The Dodge Journey is one of the "count'em on your fingers" 'merican vehicles to debut at an European international car show, namely the 2007 edition of IAA Frankfurt. Although with a wheelbase not much different than that of the outgoing Dodge Caravan, the new Journey is not exactly a replacement for the latter. Designed by young and aspiring Ryan Nagode, who also penned the brutish Dodge Avenger, the Journey tries to be in a class of its own. Technically, it follows the same raison d'aitre as the ill-fated Chrysler Pacifica, which was the first fruit of the sad-ending love story between Daimler-Benz and Chrysler LLC.
There are major differences between the Pacifica and the Journey though, apart from the nameplates and badging. First of all, the Journey is priced at about half of what the Pacifica used to cost. Second of all, it looks and feels at least twice as cheap. Third of all, the Journey is based on an entirely different platform and it was destined from the start as a globally-marketed vehicle. The last point kind of begs the question of powerplants and options available on other markets such as Europe. Well, in the good ol' Europe, where we tested it, the Journey only comes with a Volkswagen-sourced two-liter turbocharged oil-burner and a 2.4-liter petrol engine.
Believe it or not, the Journey shares its base platform with the much smaller Avenger and Caliber, with the Chrysler Sebring and with the Jeep Compass and Patriot. But wait, this is not all. Pretty much the same underpinnings can also be found on the Mitsubishi Lancer, including the Evolution X, Delica and the crossover/SUV
ugly-tastic trio comprising the Mitsubishi Outlander, the Citroen C-Crosser and the Peugeot 4007. Kind of a long list of quasi-identical vehicles, isn't it?
Either sadly or thankfully, we don't know yet, we only got to drive the CRD turbodiesel equipped with the SXT trim level. This translates into an underpowered, front-wheel drive behemoth with a medium/high equipment level and enough storage spaces to captivate an entire squadron of agoraphobics.
Especially in that gray color, our Journey test car really looked like it was carved from a block of stone. Its exterior design is a combination between the rough lines of a 1970s American station wagon, the side profile of a Jeep Wagoneer and the taillights of a Mercedes B-Klasse. The front-end is semi-evil looking, although a bit far from being threatening.
We were a bit disappointed about the chrome excess all over the car, which was actually just plastic. Although we do have our doubts about the level of plastic chrome in the front and rear Ram badges, everything else looked and felt cheap. From the distance, the car has a distinct station wagon on stilts look, combined with the stance of shrunken full-size SUV.
Its designer, Ryan Nagode, said that the look of the compact Dodge Avenger's front was inspired by a pair of Oakley sunglasses. Well, then the look of Journey's front was probably inspired by a pair of seeing glasses belonging to a librarian from a porn movie scene. It's not the fact that it's bad, but it looks so inconspicuous that you might this it's an FBI stake-out car. Although at the size and number of interior storage spaces the Journey might prove to be better suited for a bank job. Absolutely NOT as a getaway car though, since it's far too underpowered.
The car's mid-size exterior dimensions are a bit misleading about the actual size of the car when seeing it up-close. The long front and rear overhangs, the generous wheelbase and the gigantic headlights and taillights don't add a lot of cuteness to it. Even more, little children might actually be afraid of it. Nevertheless, we couldn't call the Journey an ugly car, mainly because it's far from it. Sure, it has a few odd details but it has a nice overall stance.
Inside the Journey we found both its weakest and its strongest points. Kind of like a fire/water, hot/cold, Godzilla/Tokyo kind of anti-thesis, our test car's interior was full of opposing forces. We should start with the bad news. To say that the quality of the interior is below par would be a pretty huge freaking understatement. The plastic on the dashboard and steering wheel looks like it came of a 1980s cassette player made on a child's knee in Vietnam. You could actually cut yourself in some parts of the dash if by chance you're a regular hand-moisturizing-user. The top storage space on the center console has a lid that looks like it was manufactured by a blind person, while the aluminium-wannabe plastic is everywhere.
There's even a screw that's uncovered on one side of the steering wheel. Our test car also had what looked like white paint residuals on one of the lateral control knobs. Coincidentally, all the controls on the two side switches were also painted white. Come on guys, we know that the Journey is assembled in Mexico, but really now! OK, now for the good news. The Journey is humongous on the inside. You wouldn't quite tell from the boxy-yet-dynamic exterior, but you can haul a lot of stuff with this crossover. On top of that, there are storage spaces technically everywhere. There are not one but two glove compartments, one of them refrigerated. There's space for change and stuff like that on top of the center console.
There's another space for your Oakley sunglasses over the center rear view mirror, a space whose lid also doubles as a fish-eye mirror to check up on the rear passengers. This feature is nice whether you have two to three brats that like fighting each other or if you're simply curious about strange noises coming from the rear seat. Also, the rear seats are a few inches higher than the front ones. Between the front seats there's another space which you can fill with a one-liter bottle.
