Test Drive: 2009 Dodge Journey SE Plus car test drives dodge
2009 Dodge Journey SE Plus. Click image to enlarge
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2009 Dodge Journey, by Bob McHugh

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2009 Dodge Journey, by Bob McHugh

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2009 Dodge Journey

Ottawa, Ontario – For anyone who follows automotive marketing closely, it’s easy to become jaded to an automaker’s promise of a reasonably priced base model. Too often, claims of “starts at less than $20,000!” turns into reasonably equipped for “a lot more than that.”

It would be easy to accuse Dodge of employing the same tactic with its latest model, the Journey crossover. This is the vehicle the Chrysler suits announced as the replacement for the recently-axed short-wheelbase versions of its Dodge and Chrysler minivans. Its (barely) sub-$20,000 starting price seems ludicrously low until you recall the blowout prices Dodge was sending its shorty Caravans out the door for during their last couple of years on the market.

Test Drive: 2009 Dodge Journey SE Plus car test drives dodge
2009 Dodge Journey SE Plus. Click image to enlarge

However, a basic Journey – such as my SE Plus front-wheel drive tester – looks like a great deal compared to most crossovers, a segment where bargain prices and truly basic base models are rare. Most of the Journey’s competitors – and even some smaller ones – are priced at least $5,000 higher than this Dodge’s base figure.

Standard equipment in the base Journey includes air conditioning, power windows, door locks and heated exterior mirrors, stability control, a great-sounding six-CD stereo, and full instrumentation (base Grand Caravans don’t include a tachometer) for $19,995. The SE Plus model costs exactly $1,000 more, for a $20,995 MSRP.

For the extra dough, you get floor mats, a cargo cover, illuminated vanity mirrors, keyless entry, security alarm, roof rail crossbars and cruise control. Factor in the freight charge ($1,300) and the as-tested price rises to $22,295 (before taxes and A/C charge). That’s very close to the U.S. price for the same vehicle; there, my tester’s MSRP would be $22,145 with freight (before a $1,000 cash allowance).

The Journey is a little smaller than many other crossovers that can be fitted with three-row seating, but the interior is packaged well, and my five-seat version offered good space all around.

Test Drive: 2009 Dodge Journey SE Plus car test drives dodge
Test Drive: 2009 Dodge Journey SE Plus car test drives dodge
2009 Dodge Journey SE Plus. Click image to enlarge

The front seats are comfortable, though I found the bottom cushion too firm. The three-person rear seat is surprisingly comfortable, but here, the problem is a too-short bottom cushion that doesn’t offer enough thigh support. As is the case in many vehicles, the middle seat in back is where you sit if you draw the short straw.

Headroom is great all around. Front-seat legroom is terrific – tall drivers shouldn’t have much trouble getting comfortable – but rear seat legroom gets tight with the front seats set all the way back in their tracks.

The Journey’s doors open nice and wide – particularly the long back doors, which swing out almost 90 degrees and make getting in and out easy. Combine that with a sedan-like ride height (the Journey is based on the Avenger mid-size sedan) and you have a great vehicle for less able-bodied drivers and passengers alike. Watch those doors once they’re open, though: they swing shut too easily on their own.

The interior’s downfall, as it is too often with Chrysler products, is in the design and materials used. My basic tester’s interior earned the dubious honour of looking “durable” to some passengers; many of the plastics used in the dash feel cheap (the silver plastic on the centre stack is a particular culprit).

Test Drive: 2009 Dodge Journey SE Plus car test drives dodge
Test Drive: 2009 Dodge Journey SE Plus car test drives dodge
Test Drive: 2009 Dodge Journey SE Plus car test drives dodge
Test Drive: 2009 Dodge Journey SE Plus car test drives dodge
2009 Dodge Journey SE Plus. Click image to enlarge

The look of the dashboard is somewhat unconventional, but all of the controls – even the low-set radio – fall within easy reach. The problem is that the radio is too low, and too far out of the driver’s line of sight. The climate controls – fully manual in my tester – and console-mounted shifter get better marks for being right where they should be and very easy to use. It looks like Dodge raided the K-Car parts bin for the gauge cluster. It’s fine functionally, but looks like it belongs in a 1989 model, not a 2009.

