Car reviews - Dodge - Journey - 5-dr wagon range
Accommodating, practical interior, torquey, economical turbo-diesel
Room for improvement
V6 engine, no driver’s footrest, space-saver spare tyre, build quality still not accomplished
25 Sep 2008
By PHILIP LORD
IN THE USA, the concept of a two-wheel drive version of a four-wheel drive is a familiar one. Manufacturers cottoned on to the fact that plenty of buyers were willing to save money by not having to pay for the extra 4WD hardware and ongoing running costs of lugging the extra weight around.
These were people who wanted 4WD wagon practicality, without actually wanting to go near anything slippery enough to need a 4WD system itself.
In Australia, we’ve been slow learners. It took Ford with a 2WD version of the Territory to make the other manufacturers realise there was a dollar to be made out of a cheaper, but just as tall and accommodating SUV-like 2WD wagon.
Finally, those people who bought off-road SUVs with the thought that one day they would go on the big off-road trip have an out. They still want the high-riding practical wagon, but not a Falcon or a Commodore, thanks.
Dodge believes it has the ideal wagon for such people - what it likes to call a ‘crossover’ vehicle, the 2WD Journey.
As you walk up to the Journey, it appears bluff-sided and relatively big. It is actually only slightly larger than the Territory and Kluger. The Journey is a rather conservative design, with its large, flared wheel-arches reminiscent of the Dodge Nitro, and the front-end a reminder of the Voyager.
Any father of a brood whose ideal seven-seat kid carrier is more along the lines of square-jawed Territory than rounded Tarago will most likely find this an appealing design.
Even if it is not going to make you stop and admire it every time you get in - especially with that pure Americana chrome-look grille - the Journey does certainly not wear the soft, namby-pamby organic look of some people-movers.
There are two engine options (interestingly, each with a different transmission, although both versions are two-pedal self-shifters): a 2.7-litre V6 petrol and a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel.
Both have surprisingly small displacements for a vehicle whose gross vehicle mass (kerb weight plus maximum permitted load) is 2520kg. The base model V6’s weight is 1775kg (R/T V6 is 1785kg and 2.0 CRD is 1750kg).
While the Journey’s payload is sufficiently generous to take seven big footy players on board, don’t expect it to tackle big hills in a hurry. With a trailer towed behind (maximum of 1600kg, or 1368kg with seven passengers and luggage aboard), you might even be tempted to let out a few passengers to get up those hills.
In fact, while Dodge wants to compare the Journey with Kluger and Territory, on power and torque outputs at least it’s well out of their league.
While these established SUV nameplates have power outputs of around 200kW and torque figures approaching 400Nm, the Journey’s V6 offers only 138kW at 5500rpm and 256Nm at 4000rpm. And as anyone who has driven a heavy wagon with a small-displacement engine with meagre torque developed at such high revs can attest, it means that you need a fair bit of pedalling to keep up momentum, especially on hills.
And so it turns out on the road: even though the V6 has acceptable launch feel, once on the move your accelerator foot is never going to get cramps due to lack of movement. Under full-throttle acceleration with two occupants on board, performance is acceptable (Dodge claims a 0-100km/h time of 11.6 seconds) but it’s not a patch on the sub-10.0 second times of its competitors.
We imagine that, with the family on board, overtaking moves would begin to feel incredibly slow, but at least it is a fairly smooth engine when revved, and the transmission does a good job of swapping ratios, even though it has to do it a lot.
The most disconcerting thing about driving the Journey was discovered when driving on the many flat, open cruising roads chosen for the vehicle’s launch north-west of Melbourne. The Journey would sit at around 1800rpm in sixth gear at 100km/h, but not for very long.
The slightest incline or puff of a headwind would cause the Journey to drop speed, so the driver is constantly applying throttle to try to maintain it. Doing that causes the transmission to kick-down in search of some power at higher revs - try as it might, the V6 simply can’t hold top gear at these revs for very long.
Holding fifth gear instead helps, and the noise of the V6 humming along at 2500rpm or so at 100km/h is not as objectionable as the constant kick-downs from sixth when left in Drive, but what may be is the fuel economy achieved when doing this. As it was, the trip computer in the V6 we drove showed 11.2L/100km after the flat-road cruise when mostly left in Drive.