Speaking of one liter-bottles, the Journey's interior storage seems to be the haven for this type of bottles, since almost every storage space inside is ergonomically designed to fit one. Apart from the van-like interior space and amount of storage spaces everywhere, the Journey's inside is also an example of great passenger ergonomics.
We tested the five-seat version (there's also a seven-seater available), which meant more room for passengers and cargo. The rear seats can be individually folded, moved longitudinally and they also have adjustments for the tilt of the back, which is pretty cool.
The Dodge Journey is a real behemoth on busy European streets. Sure, it's not the largest family car available here but it looks and feels huge. The all round visibility is OK just towards the sides and the rear, mostly thanks to the high ground clearance and extremely high seating position.
Towards the front though, not so good. Even if the driving position is so high it reminds you of a bus, there's almost no way to judge how long the hood or the front overhang is by seeing input only. In other words, it takes a little time to estimate the distance to the car in front of you. Of course, thanks to the car's sheer size and block-of-rock design, you don't need to worry about people not getting out of your way.
Parking can prove to be a bit troublesome since on our test car we didn't have any parking sensors and, as mentioned earlier, this is no compact. Parallel parking should be more of a breeze though, thanks to the rear-view camera which shows you almost everything you need to see.
One piece of advice though. Do not rely on the rear-view camera alone when parking in reverse, there's a nice chunk of dead spot exactly on the right side of the rear so you should be careful and always double-check your mirrors as well.
To our surprise, despite the amount of power missing from the diesel engine coupled with the gargantuan 1905 kg (4199.8 lbs) kerb weight of the vehicle, our test car managed an average of 10.5-11 liters per 100 kilometers (US 21-22 mpg) of fuel consumption in stop and go traffic. This even bettered the Common Rail Golf VI we drove earlier, despite the weight increase and the older, non-Common Rail diesel engine under the hood.
The six-speed double-clutch gearbox made by Getrag handled beautifully and without the jerkiness we encountered on the Volkswagen counterpart. The funny thing about it is that at first it made us think it was the old five-speed automatic from the Mercedes-Benz parts bin, since on manual mode the gearstick had kept the left/right equaling minus/plus controls.
On the whole, the Journey CRD SXT isn't the best partner to accompany you to work through the busy streets everyday, but it sure as hell can keep up when it comes to fuel consumption and parking in reverse. Our main quarel with the car in the city, apart from its sheer size, was the hill-start-assist system, which apparently also works on leveled ground. It's highly annoying in stop-and-go traffic since it gives the impression of a lag between the time you take your foot off the brake pedal and the moment the car begins to move.
The great outdoors seem to be the perfect place for the Journey CRD to exhibit his major talents. As long as though talents don't include high speed cruising and over-optimistic passing moves, you should be fine with it. Contrary to what some might think when looking at it or reading its “heavy!” and “slow!” inducing stats, the Journey CRD is no shored-whale when it comes to handling. On the other hand, the steering is among the oddest we've encountered.
We expected it to be as assisted as hell, just like almost every 'merican road barge out there, but this was far from it. And no, this was not the most curious bit. Although it wasn't heavily assisted, the steering provided absolutely no feel at all. We can't imagine how Dodge managed to do this and we're as intrigued as you might be. The two-liter 140 hp diesel under the hood was scrapped from the Volkswagen parts bin and could make a pretty good team with the six-speed double-clutch transmission, but not on a car as heavy as this. The 11.9 seconds required to go from naught to 100 km/h (62 mph) can only give you an idea of how slow the Journey CRD feels.
The gearbox struggles to squeeze every last bit of power from the engine and transmit it to the front wheels without spilling a drop in the process, but you can't turn water into wine unless you're some dude named Jesus. The horsepower simply isn't there for it. Apart from the obvious lack of oomph, the noise it makes while accelerating actually made us feel pity for it. While struggling to pass someone, the engine sounds like a dying feline, which accuses a distinct lack of a Common Rail system.
On the good side, it sips fuel like it was put into a much smaller car, which kind of makes up for all the other downsides, like the noise pollution and the total lack of power for this mammoth of a car. Since we're still on the praising side, the above-average handling made us raise our eyebrows a few times. The front end is a bit jerky when accelerating hard from a dead stop, also providing a bit of torque-steer, but other than that, the Dodge Journey 2.0 CRD handles like it's on rails. Of course, compared to other similarly-sized cars, not with an Exige. The suspension offers a nice compromise between soaking up the road imperfections and providing a good assistance to the bloated vehicle when hard-cornering, braking or accelerating.