I'm not sure if Chrysler sent its engineering staff to medical school, but it certainly seems they've mastered the art of the face-lift. Most of its 2011 products have been slightly overhauled for the new model year but manage to feel like substantially revised products.
Such is the case with the Journey. Admittedly, when compared with vehicles like the Chrysler 200, the makeover is relatively mild -- a new V-6, a refreshed interior, and a few exterior cosmetic tweaks here and there -- but apart from some subpar interior plastics, there wasn't really anything that egregious about the 2010 Journey. In fact, many of us were quite impressed with the sample we tested late last year.
Without a doubt, the most substantial improvement lies with the Journey's interior. The crude, rough-edged plastics previously strewn all over the dashboard are virtually eliminated, or at least relegated to surfaces (i.e. door pocket inserts, kick panels, etc.) that users will likely never touch. Upper door panels and armrests receive soft-touch materials (our Lux test car also wears handsome stitched-leather accents on the door inserts). I'm also surprised by Chrysler's new infotainment system -- unlike other attempts at integrating climate, audio, and navigation controls into a single touch-screen (I'm looking at you, MyFord Touch), the system responds to inputs in a lightning-quick manner.
I wish the same could be said about the powertrain. Yes, Chrysler's new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 -- the only V-6 offering for 2011 -- is smoother, more torquey, and more powerful (283 hp versus 235) than the outgoing 3.5-liter, but it doesn't feel much quicker when behind the wheel. I'm also a little annoyed with the calibration on the 3.6 -- move your foot off the gas following a bout of hard acceleration, and the throttle tends to briefly hang open until the transmission can schedule an upshift. Chrysler dubs the chassis tuning used on this top-end Lux model as its Performance Suspension package, but it seems too soft for the nomenclature.
Mainstays like Toyota's Highlander and Honda Pilot may continue to dominate the segment, but the Journey is -- as it has long been -- a solid, competent crossover. Now that it's got an interior to match, it's worth adding to the shopping list when in the market for a mid-size CUV.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor