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by David Zatz in
Dodge has become a muscle-car company in the public eye, riding high on its 707-horsepower Hellcat cars and the 840-horse Demon. The older people-mover Dodges are still in the lineup, though — the Grand Caravan and the Dodge Journey.
The last major update was in 2011, when the Journey gained a major update, with a new V6 engine, suspension tweaks, and interior and exterior recoats. Not having really looked at a Journey for a while, I was struck by the outward appearance of this 2017 Crossroad Plus. The modest lines of the original have been overwhelmed, and it looks like a newer and more muscular car, even though the dimensions and basics are the same. Part of that is clever changes to the grille, and faux pushbars in front and back (which are unique to the Crossroad).
The same goes for the interior. While even the Crossroad Plus normally comes with a four-inch screen, our car had the full 8.4 inch setup — the prior generation. There’s no app to control the car from your phone, but it’s a usable and friendly system which I prefer, in some ways, to the newer generation.
You can use the big 8.4 inch display in the center to set all sorts of options — keeping the headlights or power on, how the locks behave, whether to put the air conditioner on when using remote start, and such. Chrysler first started doing this in 1999, and it’s a lot easier (and more extensive) now.
The gauges are white-on-black, with heat and gas gauges that vaguely remind me of the 1970 Road Runner, on the bottom of the round tachometer and speedometer. Between the circles is a small, color status display, as used in my 300C, which shows gas mileage, transmission temperatures, speed (digitally), turn-by-turn directions, and such.
The climate controls were simple and elegant, and while I prefer knobs for temperature control, the buttons worked fine. A USB port, lit at night, sat in the lower console; I loaded it up with tunes and it did a fine impression of an iPod. Likewise, a subtle SD card port under the climate control can hold an iPod’s worth of music — so between the two you can have his-and-hers music collections. The (optional) stereo itself was quite good — not the best FCA mades, but still far better than most.
With the Pentastar V6, there was no shortage of power on the road; hooked up to the 62TE six-speed automatic, it gave us fast launches and quick responses on the highway. I loaded the car to the gills and took it up a steep hill in beautiful Troy, New York, and it had no problems at all. On the highway, the transmission periodically had to downshift to fifth (with and without cruise) on long hills. Then the Journey surged forward easily; but if you’re the kind of person who locks a speed into the cruise and expects the car to stick right to it, you’ll be disappointed.
The all wheel drive was gratifying with the low-first-gear V6: launches were reliable and predictable every time, even when hitting the gas on concrete to make a sharp right turn. It brings an ease to driving we don’t get in our rear-drive or front-drive cars.
The transmission was good at anticipating what we needed, downshifted rapidly, and yet was smooth and unobtrusive. There’s an AutoStick / range select feature, but it’s awkward and, in any case, unnecessary nearly all the time.
The ride is more luxury-car than not, easily damping out bumps and shocks, quietly going over rough concrete, and transmitting little noise or vibration into the cabin. Handling is good for a vehicle of this size, as well; the Journey speeds through turns with few problems. It’s not a sports car, but it’s not lumbering, either.
The all wheel drive helped with fast and stable launches, even on wet concrete. The system was essentially invisible except for the lack of tire squeal; the 62TE transmission has a rather low first gear, so it’s not hard to break the tires loose with the front-drive cars. Doing it with all wheel drive is another story.
In our nicely upgraded car, the front seat was comfortable and supportive for our three hour test drive, while still holding me firmly in place around hard turns. The back seats are fairly comfortable, too, and there’s a good amount of room in front and rear.
Storage abounds pretty much everywhere, with a little bin held within the front passenger seat and underseat storage bins in front of the two middle seats; the latter have removable compartments that can be purchased separately, so you can have one for a six-pack (without worrying about moisture), one for tools, etc., and switch them out as needed. The middle and rear seats easily fold flat, as the front passenger seat does (except in base models), for a flat load floor — but there’s not as much height as you might think, so you’re not going to carry a mattress or bookcase on its side.
The Journey has some clever touches that aren’t obvious, and the interior shows a lot of thought put into how people act. The (optional) LED lights are helpful and can be aimed; and the parts out of the bins of more expensive cars have a nice look and feel. The tachometer only goes as far as it needs to, and the speedometer ends at 120 rather than 140 so you have more room for the speeds you’ll actually use.
There is decent space in the back seats, which have their own separate recline controls. They are not as supportive or as nicely contoured as the front seats, but ours at least had dual built-in booster seats for children who are too big for child seats and too small for the standard seat belts.
