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2011 Dodge Journey: So-so crossover gets a serious peppering

Posted by Dan Roth  April 14, 2011 04:08 PM

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(All photos: Dan Roth for Boston.com; Except interior: Chrysler). Click photo for larger version.

Dodge might prefer you forget there was a Journey before the 2011 model year, when it was a rather below-average crossover introduced for 2009. The word "new" peppers every paragraph of Dodge's 742-word press release, and there's nary an area that wasn't touched or redone.

Always good-looking, the Journey's exterior is only mildly tweaked for 2011. A bolder grille echoes the "split crosshair" theme of the exceptional 2011 Charger. Since our Journey Crew featured the 3.6 liter Pentastar V6 (also new...) for hauling its all-wheel-drive backside, the lower portion of the front fascia had a Clark Kent-esque jutting chin. New wheels round out the most visible changes, and the results are handsome. Bottom line: There wasn't ever anything wrong with the Journey's styling, and that's still the case.

The fuel conscious may be tempted to go for the 2.4-liter four-cylinder that's available only on the $22,245 Journey Express. Don't do it. Dodge makes it easy to get the V-6, which is the only engine available with all-wheel drive, and it's not worth suffering a gritty, overwhelmed four-cylinder with its antiquated four-speed automatic for the higher 19/26 mpg rating. A Journey with the features most buyers want will have the Pentastar, end of story.

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With 283 horsepower, the Pentastar is 20 percent more brawny than the old 3.5-liter V-6 the Journey used to carry, and its 260 lb.-ft of torque is also a significant boost. In practice, the V-6, six-speed automatic, and all-wheel drive are smooth and reassuring travel facilitators.

The transmission has both an obsession with efficiency and a steep sixth gear. The proclivity to upshift early is better for fuel economy, delivering EPA estimates of 17/25 in front-wheel-drive trim. Even with the all-wheel-drive chassis ringing in at 4,200 pounds, you're looking at 16/24. Out on the Mother Road, however, the 0.69:1 sixth gear ratio is a bit much when the road has an inclination to incline. What happens then is shifting, sometimes lots of it.

Manually selecting sixth gear on the highway shows the engine's torque delivery requires more RPM to come on boil than its relaxed sub-2,000 cruise can muster. But if you plant your foot and let it rev, there's no shortage of power. The drivetrain is quiet and well-isolated, going about its business smoothly with cruise control engaged.

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The Journey is a good-riding, good-handling three-row crossover. The suspension has been put into fine fettle thanks to better suspension geometry, a beefier, more accurate electrically-assisted steering system, and careful tuning. As a result, the 2011 Dodge Journey rides comfortably. Bumps are absorbed without jarring the occupants or bottoming out, and the chassis is disciplined and not floaty. The Journey exhibits some body roll when asked to corner quickly, but the tires neither complained or slipped during our drive.

Going is dandy — stopping is another matter. The Journey's brakes look undersized hiding behind the 19-inch wheels, and that impression is confirmed by stepping on the pedal. The braking performance is the weakest part of the driving experience.

The Journey's interior is well-suited for family use. Three rows of seats are arranged theater style, with the lower cushion of each successive row being higher off the floor than the seat in front. Multiple storage bins provide places to stow gear where it won't encroach on passenger space, either. The second-row footwells each have a covered bin, and the bottom cushion of the front passenger seat flips forward to reveal a storage compartment, as well.

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Click photo for larger version.

There's a deep bin under the center armrest, and the doors all have commodious pockets with integrated cupholders. Back doors that open up a full 90 degrees make it easy to install child seats, and the sliding, reclining and tumbling second row seats also have integrated booster seats for larger children.

The Journey's third row is best suited for children or occasional use, but it makes the most comfort out of the space it's allotted. Even when it's up, there's still some storage space behind the third row, too. The second row seats do interfere with the folding of the third row unless slid forward, but once you get the third row deployed or stowed, the second row seats can be slid back. A note to anyone with kids or dogs (or both): The white upholstery of our test car will require frequent cleaning to avoid looking dingy.

Our Journey carried the high-tech UConnect Touch system that features a big LCD that's quick and responsive. UConnect is easy to operate and intuitive, placing functions across the bottom of the screen and using clear graphics that don't distract as much as some systems offered by competitors. It never did successfully pair with my cellphone via Bluetooth, but given enough determination, that would have been overcome, as well.

The Garmin-supplied navigation system integrated into the UConnect system has clear graphics and displays useful information like speed limit and current speed. All in all, despite its high-tech abilities, UConnect is friendly and easy to use.

With the crossover segment being where the action is, Dodge needs to have a serious entry. The 2011 Journey is that vehicle. It's been redone with great success to become a credible competitor to the latest Ford Explorer and Chevrolet Equinox in terms of value and driving satisfaction. If you're crossover shopping, it's worth a look. Just don't bring up its past, okay?

Dan Roth is a contributing writer for Autoblog. Follow him on Twitter @Boston_Auto.



2011 Dodge Journey Crew AWD

THE BASICS
Price, base/as tested (with destination): $22,245/$33,445
Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 16 city/24 highway
Fuel economy, Globe observed: 23 mpg
Drivetrain: 3.6-liter V-6, 6-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
Body: 4-door, 7-passenger crossover

THE SPECIFICS
Horsepower: 283 @ 6,350 rpm
Torque: 260 ft.-lbs @ 4,300 rpm
Overall length: 192.4 inches
Wheelbase: 113.8 inches
Height: 66.6 inches
Width: 72.2 inches
Curb weight: 4,229 pounds

THE GOOD
Nicely styled, good driving, very nice new interior and easy-to-use tech

THE BAD
Weak brakes, frequent shifting on the highway

THE BOTTOM LINE
A silk purse from a sow's ear, and a good value. Should be on your radar if you're shopping for a family-friendly crossover.

ALSO CONSIDER
Ford Edge, Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota Venza

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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