The Dodge Journey certainly wouldn't make the cut. It's a work friend, a lab partner, a neighbor who lives three houses down. It's a car that you don't notice until you've already bought it. It's immensely practical, but utility doesn't make hearts race with excitement. Even with Dodge's trademark muscular, angled design language, it's clear this is a family hauler. While owning a Journey might be a bit of forced companionship, the little crossover is pleasant enough you may start to think of it as a friend.
The Journey's Uconnect infotainment system is straightforward and simple, but doesn't shortchange when it comes to features.
The 2013 Dodge Journey features Chrysler's Uconnect infotainment system. Though it sounds like an alumni association website for former Huskies, Uconnect is actually one of the most straightforward navigation and entertainment systems we've encountered. It won us over with its big screen and bold buttons, and its simple interface kept our blood pressure from rising.
The navigation setup is straight from Garmin, and it asks simple questions like, "Where to?" We found it required a minimum of button presses to complete tasks. It also encompasses controls for audio and climate, but on the Journey most important buttons were duplicated physically on the dashboard and steering wheel. Since temperatures were close to zero during our testing, we did wish that the heated seats and steering wheel had separate physical buttons, since they got used pretty frequently.
When it comes to navigation, it's not the fastest system we've used — it often takes at least ten seconds to calculate a route, which is an eternity when you're waiting for a light to change — but all button presses register immediately.
Voice recognition proved supremely competent when recognizing an address. Unlike setups which require spelling out street names or selecting options from menus, Uconnect prompts the user to speak the entire address, and then tries to parse out clues from what it understands to piece together a final destination. It worked perfectly in all our tests. We did have some trouble searching for restaurants and other attractions, however, as Uconnect requires specific commands rather than natural speech. At least they're helpfully listed on the screen.
The Journey ain't fooling anyone: It's a mini-minivan. But it's darn practical.
It's not a minivan. We swear it isn't a minivan. Look at that aggressive cross-hair grill. Check out the low profile of the roof. Those side doors don't even slide! Seriously guys, it's a crossover!
Despite its muscular profile, the Dodge Journey is actually very much a mini-minivan. In fact, it's almost the exact same proportions as the original Grand Caravan from the mid-80s. That makes it a hit in Europe, where it's known as the Fiat Freemont and marketed as "all the car you want." For most buyers in the US, even those with large families, it's all the car they need: seating for seven and tons of cargo space, without the size and heft of an SUV.
If the last Chrysler product you drove was a rental Sebring back in the late '90s, you'll be extremely surprised by the Journey's interior. On the R/T trim we drove, red stitching accented the black leather, buttons were large and easy to see, and the thick, heated steering wheel was quite comfortable on long drives.
The seven-passenger configuration is really more appropriate for five adults and two kids, since the rearmost seat is so cramped it actually features small cutouts where passengers' feet should go. It's possible to slide the middle row forward, but that would just make those passengers uncomfortable. It's quite easy to fold both rows of seats down for storage, though the lack of a sliding door may make it slightly more difficult to wrangle a baby seat out of the second row.
In addition to people, the Journey offers plenty of places to hide baggies of Cheerios and action figures away, in storage bins under the passenger seat and beneath the rear seat footrests. Unfortunately, the compartment under the front passenger seat made the seat cushion feel less than supportive. We also weren't thrilled to find out that the only power seat controls were on the driver's side, which still had a manual recline. That's understandable for a Journey in base trim, but on a loaded $36,000 vehicle, that's disappointing.
Options on our tester included a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with RCA inputs for, say, playing a video game. There's a standard two-prong outlet in the backseat, too.
The Journey is made for road trips, but it's small enough to be maneuverable around town.
The laws of physics dictate that large, heavy vehicles don't handle as well as their smaller counterparts unless they're equipped with extremely expensive suspensions and drivetrains. The laws of economics dictate that the Dodge Journey can't have those and still start under $20k. Hence, the Journey lumbers and wallows a bit when pushed through tight curves. We also couldn't help but notice mushy brakes and slow steering. In a seven-passenger mini-minivan, though, we don't demand tight handling. In fact, we'd rather see a softer ride, lest we take a corner too fast and spill Junior's animal crackers. The Journey is, as its name may suggest, ideally tuned for road trips.
One very positive note here: Our tester was equipped with Chrysler's Pentastar V6, which has impressed us in the Chrysler 300 sedan and Jeep Wrangler, and continues to please us in this application. In the Journey, it makes 283 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, and feels completely capable whether you're accelerating from a stop or passing on the highway. We also got the chance to drive the Journey in a snow storm, where all-wheel drive helped us accelerate from a stop without skidding.
Perhaps our biggest complaint was fuel economy. Around town, we barely averaged above 16 mpg, which is abysmal. On the highway, it barely broke 20 mpg. While we're firm in the belief that one doesn't need a big SUV to haul a big family, fuel economy numbers like what the Journey got don't help our argument very much. A used Land Rover LR4 would get you similar numbers, plus more space, off-road capacity and a heck of a lot more prestige. A Mazda5 has a sliding door, room for six and reliably gets mileage in the low 20s, but lacks the power and all-wheel drive of the Journey.
The beginning of a beautiful friendship
You'll never fall in love with the Dodge Journey. That's OK. It doesn't want love – it just wants to accompany you to soccer games and trips to Grandma's house. Despite its unconvincingly aggressive exterior, its obviously content as a mini-minivan, a seven-seater that's smaller than the Grand Caravan and more sensible than the Durango.
When it comes to pricing cars on a wide spectrum, Chrysler is usually one of the worst offenders. That's the case with the Dodge Journey, which starts at around $19,000 for the "America's Value" package. For that money you get a bare-bones car with a four-cylinder engine, front-wheel drive, and seating for five. If you've been to an airport rental car lot lately, this is the "or similar."
There are a variety of packages that combine various permutations of all-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, a four-cylinder engine or that nice Pentastar V6. The version we drove, the Journey R/T, is the top-of-the-line version with seating for seven. Fully loaded, it comes close to $36k.
The least expensive seven-passenger Journey with seating for seven, all-wheel drive and a six-cylinder engine is a SXT with the Flexible Seating Group and AWD options, which starts around $26,540.
The Journey offers two engine choices – a four-cylinder mated to a four-speed automatic transmission, or Chrysler's Pentastar V6 mated to a six-speed automatic. To get the six, you have to step up to at least the SXT trim, which is also the lowest trim level to offer AWD.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rates the Journey four out of five stars overall, with four stars for frontal crash protection, four stars for rollover avoidance and five stars for side-impact protection.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says the 2013 Journey is a Top Safety Pick, and it gets top honors in all tests.
The EPA rated the car we tested — a Journey AWD with a V6 engine — at 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway. We saw similar results in our tests. A four-cylinder, front-wheel drive Journey only gets 19 city and 26 highway. For a five-passenger vehicle, that's not great. For a seven-passenger vehicle, it's pretty good.
Meet the testers
Former Editor in Chief, Reviewed Home@itskeithbarry
Keith was the Editor in Chief of Reviewed's appliance and automotive sites. His work has appeared in publications such as Wired, Car & Driver, and CityLab.See all of Keith Barry's reviews
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