2011 Dodge Journey R/T AWD Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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What a difference a year can make: First introduced in 2008 as a 2009 model, the Dodge Journey has always offered excellent value for money and been endowed with a long list of positive attributes. But it lacked a certain pizzazz - especially inside where, despite being packed with useful features, the overall ambience was all "value" and no "indulgence."

Well, things have changed for 2011. Dodge has been busy updating and revamping its entire lineup, and has given the Journey a double-dose of premium pizzazz. I was given a loaded 2011 Journey R/T AWD to try out for a week, and found it to be a surprisingly indulgent experience.

Externally, the changes to the Journey are fairly subtle. The Avenger-based platform and most of the angular 5-door CUV bodywork carry over basically unchanged, but up front there's a revised grille, while at the back new circular LED taillights add a splash of character.

Under the hood, the base engine - a 2.4L, 173-hp 4-cylinder - is the same as before (and mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission), but 6-cylinder Journeys like my R/T AWD test car get a new 3.6L Pentastar V6 that generates 283 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque and is mated to a 6-speed automatic. This is an increase of nearly 50 hp and 30 lb-ft over the previous 3.5L V6, yet the new engine provides slightly better economy (13.0 / 8.4 L/100km city/hwy in AWD trim, versus 14.2/8.9 for the old 3.5L V6). To further sharpen the driving experience, Dodge retuned the Journey's shocks and springs and added 19-inch wheels to the options list.

But the real story is inside the 2011 Journey: Climb aboard, and you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd accidentally gotten into a much more expensive vehicle. Where previous Journeys sported acres of hard, shiny plastic, a somewhat '80s-looking steering wheel and a boxy, protruding centre stack, the 2011 model features a contemporary-looking sculpted dash with generous use of soft-touch materials and metallic accents, new contoured seats, a great-looking new steering wheel and a smaller, streamlined centre stack that uses a large (and easy-to-operate) touch screen to control many of the vehicle's functions.

What Dodge didn't change was the interior's excellent functionality. The Journey was originally intended as a replacement for the old short-wheelbase Caravan, and so while it may look and drive like a CUV, it is packed with minivan-like conveniences: Optional three-row seating, split-folding second-row stadium seating to give rear seat passengers a better view, good luggage space, stowage cubbies in the passenger's seat and below the second-row footwells, available three-zone climate control (two-zone climate control is standard), power locks and windows, keyless entry, six-speaker CD/MP3 audio, and the list goes on.

In my R/T test car, all this functionality was augmented by a laundry list of luxury features: A powerful and sweet-sounding Alpine audio system with Infinity speakers, subwoofer and satellite radio (including a full year's subscription); power moonroof; leather seating; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; 115-volt outlet; remote USB port; heated front seats and power driver's seat; auto-dimming mirror; remote start system; 19-inch alloy wheels and more. Fitted optional equipment included a Garmin navigation system, parking assist with back-up camera, and the flexible seating group with third-row seating.

While the first two rows of seats offer plenty of legroom and headroom, the optional third row is definitely "occasional" seating, with easy access and decent headroom, but tight legroom and very restricted foot-room. I was impressed with the headrests on the 3rd-row seats however, which automatically flip out of the way when you tip the seatback forward so it doesn't hang up on the seatback ahead of it (something that happens too often in other vehicles I've tested).

With its upscale new grille, powerful new V6 and big 19-inch chromed alloy wheels, the Journey R/T AWD certainly now looks the part of a driving machine, and on the road it does a commendable job of trying to live up to the look. The new engine has plenty of grunt once you're off the line, and will launch the Journey's substantial 1,923 kg (4,239 lb) mass up to 100 km/h in 7.6 seconds. The ride is well damped if perhaps a little oversprung, and in corners the Kumho Solus tires provide reasonable grip. There's a certain degree of body lean and a slightly nervous characteristic in high-speed sweeping corners, so you won't mistake the Journey for a sport sedan, but it's certainly more of a driving machine than your typical minivan. Possibly the worst strike against it from a driving perspective is that rearward visibility is rather compromised by the beefy rear pillars and the forest of large headrests in the seven-passenger version.

As for value, that's the other feature that Dodge has left essentially unchanged for 2011, because the Journey still represents great value. If you choose the base 5-passenger SE "Value Package" you can get into a Journey for as little as $18,995 (plus $1,400 destination fees), while a V6-powered SXT can be had starting at $23,995. The R/T AWD starts at $28,995, and my well-optioned test car clocked in at $33,470 plus destination fees. This makes the mid-sized Journey seriously competitive with like-sized vehicles such as the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento, and even allows it to compete on price with smaller compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V. If you're in the market for a small to mid-size crossover, it's certainly worth checking out.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, Dodge, 2011, Journey, $10,000 - $19,999, $20,000 - $29,999,

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