I had a vague notion that the Dodge Journey would be a cheap, dull, and disappointing small crossover -- it was conceived five years ago during some of Chrysler Group's less successful years. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to drive the Journey and find it mature, stylish, and remarkably comfortable. Much credit goes to the Pentastar V-6, as excellent here as in any other new Chrysler vehicle; it provides ample power while remaining quiet and smooth. I really dig the LED taillights, and the interior (freshened for 2011) impressed me with its attractive materials and cool ambient lighting.
On the other hand, the bargain-basement radio and climate-control system is a huge disappointment. The touch screen is very small and flanked by giant, plain-looking buttons; its operation is complicated by the fact that the climate-control settings are displayed on the screen but adjusted only via large knobs located on the center stack. The whole setup feels really crude, as if it was cobbled together at the last minute.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
Dodge really transformed the Journey in 2011. It went from being chock-full of cheap plastics and other undesirable surfaces to a pretty nice place to spend time, at least in the case of the fully loaded models. Our SXT tester is a middle-of-the-pack model that shows a bit of cost cutting. For example, I was surprised to find automatic headlights lacking at this price point in an otherwise competitive vehicle.
I agree with Jake Holmes about the small touch-screen interface. More expensive Journey models equipped with navigation have a bigger touch screen that's much easier to use. I appreciate the fact that Dodge offers redundant manual controls for the climate-control system, but you're forced to use the touch screen to adjust where the fan is blowing, and that's not very intuitive when the screen is so small. Without a navigation system, I don't see a need for a touch screen to control anything other than the stereo functions. This solution isn't as bad as MyFord Touch, but it seems to be more about jamming technology into a car than using technology to make the in-car experience any better.
Not that long ago, the Dodge Journey wasn't worth a second glance. Now it's very competitive, especially the high-end trim levels. If the climate-control system doesn't bother you, this is a reasonably good choice in the AWD crossover category.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
In my mind, the Journey is clearly the best vehicle to come from Chrysler's small/mid-size "JS" platform, which also underpins the admittedly weak Chrysler Sebring/200 and the Dodge Avenger. The Journey started out pretty well upon its debut for the 2009 model year, and some thorough revisions to its interior and powertrains make it even better for 2012. The Journey might not be a class leader, but it's definitely competitive and has a reasonably sporty feel, good looks, and fairly comfortable and spacious confines.
This is the first time I've encountered the more basic version of Chrysler's new infotainment system (with a smaller touch-screen). It would take more than 50 miles for me to get its operation down pat, but it seems to work well enough upon initial impressions. I agree completely with Jake's lukewarm assessment of the climate controls, however.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
In six-cylinder guise, the Journey has always been one of those vehicles that manages to outshine its origins. As Rusty says, it has long been one of the best fruits of Chrysler's latest midsize platform, delivering a comfortable ride, acceptable dynamics, and a fair amount of interior space. The revisions applied for the 2011 model year - which largely involve replacing the horrid interior materials and adding a fairly competent V-6 - only make things better.
Although I'd driven a fully loaded Journey R/T late last year, this was my first time with one that wasn't as extravagantly optioned. This SXT does without the leather seating, rear-seat entertainment system, and the fold-flat third-row seat, which is best suited for passengers of small stature. I was a bit surprised to find the seat cushion of the front passenger seat flipped up and forward to reveal a storage cubby, although I had more use of the fold-flat front seatback when bringing home a bundle of lengthy storage organizers. Dodge touts the fat that most Journeys receive touch-screen panels for 2011, but as has been pointed out, not all utilize the giant 8.4-inch screen we've come to love in other Chrysler products. This smaller screen is a little cluttered with buttons but still operates as smoothly and quickly as its larger brethren. Acceleration is brisk, thanks to the 3.6-liter V-6, but the transmission - which occasionally delivered a surprisingly harsh gear change - could stand a bit more refinement.
All in all, I like the Journey - but I have a little difficulty swallowing the price tag. Our tester packs in a fair amount of content, but it's priced at $28,485, and according to Dodge's configurator site, it's quite easy to price this mid-grade model well into the $30,000 zone -- especially if all-wheel-drive is a must-have feature.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor