Dodge Journey attracts attention for its price

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The Lowdown

Engine: 3.6-litre V-6
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drive: All-wheel drive
Horsepower: 283 horsepower at 6,350 rpm
Torque: 260 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm
Base Price: $29,795; as tested: $38,890
Fuel Economy: 7.7 litres per 100 kilometres city/8.2 highway; regular fuel
Alternatives: Chevrolet Equinox, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Mazda CX-7, Toyota RAV4, Volkswagen Tiguan, Ford Escape

I don’t think I’ve ever been more conflicted about a vehicle than with the Dodge Journey. I like its affordability, practicality, comfort level, performance, and thoughtfulness. If I needed a crossover, it would be right up there on my shopping list.

But—and with a capital B—the Journey has a significant problem that would probably keep me from signing on the dotted line. I’ll get to it in a moment.

But first, some specs. Well into its fifth year, the Journey is the smallest SUV in Dodge’s stable, now that the unlamented Nitro is no longer with us. Originally built on the Avenger platform, it’s available in at least five trim levels and can be had with a 173-horsepower four-cylinder, or, as was the case with my tester, a 3.6-litre V-6—Dodge/Chrysler’s so-called “Pentastar” power unit.

Horsepower output for this engine is 283, and it develops 260 foot-pounds of torque—more than enough for this 1,900-kilogram–plus SUV, and, all things considered, the proper engine for this model. Those additional 110 horses make all the difference, and fuel economy, especially on the highway, is about the same for both engines: 7.7 litres per 100 kilometres, versus 7.9 for the front-drive versions. Transmission choice is a six-speed automatic-only with the V6, and you can also get it with either front-drive or all-wheel-drive. My test R/T had the latter, and it’s of the “slip and grip” variety. I never used it, but it’s nice to know it’s there, all the same.

You can seat up to seven people in a Journey, though it won’t be an exercise in comfort, and even six is a little on the snug side. Interior cargo room, with all the seats folded, is 1,914 litres, which is surprisingly adequate. One of the Journey’s closest rivals, the Chevy Equinox, has 1,803 litres, so storage capability is one of the Journey’s strong points. It has little nooks and crannies all over the place, including a front passenger seat that folds flat, a storage compartment under the front-seat cushions, and cool little storage bins under the floor in the second-row seating area. Not to mention power points all over the place. No complaints here.

Nor with affordability—if you choose the Canada Value Package (which differs from the R/T Rallye listed below in The Lowdown). For under $20,000 (before taxes and extras), you’re getting a nicely equipped version—air conditioning, tilt-telescoping steering, cruise control, et cetera—that does everything its fancier stablemates do, but with less stuff. Yes, you have to content yourself with the four-banger, but this, the base model, is some $10,000 cheaper than the one I drove. Like the Grand Caravan with the Canada Value Package, this one is hard to ignore. My tester, the RT Rallye AWD, also had heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, Sirius, a navi system ($825), and a “flexible seating group” ($1,475), which included rear-seat a/c, third-row 50/50 folding seat, and a slick folding second-row seat that makes getting into the back reasonably straightforward.

The Journey also has a good sense of drivability about it. Easy to get in and out of, lots of elbow room, sensible and easy-to-understand ergonomics and switchgear, and a nice, everyday kind of utilitarian useability. Your heart won’t beat faster every time you slide behind the wheel, but you will be comfortable, and the Journey does what it’s supposed to, with a minimum of fuss and aggro. So no gripes about price, interior volume, or performance.

That said, it has consistently scored poorly when it comes to reliability and overall dependability. Consumer Reports, for example, describes the Journey as “mediocre”, with a new-car reliability rating of some 60 percent below average. This is based on CR’s 50-test evaluation process, covering areas such as drivetrain, suspension, handling, and so on. It scores just 61 points out of a possible 100 with this organization, which puts it near the back of the pack. Top scorers, such as the Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4, are well up into the high 80s. Problem areas with the Journey seem to be with wonky transmissions and fuel economy not being as advertised. Says CR: “reliability has been well below average.”

They’re not alone. Marketing researcher J.D. Power gives failing grades to the 2012 Journey in areas such as overall quality, predicted reliability, and overall performance and design. Owners report problems with comfort and mediocre fuel economy, in particular. These areas have been an issue with the Journey since its introduction in 2009.

This is worrisome. Buying an automobile because of its price is a false sense of economy. The axiom “You get what you pay for” was never more true than in the car business. Journey competitors, such as the RAV4, Forester, Sorento, and so on may have higher price tags, but they also have higher ratings and better service records.

Food for thought.

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Mark
It's typical Dodge quality. It won't last very long! Do yourself a favor and buy a Honda or Toyota.
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