Looking back at my childhood, there are always two cars in particular that my parents had that always evoke good memories: a 1977 Chevy Impala station wagon and a 1986 Dodge Caravan. While neither vehicle was as cool as our neighbor’s Porsche 944 or another neighbor’s heavily modified first-gen Ford Bronco, I can always look back fondly at that silver, partially rusted Chevy or the baby blue minivan for the big thrills I endured such as family vacation road trips or some of my earliest (albeit unsanctioned) driving lessons.
How exactly does this story fit in with my recent seat time with the 2015 Dodge Journey? Like station wagons and minivans, crossovers aren’t meant to be exciting or glamorous, but this segment is a great collection of some of the safest, spacious and most affordable family haulers on the market. In this crowded market, the Dodge Journey is one of the oldest crossovers having been launched in 2008, but even brand new, the Journey had its struggles right out of the gate.
There’s no denying that 2008 was a tough year for Chrysler. Not only was the automaker getting passed around like a cheap cocktail (from Daimler to Cerberus to Fiat) and on the verge of bankruptcy, but it was also trying to pump out new cars. It just so happens that one of the last Daimler-developed cars that the Cerberus-owned Chrysler produced was, in fact, the Journey, which rode on the same Mitsubishi-derived GS platform as the disappointing Chrysler Sebring, Dodge Caliber and Jeep Compass (to name a few).
In the grand scheme of things, it’s rather ironic that the modern era of Chrysler is defined by two vehicle platforms.
On one hand, the K-car platform helped pull Chrysler from a bankruptcy in the early 1980s, while the GS platform helped drive it into its next bankruptcy.And it wasn’t just the platform and drivetrain that plagued the early Journey. As a big proponent of boxy SUVs and crossovers, I’ve always wanted to love the styling of the Dodge Journey, but it is hard to get past the anonymity of this design. Dodge did its best to update the Journey back in 2011 with a slightly more cohesive design to go along with its updated interior and powertrain (more on that later), but the Journey’s overall styling isn’t too far removed from the design that was introduced seven years ago.
The good news, though, is that with the introduction of the Dodge Journey Crossroad last year, Dodge has finally given crossover buyers a reason to cross-shop the Journey aside from its low pricing. This appearance package gives the Journey a more rugged, SUV
-like look by adding “Platinum Chrome” trim around the lower edges of the body including the faux push bumper look up front, the skid-plate-like rear fascia as well as the rocker panels and roof rack rails.
Adding even more to the Crossroad’s styling, these trim pieces are accented by a blacked-out crosshair grille, Hyper Black 19-inch wheels (exclusive to this model) and smoked headlights and taillights. The aggressive new look was finished off on this tester with the bright Redline Red 2-coat Pearl paint job. Overall, the styling of the Dodge Journey Crossroad is pretty beefy, which gives it a rare advantage among its contemporaries.
As much as the Journey’s exterior design looks to break from the traditional crossover appearance, the interior is exactly what buyers should expect in this class: lots of room and lots of quirky features. In terms of space, you can’t go wrong with the three-row seating configuration that is optional on the Dodge Journey. The Journey’s third-row seat feels more spacious and comfortable than mid-size rivals like the Toyota Highlander and Mitsubishi Outlander, and the rear-most accommodations are also easier to access thanks to a single-lever, spring-loaded seat that tilts and slides forward with little fuss. That being said, the allowable space is intended for 10-year-old kids… and Dodge dealership sales staff looking to sway a few extra buyers here and there away from two-row-only CUVs like the Honda CR-V and Ford Edge.
In my childhood, sitting in the “way back” was the worst place to be, but in the Journey, the cramped center seat of the second row is definitely the penalty box… unless you have a center-mounted car seat, and then the outboard passengers are out of luck when it comes to having any space. To keep everyone in check, this vehicle was equipped with the optional rear-seat entertainment system that uses a nine-inch flip-down display.
Focusing on comfort and convenience for all seven occupants, this 2015 Dodge Journey was equipped with features like Chrysler’s class-leading and easy-to-use Uconnect infotainment system, child booster seats built into the second-row outboard seat bottoms and an available three-zone climate control with vents for the rear two rows built into the headliner.
When the Journey isn’t maximizing its passenger space, there are plenty of cargo options as well. With the rear rows folded flat, the Journey can hold up to 67.6 cubic feet (1,914 liters) of cargo, and that doesn’t even include the extra space afforded by the fold-flat front passenger seat. Just dropping the third row still allows for an impressive 37 cubic feet (1,047 liters); with all seats in place, the Journey’s cargo area can hold a paltry 10.7 cubic feet (303 liters). If, somehow, that’s not enough cargo capability, V-6-powered Journey models also have a 2,500-pound (1,134 kg) towing capacity.
There is also a handful of unique storage ideas to make the Journey even more practical including the large compartment under the rear cargo floor, a purse-sized compartment under the front passenger seat cushion and a pair of in-floor, watertight storage compartments directly behind the front passenger seats – but to fully access these compartments, the front seats need to be moved forward out of the way. And one last feature that I really loved (and I would have loved even more on a family camping trip) is the removable LED flashlight that mounts into lower D-pillar trim in the rear cargo area.
