2011 Dodge Journey Crew car review
2011 Dodge Journey Crew AWD
|Why we’d buy it: Quiet, quick, engineered for people|
|Why we wouldn’t: Gas mileage of a bigger vehicle|
|Mileage: 16 city, 24 highway (V6 with AWD)|
The Dodge Journey, a crossover that doubles as the replacement for Dodge’s old short-wheelbase minivans, was refreshed for 2011; it built on the strengths that made it Canada’s #1 crossover, without losing anything but its dual glove compartments. Gas mileage rose somewhat, and acceleration is more sprightly; the interior is quieter and more upscale; cornering and handling are better; and the gizmos and gadgets have been updated.
The black plastic dashboard (now with more texturing for a “leather look” and upper door panels are set off by the cream-colored roof and roof supports; and the chrome and metallic silver accents break up the plastic. Contrasting stitching on the leather seats and door panels relieve the blackness and make it clear that it's leather-bound. The seats are still overly firm, but they have more controls now, with our Crew featuring up/down/fore/aft controls for the driver’s bolster.
From the driver's position, visibility is good going forward, but the rear window is fairly small and does not allow much visibility to the immediate rear of the tall crossover; and the rear quarter panel has a hopeless blind spot when the middle row of seats is up, compounded by the headrest of the rearmost seats, if equipped (and up). Even with the seats down, the rear quarter is fairly thick. Drivers have to rely on the large outside mirrors and plenty of caution. On the lighter side, the headlights are fairly bright and well focused.
Controls are generally sensible, other than the "push to release" emergency brake. The gated transmission shifter doesn't get in the way, and prevents drivers from accidentally getting into the little-used AutoStick (manual override) mode. Headlights have the normal manual positions plus an automatic position (if so equipped), and a push activates the fog lamps. Everything was in the same place as in the 300C and Charger, a promising sign that Chrysler might be standardizing its interior positions.
The new Pentastar Six is very responsive, and the six-speed automatic’s low first gear uses it to advantage. Hit the gas from a standing start and you leap forward, feeling the torque steer as the wheel loosens up. Zero it sixty times go by quickly, and the car seems to just be feeling its oats as you pass 70 mph.
At highway speeds, if you floor the pedal, there's a pause while the engine accelerates just a bit, then you get a downshift and the tach speeds up to around 3,500 rpm; that pushes you forward a bit faster, but then it downshifts again, and you’re going around 6,000 rpm and you’re in the real flight zone. So hit the gas a little before you need it, and the Journey will respond well; or just have a little patience. You get good acceleration, but after a short pause; it’s not instant-on.
The Journey V6 feels like driving a turbocharged sports car — you get pretty good response around town, without the loose “rubber band transmission” feeling one gets from an engine without sufficient low-end torque coupled to a slow transmission — but at around 4,000 rpm, horsepower shoots up and almost before you know it, you’re at redline and shifting up again. There’s enough torque to allow for driving on the freeway at 65 mph without having to break 2,000 rpm.
The sound insulation is excellent, protecting occupants from blasting stereos of other vehicles as well as wind noise. The ride is smooth but busy, with strong cushioning but still a multitude of little movements. The base four-cylinder has a less performance-oriented suspension and can travel like a luxury car. Indeed, gliding over normally nasty concrete roads and bumpy, unmaintained asphalt increased our respect for the Journey suspension.
Most reviewers have praised the Journey for its road manners, and we will join in. Cornering was unimpaired by the forgiving springs, letting the Journey handle turns that a vehicle of this height and weight should not have been able to take, much less take without the stability control kicking in. Overall, the suspension was surprisingly good, and it was complemented by good tires. Steering adjustments give it a firmer and more responsive feel.
The 3.6 liter engine in our test vehicle was smooth and quiet, starting and idling with little noise. Wind noise was also minimal. The transmission shifted smoothly, going through all six gears easily, and usually staying in the optimal gear except on hills, where it tended to choose too high a gear.
Inside, the large center vents (to reduce noise) and screen/climate controls were framed with rounded-edged, chromed rectangles, and the general effect was to minimize the “center stack” look. All climate controls but vent selection could be done via buttons or knobs. The center stack was clearly an object of attention when the Journey was refreshed; the vents were moved to the top, replacing the sunglass tray; the touch screen was enlarged and put right below it; and the climate control/stereo buttons and knobs were redesigned and moved to the bottom. Along the way, the bulging center stack effect was minimized by using more gradual curves, become far less noticeable.