The interior can be praised for offering plenty of small-item storage, however, including a covered dash-top bin, dual glove boxes (the top one with a small A/C vent to keep drinks cool), an open bin at the bottom of the centre stack, a centre console bin and sizable door pockets. Don’t forget, too, the nifty twin in-floor bins behind the front seats that can double as drink coolers. These seem particularly useful for keeping valuables out of sight when parked, as the floor mats cover them completely. And, a removable plastic insert makes for easy cleaning.

The Journey’s cargo area is large and a useful shape. Five-seat models can take on 1,121 litres of stuff with the rear seats in place (seven-seat Journeys are good for 1,049 litres), and with the rear seats down (they fold almost flat) the Journey boasts 1,915 litres of cargo space. An added bonus in five-seat models is the large storage compartment under the cargo area floor.

In hard numbers, the cargo area measures 39 inches front-to-back with the rear seats up, and 172 inches with the rears down and the front chairs moved fully rearward. The space between the wheel wells is 42 inches wide, and the cargo opening is 43 inches wide and 29 inches high. The Journey easily swallowed a substantial (just over five feet long) television stand I picked up last week.

As a crossover, the Journey is, categorically, about as far from being a sporty vehicle as one can get. It drives that way, too: the ride is tuned for comfort above all, making for a pillowy drive and a lot of body lean in corners.

The overboosted steering is great in parking lots and offers no feel at speed, though it’s not so vague that there’s any problem keeping the Journey pointed where you want to go on the highway. Dynamically, the Journey’s best attribute is its brakes, which are four-wheel discs with anti-lock on all trim levels. The pedal is on the soft side, but braking response is strong, linear and easy to modulate.

The Journey is unique among mid-size crossovers for being available with a four-cylinder engine in low-end models. Naturally, performance lags well behind that of its six-cylinder competition (and no doubt, V6-powered Journeys), but the motor’s 173 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque is enough to keep up with city traffic. Things get iffy with a full load of people and/or stuff, and merging with highway traffic often requires a planted right foot and blind faith in your fellow motorists.

Test Drive: 2009 Dodge Journey SE Plus car test drives dodge
Test Drive: 2009 Dodge Journey SE Plus car test drives dodge
2009 Dodge Journey SE Plus. Click image to enlarge

The Journey’s base transmission is a four-speed automatic. While a low-powered vehicle like this could benefit from another gear or two, this one gets the job done, and smoothly, too. (All-wheel drive is available in SXT and R/T models, where you get a V6 and six-speed tranny combo.) The same could be said about many economy cars with automatic transmissions however, and the benefit here is the Journey’s low fuel consumption compared to V6-powered versions of its ilk. The Journey’s EnerGuide ratings are 11.0 L/100 km (city) and 8.0 L/100 km (highway); I managed an average of 10.8 L/100 km in a week’s worth of gentle city driving. That’s better than the 11.8 L/100 km average I got in the four-cylinder Avenger I drove last year.

In some ways, the Journey is a “you-get-what-you-pay-for” proposition, with its sedate acceleration and uninspiring interior fittings. However, it’s hard to fault Dodge for bringing a truly affordable model into the mid-size crossover mix, something the company has to be commended for. Let the Journey begin.

Pricing: 2009 Dodge Journey SE Plus

Base price: $19,995
Options: $1,000: SE Plus group (floor mats; cargo compartment cover; passenger assist handles; overhead console; sunscreen glass; lighted vanity mirrors; keyless entry; air filtering; illuminated entry; interior observation mirror; security alarm; adjustable roof rail crossbars; roof rack; cruise control), $1,000
A/C tax: $100

Freight: $1,300
Price as tested: $22,395
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2009 Dodge Journey

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