2009 Dodge Journey

Sam Smith
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Sometimes, it seems that carmakers invent names for their products solely so they can insert corny lines into media-presentation speeches. Take the recent launch of the Dodge Journey: "The Journey," the attending media were told, "is always more than the sum of its parts." Heady stuff, especially when you consider that Dodge's new crossover is built on the same platform that underpins the decidedly mediocre Chrysler Sebring.

Regardless, the pitch makes sense: Dodge is aiming the Journey at people in transition (new families and recent empty nesters are the two primary targets) in the hope that it will be seen as something more than just another parts-bin-built crossover. As such, the Auburn Hills company decided to emphasize people-carrying ability over power and budget-oriented practical touches over frippery.

Predictably, then, seating capacity and clever available features are the Journey's strong points. As many as seven passengers can be crammed into the Dodge's interior if you choose the optional third-row seat, and the list of standard equipment includes such positives as stability control; a six-disc, MP3-compatible CD changer; electronic brake assist; myriad storage spaces (see sidebar); and side-curtain air bags for all three rows of seats. Hands-free Bluetooth connectivity, rear air-conditioning, a backup camera, and a 368-watt Infinity sound system, among other goodies, are all optional.

From the curb, the Journey looks a lot bigger than it is, and therein lies the rub: at sixteen feet long, five and a half feet tall, and six feet wide, Dodge's not-quite-a-minivan, not-quite-a-car doesn't have a lot of interior space into which to cram its many features. The Journey's third-row seats are all but useless unless you're a half-pint quadruple amputee, and its second-row seats offer little legroom and a claustrophobic atmosphere akin to sitting at the bottom of an oil drum.

Nevertheless, that "sum of its parts" line wasn't just hype. Oddly, the 3800-pound base Journey is far more satisfying to drive than its 3300-pound Sebring sibling. Unlike in the Sebring, road noise and annoying engine thrum are kept to a minimum. The Journey's rocker panels and key sections of its unibody are filled with closed-cell expanding foam, which helps to make the Journey one of the quietest sub-$30,000 vehicles we've driven. The standard 173-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is unobtrusive and well-behaved, and the optional 235-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 provides a decent amount of off-the-line thrust. As you'd expect, the Journey's chassis suffers from some of the same maladies that the Sebring's does - chiefly, underdamped body motions and a lack of steering feel - but it still handles predictably, and the rear suspension offers up none of the impact noise found in the Sebring.

What impressed us most, however, was the Journey's interior, which exudes a quality not usually found in Chrysler products, with soft-touch plastics and tight panel fits. This upgrade reportedly came - late in the Journey's development cycle and at great cost - at the behest of Chrysler's parent firm, Cerberus Capital Management, and it's a welcome instance of corporate meddling.

The Journey is a decent, if not earthshaking, effort. Packaging disappointments and other complaints are partially offset by a low base price - four-cylinder models start at just $19,985 - and although the competition is often more entertaining to drive, few competitors offer as much bang for the buck. Or, to be more succinct, the Journey - also known as getting there - might not be half the fun, but at least it's cheap.

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