Car reviews - Dodge - Journey - R/T
Heaps of gear for the money, spacious and family-friendly interior, option of third-row seats
Room for improvement
Thirsty V6 with no diesel option, Fiat’s twin-under-the-skin Freemont has more engine options including diesel and is cheaper, Dodge’s uncertain future
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14 Nov 2014
By BARRY PARK
Price and equipment
It’s a sad indictment on the Australian car-making industry that you can buy a pretty fully loaded Dodge Journey for less money than an entry-level Holden Commodore station-wagon.
For $32,500 before on-road costs you can jump behind the wheel of an entry-level, 3.6-litre V6-engined Journey SXT, with the option of an extra row of seats costing $1500 but also adding air-conditioning controls for the rear seats to the dual-zone controls up front, integrated booster seats on the two outboard middle-row seats, and slides under the middle-row seats that allow fore and aft adjustment.
By comparison, the almost identical US-made, Italian-badged Fiat Freemont – note the difference in origins – kicks off from just $27,000 with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine under the bonnet with a slightly lesser amount of kit and the option of $1500 third-row seats.
Standard equipment on the Dodge version, though, is pretty rich, and includes a Bluetooth audio system with USB input, six-speaker audio, cloth seats with a powered driver’s seat that includes lumbar support, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a neat little curved mirror that lets the front-seat occupants keep an eye on the rear rows, a trip computer with a tyre pressure monitor, headlights that stay on for a while after you exit the vehicle, and luggage tie-downs in the boot space.
A much-needed reversing camera ties in with the rear-mounted sensors.
There’s even push-button engine start, although you’ll still need to fish around in a pocket to find the key fob to unlock the doors.
We’re driving the more upmarket R/T that costs from $36,500. Among other things it adds leather trim to the seats, beefs up the audio system to include a subwoofer, replaces the black roof rails with shiny silver ones, steps up in wheel size from the default 17-inch to 19s, throws in a DVD player, and includes a satellite navigation system that interacts with the default voice control system.
The Journey’s driving position is quite commanding, so it is a big step up into the driver’s seat, and then a long reach to close the driver’s door.
Once behind the wheel, though, the driver is treated to a big, wide workspace.
The plastics are all hard and utilitarian, but then again this is a family vehicle, so it needs to be durable.
The steering wheel with its strange array of audio control buttons has reach and rake adjustment, and the flat, wide seats make finding a good driving position easy.
Dash presentation, though, shows its age with blocky LCD graphics and big analogue dials written in miles per hour as well as km/h. The sat-nav screen is set too low, below the air vents, showing the interior’s age where more modern designs keep the screen up high and in the driver’s eyeline.
There’s heaps of storage options around the front seats, including a deep centre bin, a chilled glovebox and a flip-up passenger seat squab that hides a storage bin, so there’s plenty of space to stash everything that children attract.
Second-row seats are adult-friendly, and because our R/T has the third row of seats optioned on, they slide fore and aft to liberate more legroom in row three. The DVD screen that drops down from the roof is excellent for keeping children entertained on a longer trip, and there are separate climate control settings for the second- and third-row vents. The in-built booster seats pop up at the pull of a handle.
The ability to shunt the reclining second-row seats forward means you can liberate enough legroom in the knees-up third-row seats to seat an adult for short trips.
A bonus is the two deep storage tubs built into the second row floor. They will swallow toys, drinks, wet beach towels and more.
The second-row seat split-folds 40-60, but the smaller split is on the passenger side of the car, while the larger split is on the driver’s side.
Although this is not an issue, we think it would be more convenient for Australian-spec cars to have the larger opening on the passenger side.
The boot is big and roomy, and in our R/T includes a luggage area cover that has nowhere to go once the third-row seats are up.
Engine and transmission
The Journey used to have a diesel engine option, but the introduction of the “European” Freemont means the Fiat version of the Journey now gets the hard-working, fuel pump friendly 2.0-liter turbo diesel as a point of differentiation.
That leaves the Journey with the 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engine. It’s a nice, smooth unit that pulls well via the six-speed automatic transmission it is mated to, but real-world fuel use for the almost 2000kg Journey is a scary jump over the official 10.4L/100km combined use, soaring as high as the mid-16s over our week behind the wheel with a few bodies on board.
The engine produces 206kW of power and 342Nm of torque, but you need a few revs on board to make it jump. Over-application of the throttle will result in a bit of wheel spin as the front wheels struggle to get traction down to the road.
Chrysler’s Pentastar also used to be able to run on E85 fuel in some models.
Not any more, it seems.
Ride and handling
Setting up a seven-seater to carry anything between one and seven people is always going to involve compromise.
Chrysler’s engineers have bestowed the Dodge Journey with a ride that focuses on comfort. That translates to soft handling and plenty of body roll when pitching into a corner with even a little bit of speed on board.
Despite our lower-profile rubber, the Journey is well insulated from road and wind noise, while the car steers faithfully.
The brakes could be better, though, with a long pedal travel and limited feel.
Safety and servicing
Dodge’s warranty is now a class-lagging three years or 100,000 kilometres, when others are offering up to five years and unlimited travel.
Safety, though, is well looked after with six airbags, including curtain airbags that run all the way down to the third-row seats – an important consideration given it is a family vehicle. Of concern, though, is that the Fiat-badged version of the car, fitted with a diesel engine, only earns a four-star crash rating in a world of five-star cars.
The Dodge Journey has an in-built system that monitors the health of the engine oil, and can warn you when a service is due.
Dodge’s Journey is a cheap, well-equipped family vehicle, but not without its compromises. It’s ageing fast in a sea of classy, fresh-looking competition, its safety is a half-step behind where it should be, and the second-row seats are completely lost in translation if you plan on ticking the box for the third-row option.
The Fiat Freemont now sells with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol unit from $27,000, while a Fiat-badged diesel version is a better fuel-saving proposition at $33,000 before on-roads.
However, the Journey’s shortcomings are not really enough to rule it off the shopping list altogether. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it can still comfortably carry a load.
Question is, would you prefer it with a Fiat badge?
Honda Odyssey (From $38,990 before on-roads)
New-gen petrol-only Odyssey loses all of its car-like connections to move purely into people-mover territory, complete with soggy handling and uninspired driving. It’s still clever inside, though, if not a bit pricey.
Kia Rondo SLi CRD (From $36,790 before on-roads)
Contains some of the cleverness of the Journey, such as the underfloor bins, but suffers from a cramped third row. Perky 100kW/320Nm 1.7-litre diesel engine is strong and frugal via a six-speed auto, and with a five-year warranty.
Peugeot 5008 (From $36,990 before on-roads)
Priced as a premium player and short on equipment as a result. Small 1.6-litre petrol engine paired with a slightly gormless six-speed auto, and even the second-row seats can feel a bit cramped for bigger adults.
MAKE/MODEL: Dodge Journey R/T
ENGINE: 3.6-litre V6
LAYOUT: Front-engined, front drive
TRANSMISSION: 6sp auto
TOP SPEED: N/a
EMISSIONS: 242g/km CO2
SUSPENSION: Macpherson (f)/multilink (r)
STEERING: Hydraulic rack and pinion
BRAKES: Disc (f)/disc (r)
PRICE: From $36,500 before on-roads
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