CNET's Wayne Cunningham discovered when trying to transfer photos from his digital camera to the Caravan's MyGig hard drive, the system isn't keen to recognize devices that generally come with software needed to connect them to PCs. We plugged our Canon PowerShot SD700 IS into the USB port to no effect. However, all was not lost, as we had a handy SanDisk SD+USB card in the camera. When we removed the card from the camera, flipped it open to expose the USB connector and connected it to the car, the MyGig recognized it immediately, and we saved a large Journey glamour shot onto the hard drive very rapidly.
Still optimistic, we thought transferring a picture off our phone via USB might work, since connecting our Sony Ericsson k790a to our laptop this way requires no extra software. Again, however, neither the phone nor the MyGig reacted to being connected, and the same went for the Palm Treo that we also tried to connect.
Although the MyGig system promised iPod integration, it didn't work with our older generation Nano.
Things went a little better on the music front, although not totally satisfactory. According to the owner's manual in our car, which did not cover the optional navigation system, an iPod connected via USB would be fully controllable through the car's stereo. However, the iPod Nano we connected would only transfer files to the hard drive, not actually play music.
We weren't able to determine how to specify which tracks to copy, so we ended up sitting through the transfer of an entire playlist just to see what it was we'd "selected." (To whomever drives this Journey next, enjoy the series of French language lessons we left on the hard drive.) All that said, a lot of MP3 data made it onto the hard drive in a reasonable amount of time. To play music off the iPod, we had to hook it up through the auxiliary input jack as you would any other player, which was a letdown given the manual's promises.
The best way to get data onto the MyGig's drive is via a thumbdrive or similar portable-storage device. The system finds music and photos on such devices quickly, there's no confusion over what you're copying, and transfers are very quick.
In the cabin
Taken as a whole, the interior of the 2009 Dodge Journey nicely encapsulates the two sides of the Journey's design: electronic highs temper the plasticky lows. As should be clear by now, we dig MyGig. The navigation system bundled with MyGig is similarly impressive, with a supercrisp seven-inch LCD recessed in a hooded binnacle atop the center stack showing beautifully rendered maps.
Rendering speeds are fast, as expected from a hard drive-based system, and the package includes a year's subscription to the Sirius satellite traffic service to go with the standard year of Sirius radio service. Traffic hot spots show as color-coded stripes along the roads on the maps, and a list of local alerts can be called up quickly from the main navigation menu.
Programming routes is intuitive enough through the main knob-button control, with predictive entry narrowed by the destination city. We would prefer an OK button that isn't also a directional controller, but found ourselves happier with this example than most. The main navigation screen switches to the rear-camera view when backing up, albeit without any sort of onscreen distance or direction indicators.
Call quality is good with the UConnect Bluetooth cell phone integration option.
UConnect hands-free Bluetooth cell phone connectivity is part of the Convenience Group II package ($695) and proved very easy to use with our phone. Callers reported no trouble hearing us and, thanks to the handy capability to crank up phone sound with the main volume controls while on a call or in the UConnect menus, we were able to hear the callers clearly. Even with the V-6's mild rumble, the cabin of the Journey is relatively quiet.
The good news continues in the second row of seats, where our test car afforded occupants a swing-down eight-inch video screen with a wireless remote and two pairs of two-channel wireless headphones. DVDs for this system play from the main in-dash six-disc changer, so a CD and a movie can't be played simultaneously; however, given the hard drive, aux-in, and various radio sources available, it seems less of an issue than in some other cars we've seen with this limitation.
One interesting option is the cooled console area, which can hold a couple of cans of soda.
The seating configuration in our test car was simple and flexible, thanks to the $1,220 option with a split-folding third row of seats, a 40/60 split second row with a special tilt-and-slide feature for third-row access, and three-zone climate controls to keep everyone comfortable. The second-row seats also offer a booster feature that raises the seat cushion a few inches for better child-seat placement. Interior storage is another strong suit, with underfloor storage bins in the second row and rear cargo area, flip-forward access to a cubby under the passenger seat cushion, a very deep armrest bin, and even an air conditioned upper glove compartment with a rubber insert to hold two 12-ounce cans.
So where do things inside the Journey turn sour? Mostly it's in the feel, some control layouts, and our concerns about the durability of the vehicle. Materials, never a Chrysler forte, are cold and hard in the Journey, even with the R/T trim level's standard two-tone leather seats. The radio and navigation buttons are not tactile feeling, seem loose, and are mounted low and away from the main screen. The removable liners of the floor storage bins feel flimsy.
Under the hood
Our Journey was fitted with the 3.5-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission. Power from the engine is best described as adequate, although the transmission is adept at mining what power there is and can be manually shifted with the autostick.
The six-speed automatic includes a manual shift feature.
We can safely say that the lesser powertrain packages would have a rough time getting the Journey under way, but as potential buyers we'd have to consider them because the V-6 proved surprisingly thirsty during our time with the car. We did the majority of our driving in San Francisco during the week that we had the Journey, with a few short highway blasts to gauge road feel at speed, so our particular real-world use was certainly not conducive to good mileage. The EPA ratings for the AWD V-6 Journey are 15 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway. Emissions ratings for the Journey have not been published as of this review.
Overall, the driving feel of the Journey is pleasantly carlike, even if take off isn't exactly rapid. However, its all-wheel-drive system with standard stability control makes it easy to maneuver the Journey in traffic and around corners. Its suspension is independent at all four corners, and road vibrations are absorbed well, with the chassis feeling solid and quiet.
Market circumstances compelled Dodge to follow trends and offer what might be considered a neutered or compromised version of a vehicle style they pioneered and continue to innovate, refine, and succeed in selling. The result is they've produced a decent repackaging of their formula which they hope will satisfy buyers in the global market.
At $27,670 plus an additional $625 destination charge, the Journey R/T AWD is a reasonable value proposition for a seven-passenger crossover with average standard equipment. While our fully loaded test car came in at $35,375, you can get the price down by leaving off one or two options. We would keep the $2,200 Entertainment Group II, which includes MyGig and navigation, but reconsider the $825 rear seat entertainment and $1,220 split folding rear seats packages, bringing the price closer to $30,000. However, even $35,000 isn't bad when compared with three-row SUVs, such as a 2008 Toyota Highlander that, when loaded, pushes $40,000.