Built for giants
By Igor Holas with Melissa J. Sanchez
If you watch TV, you probably are already familiar with the basics on the Dodge Journey, as Dodge launched it with a massive advertising campaign. However, while the ads, and the standard four-cylinder engine make it seem like a relatively compact three row crossover, it is in fact nearly as large as the Ford Taurus X. However, what makes it worthy of our subtitle is its front cabin, which seems to have been designed with giants in mind. Every control, every knob and everything else is out of reach, forcing the driver or his/her passenger to lean forward for even the simplest tasks. Despite the ergonomics issues, the Journey had many thoughtful features, and overall felt like a perfect family car, but we just could not get ourselves to like it.
The Journey is basically a tall station wagon; and while that could be said of most crossovers, the Journey owns this look. It is not a neo-station (i.e. tall wagon) wagon to the tune of Taurus X or a true station wagon such as the VW Passat. However, the Journey sits low, is long, and provides relatively car-like ride.
The features that put it into the “crossover category” (besides Chrysler PR) are oversized wheels and wheel arches, a slightly raised suspension, and a ridiculously high cowl. The proportions are decidedly crossover-like, and decidedly Dodge-like. After the failure of the Magnum (an undeserved failure in our opinion, by the way) Dodge was brave to model its new wagon after it, but the new look is sleek, elegant, and simple. Overall, the Journey has a great presence, and one of the most cohesive designs to come out of Auburn Hills in years.
That said, our Journey had two curious exterior details; first, while the car was almost brand new, both the front and rear bumper were significantly misaligned. We would be able to push the sticking-out corners in, but within a day, they would pop back out. Secondly, while the car was equipped with the optional trailer tow package, which prepared it to tow up to 3,500 pounds, we could not find the hitch.
We should probably tell you up front that we did not particularly care for the Journey’s interior. This opinion cannot be solely attributed to missing features or faulty ergonomics. The ergonomics certainly had flaws, but the features included in our Journey were numerous. From strictly objective perspective (on paper), our family-minded evaluation should applaud this interior and its features, yet we never warmed up to it and worse yet, we cannot quite explain why.
Ephemeral discussion of emotions aside, the interior has only one obvious flaw – ergonomics. The interior seems to have been designed with giants in mind, as you have to lean forward for every operation. The center stack is too shallow and too far laterally from the driver – so every adjustment requires a lean away from one’s comfortable driving position. It is also awkwardly angled upwards, and the touch-screen MyGIG entertainment system resides way too low on the dash. It is about a full foot below the driver’s line of sight – and that is quite a distance to travel – about as far as you would have to divert your eyes if looking for your glasses if they had fallen onto the console. The problem is, you usually stop the car to look for the glasses – but you cannot stop to adjust radio volume or find a new station.
Another ergonomic glitch comes in the HVAC controls. They are attractively arranged, but someone wrongly decided to place the front driver fan speed control about half and inch above the rear seats’ fan speed control. At a quick glance you do not know which one is which, and I almost always sent my hand to the wrong one.
Ergonomics aside, the Journey’s dash is designed with an odd eighties-retro look with blocky shapes in some spots, and angled lines in others. There is nothing wrong with the theme, especially as it was executed out of soft plastics with chrome accents and encompasses all the requisite features. The steering wheel is typical Dodge fare with large driver information center controls on the front, audio controls on the rear, and cruise control on a separate stalk. The overall controls were relatively easy to use, and most had quality feel to them, but Dodge needs to update its lights/blinker stalk – it felt, sounded, and moved with the complete opposite of refinement or smoothness; since you will use this control literally at every turn, it will keep reminding you of its incredible cheapness.
Overall, the front cabin was not to our liking thanks to the nitpicks mentioned above, but it was well-designed. Moreover, it sported and impressive array of storage spaces, including a flip-forward passenger cushion with a hidden compartment, AC-linked cooling box (that failed to keep two 20 ounce bottles of Root beer cold over a 2 hour drive) and top-dash bin. We never felt as if we were wanting for storage room for anything.
Moreover, this impressive interior flexibility continued into the second row, where integrated booster seats, under-floor storage bins, 40-20-40 folding seat (with the center section acting as an armrest when folded) and other neat details, truly make this an amazing vehicle for lugging your kids around.
Finally, the third row is lacking in space and cannot compete with the Taurus X’s, but at least it does have one. While tight, it sits an adult in a slightly more comfortable position than the Hyundai Veracruz does, and could be used for hauling smaller children in a pinch.
Driving the Journey
The Journey we tested as an all wheel drive model powered by a 3.5 liter V6 engine. However, the car felt unbearably heavy, and the engine reluctant to move the vehicle, in spite of respectable power and torque figures (again on paper). If this conclusion sounds familiar, it is because we had a similar opinion of the Journey’s stable mate the Jeep Liberty. While the two vehicles share almost no components (including their engines or transmissions) their driving impressions were similar.
The main culprit most likely lies with the accelerator, or more precisely, throttle control. The gas pedal is very hard to press, and only a significant depression causes acceptable amount of acceleration. This motion is accompanied by rough noises and perceptible vibration. Through the fault of the accelerator alone, the car felt heavier than necessary. It felt as if we were pushing it harder than it would have liked – even if we were just cruising on a highway. Simply put, if there is one objective flaw of the Journey, that could be considered major, it would be the powertrain. We did not like it, and it’s likely that most potential buyers would agree. To boot, the mileage returned was nothing stellar – 9 to 10 miles per gallon in the city, and 19 to 21 miles per gallon on the highway. We calculated our fill-up mileage and came up with 14 mpg in a highway-heavy week of driving.
It is difficult to objectively evaluate something you subjectively dislike, and it is hard for us to describe why we weren’t thrilled with the Journey. It has an amazingly accommodating, family-friendly and flexible interior. Its engine, while somewhat unrefined, is perfectly capable of hauling around families in style, and while the fuel economy is not stellar, it is competitive for its segment.
We did not enjoy our week with the Journey and that is despite taking it to fun places, such as the Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade. However, our feelings are subjective, and yours might be different; the Journey definitely has enough boxes checked to be worthy of your consideration.
For more photos of the 2009 Dodge Journey, click here.
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