The 2015 Dodge Journey is a low-cost, relatively family-friendly alternative to other people-movers, but you get what you pay for.
I want to like the 2015 Dodge Journey — with its affordable price, available third row and refreshingly simple multimedia system — but major ride and powertrain refinement issues sap a lot of its likability.
Again for 2015, the Journey is available in five- or seven-seat configurations with front- or all-wheel drive. Compare the 2014 and 2015 models here. The Journey straddles the compact and midsize SUV classes; competitors include compacts like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, as well as the Kia Sorento, a midsize SUV with an optional third row. Compare them here.
Exterior & Styling
The Journey should look pretty familiar; it hasn't changed much since it was introduced for the 2009 model year and then lightly revised for 2011. I tested a Crossroad trim that slots above the midlevel SXT model. Changes on the outside for the Crossroad include black chrome trim on its grille, headlights, roof rails and front bumper, which complement the smoked headlights and taillights and the 19-inch Hyper Black wheels. The package gives the conservative, suburban-looking Journey a kick of edgy, urban attitude.
How It Drives
Power from a stop is respectable, but the Journey feels slow on the highway, even with the optional 283-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6. The unresponsive, clunky six-speed automatic holds it back. Shifts are often delayed, and you can really hear and feel the powertrain straining to keep up with power demand for passing and merging. It sounds and feels very crude at highway speeds; competitors have much more refined road manners.
A 2.4-liter four-cylinder with an ancient four-speed automatic is standard. We haven't driven the four-cylinder, but it's hard to imagine that its 173 hp could satisfy when the V-6 is already borderline. Four-cylinder models have front-wheel drive only; V-6 versions can have front- or all-wheel drive.
Both engines have disappointing fuel economy. The four-cylinder is EPA-rated 19/26/21 mpg city/highway/combined, which is embarrassing against base versions of the CR-V (27/34/29), RAV4 (23/30/26) and Sorento (21/29/24).
In front-wheel-drive V-6 trim, the Journey is rated 17/25/19 mpg, a smidge under the V-6 Sorento (18/26/21). The CR-V and RAV4 don't offer V-6 engines.
The Journey's ride could also use some polishing. It lacks composure over even the smallest bumps, and larger ones ripple through the cabin like rocks tossed into a puddle. The brakes are also disappointing; the pedal has a mushy feel, and the brakes pulse unsettlingly even during normal braking.
There's a lot of black plastic in the cabin, but much of it is nicely padded. The overall look is sharp, thanks to some matte chrome trim with light gray contrast stitching, plus black leather seats with a sporty mesh insert.
The seats are long-drive comfortable but annoying to adjust. There's a button to power the driver's seat forward and back, but a manual lever to recline it. Front seat headroom and legroom are adequate, but one taller editor didn't have enough knee room against the large, bulging steering-column housing.
I had a full house during my test and was able to fit two rear-facing infant seats in the second row with room for a small adult beside them. The bench seat has two sets of lower Latch anchors in the outboard positions, as well as an extra single anchor in the middle position, an uncommon feature that makes the row more flexible for child-safety-seat placement.
Another family-friendly feature is a pair of integrated boosters, positioned in the outboard seats. They pop up easily and are quickly ready for use. The $225 option sounds steep compared with a $30 backless booster from Babies R Us, but you're paying for convenience — integrated boosters make carpooling with extra kids safer and easier. They're not for every kid, though; they can be safely used only with children weighing between 48 and 85 pounds. That's a higher minimum weight than many traditional boosters, and because my 5-year-old weighs around 40 pounds, she was unable to test the Journey's booster.
Lastly, kids will enjoy the optional DVD entertainment system's 9-inch overhead screen, remote control and wireless headphones, though it's not Blu-ray compatible.
A third-row bench is standard on the Crossroad model, and getting back there is a breeze. A lever on the second-row seat collapses the seat bottom and slides the whole seat forward, quickly creating an adult-sized opening.
Room in the third row is just OK. My 5-year-old's booster fit well next to a small adult, and both were comfortable for a short ride. Unlike the Kia Sorento, though, the third row is available even on base models. It's an extra $1,700 there as part of the Flexible Seating Group, which also includes extras like three-zone climate control and the easy-entry second-row feature.
Here's where the Journey completely lost me: There are no lower Latch anchors in the third row. That's not uncommon, as they're not federally mandated back there, but Dodge also left out top tether anchors, making it unsafe for forward-facing car seats. Tsk, tsk, Dodge. Many competitors' third rows have at least one top tether anchor, and some even have a set of lower Latch anchors.
Sunshades aren't available for the second-row windows, either. This feature may seem minor, but it's a helpful convenience on long trips with napping kids, and I missed it during my test weekend. Second-row captain's chairs are also unavailable; many family vehicles offer them.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Chrysler's familiar 8.4-inch Uconnect touch-screen is front and center. It's standard on higher trims; a small 4.3-inch touch-screen system is standard on lower trims. The 8.4-inch unit's large, clear screen, straightforward menu structure and handy position high on the dash make it a favorite.
Operating the system for audio functions couldn't get any easier — especially because the volume and tuning controls are separate dials located below the touch-screen — but using the navigation system was aggravating. There was quite a delay registering many functions; it was slow to respond to an address or make changes to the map.
Cargo & Storage
Like so much about the Journey, small-item storage is hit and miss. First the good: The front passenger-seat cushion flips up to reveal a hidden storage compartment. There's also a pair of second-row, in-floor storage bins. These hidden gems are useful for stashing valuables, and I appreciate their clever design.
In front, a big uncovered bin sitting in front of the shifter is sized right for devices. On the flip side, Dodge cheaped out with the seatback pockets; there's only one, behind the driver's seat. The center console is also small. It's deep, but not very wide, so forget stashing even a small purse there.
There's another handy underfloor storage bin behind the third row, but cargo space in general is paltry back there. With just 10.7 cubic feet of space, there's not room for much. A small umbrella stroller fits, but a larger stroller does not. Behind the third row, the Kia Sorento offers 11.3 cubic feet of space.
Folding the third row flat for more cargo space is easy via a pair of seatback-mounted straps. Doing so opens up 39.6 cubic feet of room, besting the CR-V (35.3), RAV4 (38.4) and Sorento (38.8). In terms of maximum cargo volume, the Sorento leads the pack with 73.5 cubic feet, compared with 67.6 in the Journey, 70.9 in the CR-V and 73.4 in the RAV4.
The Dodge Journey received an overall crash-test score of four out of five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the Journey good (out of a possible poor, marginal, acceptable and good) in all areas of testing except the small overlap front test, where it received a score of poor.
Thick C-pillars and large third-row head restraints compromise rear visibility. A backup camera is optional on higher trims but unavailable on the base model. The Journey also lacks many safety features that are becoming common options, like blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and forward collision warning systems. Seven airbags are standard: front, front-seat side-impact, driver's knee and full-length side curtains. Click here for a full list of safety features.
A lack of third-row top-tether anchors meant we couldn't install a forward-facing convertible child-safety seat in the third row, but two child seats fit well in the second row. Read our Car Seat Check for more.
Value in Its Class
Sometimes, cost is a top priority, and the Journey definitely wins in that category. Base prices start at $21,690, including destination, which is around $2,000 to $4,000 lower than its competitors. But you might end up making up the difference at the repair shop; Journey reliability is historically bad.
Families tempted by the Journey's low prices have a lot to consider, including whether sacrificing crashworthiness, reliability and refinement in the name of a deal is a good plan.
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