The rear video camera uses the same touch screen, to aid in backing up. We'd suggest still buying the separate parking alert that works according to traditional bumper sensors with beep-beep noises, but the rear video camera can prevent one of the biggest auto-related child-killers, namely, the backup accident, which is surprisingly common until you realize that (a) kids of a certain age don't pay enough attention to cars, no matter how often you tell them or punish them, and (b) most modern cars have practically no rear visibility for objects of child size.
Satellite radio, a real convenience and a break from over-programmed, commercial-heavy, and chattery FM radio or AM hate radio, is optional. Our 2009 test car also had rear seat video.
As one would expect from a crossover designed to replace minivans, there are plenty of storage places, including a center armrest in the back seat that doubles as a cupholder; map pockets with integrated large-drink holders on every door; a small but deep covered center bin; a large bin under the center stack; a sunglass bin that doubles as a mirror to let parents keep an eye on all five rear seats; and underseat storage. The front underseat storage is easy to reach and fairly convenient, but can't be reached while someone is sitting in the seat. Missing from the roster is the 2008-10’s dual glove compartment.
The rear underfloor storage can be accessed (with some difficulty) while in motion, and uses a watertight liner. You can get extra liners at your dealer, so if you want to have some loaded up with fishing equipment, others with toys, etc., you can have extras ready to go.
The interior lighting in our black car was insufficient but cool, with LED lights in strategic places. Still, it wasn’t even to prevent the car from seeming very dark indeed at night. Fortunately, the controls were nearly all backlit.
The Journey used to have EPA ratings of 15/22 with all wheel drive; now it’s up to 16/24, the new engine providing not just an extra 30 horsepower but also 1-2 mpg. The four-cylinder, front-drive version is rated at 19/26, while the front-drive (which we tested) V6 is 17/25 — the same as Chrysler’s full sized minivan, with the same powertrain.
With the four cylinder, the Journey should be more sprightly than in 2009, because it should have the six-speed automatic, just like the 200 and Avenger. However... it doesn’t have the new transmission, it keeps the old four-speed. Under a full load, the engine can get noisy and the car gets harder to accelerate uphill. For those without a “need for speed,” the four cylinder is a viable alternative — but it’s not available with AWD.
There is plenty of room for four five people, but the rear seats are cramped at best, despite the clever use of "foot holes" under the middle row. These are designed by Chrysler as occasional use seats and they allow people who only rarely need to transport more than five people to have something that's sensibly sized.
Getting into the back seat is made easier by the fold-n-slide middle row and the convenient seat belt routing; indeed, getting into the back is not all that hard for anyone who can fit back there in the first place, though it requires some muscle to push the levers and get the seat to fold and slide (a nifty feature which is sometimes hard to activate). Seven short and skinny people can easily fit; add one obese person and suddenly the equation changes. Fortunately, the middle seats can be moved to and fro as needed.
Like the rearmost seats, the middle seats can fold down to make more room for cargo; if all seats are up, there is little cargo room (despite the hidden extra-space storage underneath the cargo floor). With the rearmost seats folded down, cargo room is quite good, at least in terms of length.
Front seats are firm but moderately comfortable; middle seats are too firm. The rearmost seats are apparently made of concrete covered in leather. Our test vehicle came with built-in booster seats, which are only suitable for older and better-behaved children. (We miss the old integrated infant seats, which made a big difference in safety for a group where correct fastening of the child seat is critical - and rare.) We found that kids had no problem with either second or third row.
The rear doors open 90 degrees, which makes access much easier unless you're parked in between other cars, in which case you'll be missing those sliding minivan doors.
Numerous other little touches make life easier — like having the navigation system provide graphical turn by turn directions in the status panel between the speedo and tach as well as on the big screen; duplicating the climate control on the touch screen while keeping physical buttons and knobs; having both volume and tune knobs for the stereo (duplicated on the steering wheel); showing the park assist in the dash; and letting you control the radio/iPod/CD/hard drive via the steering wheel, physical buttons, and touch screen (with limits, which we'll get to later).