This is more than the combined cycle figure of 10.3L/100km, and while more significant fuel-economy testing needs to be done, on this first look the claimed extra-urban cycle figure of 7.6L/100km would appear difficult to achieve.
The 2.0 CRD is quite a revelation after the V6, and while on paper it’s much slower (13.2 seconds 0-100km/h versus 11.6 seconds) its more abundant torque - and torque delivered at much lower revs - makes it much more driveable.
You notice it straight away on the first slight highway incline that the CRD powers up the hill with hardly any throttle in top gear (or maybe with just one kick-down), while the V6 would have been working much harder.
The CRD just ticks along with no more clatter than any other modern diesel and while it’s not as smooth as the petrol V6 it is by no means bad. The DCT six-speed dual-clutch transmission is a seamless, near-perfect purveyor of transmission ratios, carefully and smoothly selecting every one of them.
With a fuel figure of 8.6L/100km achieved in open-country running, the CRD is not only a relaxed engine but one that is clearly very fuel-efficient for a vehicle on the heavy side. Although a little noisier than the V6 overall, both these variants are quiet cruisers.
Where the CRD is compromised is at lower speeds. The combination of heavy kerb weight and the typical turbo-diesel lack of torque below 2000rpm makes shifting the Journey off the line quite a leisurely affair.
While the drive program did not include many twisting roads, it was obvious that the Journey responds well to steering input and rides quite well. The steering feels quick to turn in but doesn’t have the sort of feel that enthusiast driver might prefer.
And the brake pedal angle seems odd - for either left or right-foot braking, it just seems angled too far upwards.
The interior is an unassuming grey/black, with a much better quality of plastics than some recent Chrysler products. The Mexican-built Journey does not have German-style premium build quality by any means though, with inconsistent gaps around the upper glovebox lid and and obvious, inconsistent gaps where the front bumper sweups under the headlights.
The only glaring problem - literally - is the chrome-look lid for the centre dash storage bin, which reflects sunlight into your eyes. Dodge says this will be replaced with a matt black finish for Australian production models.
The front seats are relatively flat and lacking underthigh support, but do not pose any distinct comfort problems, although the driver may be disappointed to notice the lack of driver’s footrest and the handbrake placed to the left on the centre console, next to the front passenger.
The dash styling is worth mentioning for it is a strong reminder of European dashboard design of the 1970s. Have a look at the pics and you’ll see a bit of inspiration from the likes of Peugeot, Renault, Simca and Alfa with the characteristic sloped dash and raised instrument cluster.
The instrument cluster is more workmanlike than stylish, though, and the needle angle makes parallax a problem with the tacho in particular. At least the instruments are well laid out, and simple to use.
The second row is quite a flat seat, but there’s enough room back there for three adults, and the 90-degree opening doors present an easy access point.
The third row is not difficult to get into for adults, but it is a knees-up predicament once seated as the seat base is close to floor level. The second-row seats have a fore-aft adjustment, so that if adults are sitting in the back they can negotiate on knee room, and while the compromise is not bad, the third row is really better suited for kids under 12.
With all three rows occupied, there is still acceptable cargo space left for a daytrip picnic hamper for the family - which is better than some competitors that offer enough space for a measly sandwich or two.
The spare is under the rear of the vehicle and is an 80km/h speed-limited space-saver only.
The seating set-up is not as polished as some better designs. The chunky second-row seat rails, for example, look as if they were made of railway gauge, and the protruding catch that locks the centre seatback section in position looks out of place with the seat down.
Overlook these problems and you will find a folding arrangement that is very easy to use and access to seats that is not the best in segment but by no means bad.
There are cup-holders and 12-volt sockets spread through the cabin, and plenty of storage bins too, including a cooled upper glovebox and, in the second row, underfoot bins with wet liners that will take a six-pack of drink cans.
The Journey is probably the best Dodge product we’ve seen in recent years, with its promising combination of features and space and improved quality and dynamics over other recent Dodge products.
The pick of the Journey range - the turbo-diesel CRD - is unfortunately more expensive than its petrol opposition, and so takes the good value aspect of this vehicle away.
If you can live with that - and the unknown resale value - the Journey CRD would be a good choice for ‘working families’.
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