There aren’t many downsides to the Journey; we had two real issues. The big one is gas mileage, which, on our car, was 16 city, 24 highway — about the same as a Wrangler. Going back to front wheel drive only gains you 1 mpg. Amusingly, the bigger Dodge Durango scores 18 city, 25 highway — with all wheel drive. That eight speed in the big Dodge helps.
The best Journey mileage comes with the four-cylinder, at 173 hp, and a four-speed automatic; that’s 19 city, 25 highway, lower than the rear wheel drive Durango V6. That’s odd. We found the ratings to be roughly accurate, but if you go at passing-lane speeds, you’ll find mileage dropping fast. Aerodynamics and the top gear ratio seem to be the weak spot in the Journey’s gas-mileage equation; at least it’s quick. With the 283-hp V6.
The second issue we had was height; the cargo bay doesn’t have much of it. You can fold the middle and rear seats down, but unlike a minivan, they don’t go into the floor; you get a flat load surface all the way into the front (the front passenger seat folds down), which is very handy, but the lack of height can be a real problem.
The same basic vehicle has been made since 2011, which means you have some bargaining leverage at the dealership — and that’s good, since optioning out the Journey to be as nice as ours was brings a high price in a competitive field.
The base price of a five-passenger Dodge Journey SE, with a four-cylinder engine and front wheel drive, is a highly reasonable $21,195; at the time of writing, the company was giving $1,000 back. Four cylinder Journeys get a four-speed automatic, which doesn’t have the wide gear range or low first gear of the six-speed; the V6/six-speed combination is optional on all Journeys (except SE), and comes with all wheel drive.
Incidentally, the Toyota Highlander starts at $30,630 with a four cylinder — but it comes with an eight-speed automatic and gets 21 city, 27 highway, with seating for eight.
Stepping up to the Crossroad (starting at $26,995 before discounts) yields the Touring suspension, option of in-front-seat storage, optional heated seats, and standard voice control and satellite radio.
You get the best options and features with the $27,745 Crossroad Plus; options then include navigation, a backup camera, 8.4 inch screen, rear seat video, various equipment groups, heated front seats, leather, Alpine speakers, remote start, and backup alerts. This is really the Journey to get, and it’s still far cheaper than the cheapest Highlander. The backup camera is really mandatory given the limited rear visibility, especially with all the rear seats up. (All Highlanders have backup cameras.)
Let’s see what the Crossroad Plus AWD brings. There are leather seats, a V6 and 3.6 liter engine, side curtain airbags in all rows, seat-mounted side airbags up front, active head restraints, keyless entry and pushbutton starter, four wheel antilock disc brakes, power heated mirrors, compact spare (vs no spare), and a performance suspension to keep us safe. There’s a 4.3 inch touch-screen stereo, and three-zone automatic climate control to keep us comfortable. There’s various touches to make us look good, 19-inch aluminum wheels, and all the storage bins. With AWD, that’s $31,040 before rebates and such — just a little over the Toyota Highlander four-cylinder, front wheel drive price.
Our test car was well optioned out. The 28V package, at $1,200, added “Hyper Black” wheels, premium trim, a cargo net, 8.4 inch stereo display, power front seats, fold-flat passenger seat, the aimable LED lamps, and an overhead console. The $1,250 popular equipment group added an alarm, garage door opener, heated steergin wheel and front seats, and a remote start. Navigation and the backup camera/alarm cost $1,295 more — well worth it. The integrated booster seats were $225, and the sunroof was $1,195. That brought the total to a hefty $36,205.
As a side note, a Dodge Caravan SXT would cost $29,380 equipped roughly the same way, but without the 8.4 inch center screen. That’s a much larger vehicle, with the same powertrain, — but front wheel drive instead of AWD — with 17 mpg city, 25 highway. It’s a more practical alternative, save for lacking all wheel drive.
Optioned with three rows of seats, a V6, eight-speed automatic, all wheel drive, a backup camera, and UConnect 8.4, the Dodge Durango SXT Plus ends up being $36,130 — less than our Journey. It’s worth a look.
In short, we really enjoyed the Dodge Journey. We wish the backup camera was available on all levels, though, because the best bargains are in the lower trims; once you get to our Crossroads Plus, the Durango and Caravan start looking very attractive. On the other hand, if you can’t fit them into your garage, and want something more nimble, the Journey is there.
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