I’m less in love with the keyless ignition and locks. Press the underside of the driver's door, and if your keys are in your pocket, it will unlock; press the underside of the passenger door, and all the doors unlock (you can also set up the driver’s side to unlock all the doors). The trunk has no physical key, but the fob button will pop it open (all the way), and Blaine Martinson pointed out that there’s also a soft touch rubber-covered lock/unlock button on the left side of the license plate, which we’d missed. Once inside, a starter button takes the place of the ignition switch. Unlike most cars, the Dodge both gives you directions (on the status display) and tells you what mode the car is in — off, accessory, and run — with lights above the switch.
Standard on these cars is the status area between the speedometer and tachometer. Dubbed the Vehicle Information Center (VIC), this display always shows the compass heading and outside temperature; if the car is warmed up, it'll also show you when you're running on four cylinder mode (by flashing the word “ECO.”) You can decide what else it will show - your current speed, for example. In the past, you also set vehicle preferences using it and buttons on the steering wheel; now, you use the touch-screen, which makes it easier to go through the menus and tell the car how you want it to lock, turn its lights on, etc.
The VIC display can show the usual gas mileage, average speed, etc.; or it can show interesting data such as oil temperature, antifreeze temperature, and transmission fluid temperature. It would be nice if there was a “multiple info” mode which showed more than one of these at a time, since there’s room for it; or if the system could alternate among several metrics; or if you could show the the same information in the huge center screen. On the lighter side, new, snazzy color graphics decorate the screen and provide more visual appeal.
Dodge Journey stereo / navigation system
The center stack in our Crew model had the two-zone climate control and the MyGIG system with navigation, now supercharged with Garmin software and presumably faster hardware. The Garmin system was a wonder — it was the fastest nav system we’ve ever used, taking input as fast as we could type and adapting very quickly when we ignored its advice. All the usual geegaws were in place, though compass heading was supplied by the gauge cluster display rather than being shown on the screen, and the map always defaulted to the same zoom level regardless of where we’d set it last time. Directions were generally accurate.
Words were large and easy to read, and most parts of the screen were “clickable” — putting our finger on the current speed and speed limit (available for most main roads, and turning our speed red when we went “too fast”), for example, gave us a full distance to destination in miles and minutes, along with the compass heading, elevation, maximum speed, etc. (We would have liked a preference for keeping the zoom setting tighter, and one for providing more latitude between the speed limit and the red print, though we can see that lawyers would have a field day with that.)
Our test car included an auxiliary radio and USB jack, along with a power jack, in the center console; all were backlight. Above that was a removeable change tray, which also had an iPod-sized indentation (with enough room for an iPod Classic and its docking cord). These are all standard on Crew.
The center screen can reflect the climate control buttons (with more information and options), and if you get the rear camera, it provides a panoramic view of what's behind you. It also has the heated seat controls, which show up when the system is booted and have their own “tab.”
If you don’t have an iPod, or don’t want to subject it to car rides, you can load up a huge amount of music onto an SD card and plug that right into the center stack. Given how large and cheap SD cards are, that’s a great option — probably better than using an iPod. If you use a Mac, you have to use a utility (like TinkerTool System) or Terminal commands to get rid of all those empty resource-fork and .DS_store files. Neither problem is hard to address.
Our car had a standard Alpine stereo unit (part of the R/T trim), and it was quite good — we tried it with a range of music that is highly dependent on having a quality audio system, including Bachman & Turner and Devo’s Something for Everyone, along with classical, pop, and regular ol’ whatever’s-on-satellite-radio. All came through with flying colors; clarity is quite good and a marked improvement from Dodge’s 2010s.
The iPod control worked well with our iPod Classic and but was faster with an iPod Nano and Touch. It took a long time for the Classic and stereo to get along the first time due to iPod Classic internal cache issues. It took no time at all to link with an iPod Touch; we did have an issue with the Touch where it wanted to remain in Shuffle mode and wouldn’t let us browse except at rare and apparently random intervals. This might be a bug in our first-gen Touch rather than the system itself. The system worked flawlessly from the SD card.
The system allows browsing of the iPod through the touch screen, showing the names of artists or albums, and even showing cover art (where you have it). You can also move to the next or prior song by using the physical tuning knob, which is a big deal for safe driving; however, you can't set the tone, balance, or fade without going through touch screen gyrations.