Setting the Crossroad trim level apart, the Journey has platinum chrome trim in the instrument panel to match the exterior, while the seats are leather-trimmed with a rugged mesh-like center insert. Chrysler has definitely hit its stride in terms of quality interiors with the Journey exhibiting soft-touch materials and rich-looking contrasting stitching, but the one area of concern for me was that with only slightly more than 4,000 miles on the odometer, the leather on the driver’s seat was already showing signs of wear with heavy creases and wrinkles.
The lack of some conveniences showed a little cost cutting
For example, the driver’s seat had a four-way power-adjustable seat bottom but the seat back was only manually adjustable. Sure, it’s not perfect, but the interior makes it easier to call the Journey the most affordable crossover in its class rather than the “cheapest” crossover, which it definitely was before.
The option list on this tester includes the one item that gives the 2015 Dodge Journey its best advantage in its segment: Chrysler’s proven 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 producing 283 horsepower and 260 pound-feet (353 Nm) of torque. This award-winning mill is arguably one of the best engines currently on the market, and in this application it delivers a decent balance of power and fuel economy.
Better yet, the optional V6 replaces the antiquated base setup that consists of an underpowered 2.4-liter four-cylinder with an outdated four-speed automatic transmission – one of few left among new cars in the U.S. Unless you’re a government fleet company looking for a stripped down Journey, definitely spend the extra money for the V6.
Life isn’t all roses with this powertrain setup, though. While the six-speed automatic is light years better than the four-speed, it’s nowhere near as advanced or efficient as the eight- and nine-speed automatics that Chrysler has been toying with lately. For starters, the Journey’s transmission has shifts that seem kind of sluggish, but this is likely the result of some fuel economy-minded tuning. The good news is that the annoying transmission shifts pay off despite official EPA-rated fuel economy estimates that are among the worst in its class with official numbers of 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway (13.8 and 9.4 l/100 km, respectively) with the V6, front-wheel drive setup.
In the real world, I found the Journey averaging closer to 18 mpg in urban driving and 25.5 mpg on the highway, and when it was time to hand the keys back to Chrysler, the trip computer showed a combined fuel economy rating of 21 mpg (11.2 l/100 km). Combine these numbers with the huge 20.5-gallon (77.6 liters) fuel tank, and the 2015 Dodge Journey is ready for any road trip.
Unlike some other mid-size crossovers, driving the 2015 Dodge Journey doesn’t feel like you’re in a typical passenger car, but that can be good or bad depending on your personal preference. There’s a noticeably raised-up seating position and a ride quality that skews on the rough side closer to an SUV, but it’s the optional V6 engine that delivers smooth power whether taking off from a red light or trying to pass vehicles on a two-lane back road. When the roads got rough, the platform definitely showed its age with the typical level of body shutter and road noise expected from a pre-bankruptcy Chrysler product.
Surprisingly, I couldn’t even blame the Journey’s underpinnings for one of my biggest gripes about the ride quality. Instead, that was directed squarely at the driver’s seat and the dreadfully short seat bottoms. Now, I don’t consider myself to have especially long legs, but after just 30 minutes of driving, I could already start to feel some fatigue in my legs due to the lack of support.
The seat bottoms barely extended out to my mid-thigh, and perhaps making matters worse, the driver’s pedals were not adjustable. Fortunately, the seats do provide ample cushioning that makes the Journey feel even smoother on the road, and somehow Dodge managed to fit the Crossroad’s 19-inch wheel without throwing off the well-balanced ride quality.
Many competitors (and many modern vehicles for that matter) have switched to electric power steering in recent years, but the 2015 Dodge Journey still uses hydraulic power steering. While that’s great for the enthusiast looking for steering wheel feedback, few crossover buyers are likely to be enthusiasts and will probably look at this quality as being too jerky. The steering did provide a good feel at highway speeds, which was aided by the perfectly sized, thick-rimmed steering wheel, but in parking lot maneuvers, you can definitely see where the advantages of electric power steering are.
One of the strongest selling points of the 2015 Dodge Journey is its starting price.
In its base “American Value Package” trim level, the 2015 Journey starts at just $20,295, which makes it not only the most affordable three-row CUV but, more interestingly, it is priced almost identically as the subcompact Chevrolet Trax.
As for this Journey Crossroad, the package starts at a still-reasonable $24,995 more than a similarly equipped SXT Plus trim level), and loaded up with just about all the goodies still kept the as-tested pricing at a relatively affordable $33,050. And if you think that’s expensive for a crossover, just wait until you read our upcoming review of the $40,000+ 2016 Kia Sorento SX-L.
Overall, the 2015 Dodge Journey isn’t without its faults and, realistically, it falls well short of the newer competition on many levels, but for buyers looking to stand out from the sea of cookie-cutter crossovers out there, the Journey Crossroad is a great choice especially after taking its more assertive styling into consideration. Plus, the Dodge Journey – both inside and out – is far less ego-bruising than many crossovers and most minivans out there, and the Crossroad appearance package is well worth the price of admission if you’re in the market for Dodge’s un-crossover.
As for me, if I were a kid today, I wouldn’t mind heading out on family vacations in the back of a Journey, but then again, kid me would have been happy with just the rear A/C vents and a little extra space to get away from my brother.