By default, once music is playing, the stereo shows the audio screen with the map display inside; the screen is large enough to get away with that.
Dodge Journey Crew: value proposition
The Journey has an attractive starting price, though it can quickly ramp up to minivan turf. The base model starts at $22,245, but at the time we wrote this, a hefty rebate was available as well. The Journey Express comes with the 2.4 liter four-cylinder, with 173 horsepower, and the four-speed automatic. It's nicely outfitted with stability control, full-length floor console, power heated mirrors, roof rails, touch-screen six-speaker stereo, illuminated cupholders, LED tail lamps, EVIC (trip computer), cruise, tilt/telescope steering column, power windows, AutoStick, USB port, wheel-mounted audio, and keyless entry/starter. Still, this setup comes with both the four cylinder and four-speed automatic; the gas mileage ratings are attractive (19/26) but this is for people who really don’t care much about power.
The Journey Express is a real bargain, though, and maybe it’s worth a test drive (with a couple of extra people to get an accurate weight) to see if you can deal with the powertrain. It’s peppier than some people think, and when we wrote this, it was discounted to $19,500... before negotiation.
Moving up just one step, the Mainstreet starts at $24,445, but includes the V6, six-speed automatic, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, bigger wheels, touring suspension, cosmetic exterior enhancements, and the all important floor mats, not to mention remote USB port, side curtain airbags on all rows, front seat airbags, fog lamps, roll mitigation, interior LED lighting, individual-tire pressure monitor, satellite radio, air filter, and trailer sway dampening.
That’s $2,200 for a better engine and transmission, better handling, and a far more featured car. Add $1,700 to that ($26,145) for the least expensive all wheel drive version. Mainstreet seems to be the sweet spot between economy and trim.
So what does the Crew add? Even bigger wheels, and more cosmetic trim, according to Dodge’s web site. Since the Crew starts at $28,495, there must be more to it than that. It has leather-wrapped shifter and steering wheel; interior mirror; Alpine stereo with subwoofer and 368-watt amp; voice command stereo/phone system; six-way power driver’s seat and four-way power passenger seat; front passenger fold-flat seats; AC outlet and extra DC outlets; remote starter; rear window wiper/washer; tip start; dual-zone a/c.
Our test car also had heated leather front seats ($500), the flexible seating group (second row 40/60 tilt-and-slide seats plus third row 50/50 folding/reclining seats, with rear a/c and heater, for $995), the navigation group (8.4” touch-screen DVD/CD player with navigation system, rear backup camera, satellite travel information, and garage door opener, for $700), and integrated child booster seats ($225). These options were fairly inexpensive, historically speaking, particularly the navigation group. All told, our test car cost $31,715 including destination charge, and before rebates.
The Journey is made in Mexico, as are 55% of its parts, though the transmission is made in the United States. Four-cylinder engines are also made in the US, while V6 engines are likely to be made in Mexico. The Journey had not been crash tested at the time of this article, but had a four-star anti-rollover rating.
The Dodge Journey can look and feel something like a luxury car when appropriately outfitted, though now, with its lighter feel and tighter ride, it’s more sport-luxury. It has natty features and great sound insulation; and provides room for seven in a pinch, in a parkable package, just like the original minivan. With the four cylinder you can get decent mileage, with the V6 you can get decent power with minivan mileage.
On the down side, this thing is the length of the old short-wheelbase minivans (it’s narrower), costs nearly as much as a minivan, and has less interior space in a less convenient package. It is more fun to drive, admittedly, and since it weighs less but has the same powertrain, it’s quicker; it’s also more fashionable and easier to get into a garage, having around 6 inches less width than a fourth-generation Caravan.
A lot of people have been surprised at the Journey; it looks good inside and out, has great road manners, and gives you decent gas mileage (I4) or more than adequate power (V6), with a fairly flexible interior and room for those seven people you may need to move around someday. All wheel drive is available, providing better manners in snow and eliminating that torque steer.
If you don't care about speed or do a lot of hill climbing, the base four-cylinder is not a bad choice, though we’d definitely prefer it with the six-speed automatic. The Mainstreat hits the price/performance sweet spot, providing the quick V6 and “enough” standard features for the price of a mid-sized sedan.