Editor's note: This review was written in May 2013 about the 2013 Dodge Journey. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2014, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
The 2013 Dodge Journey is an aging but competitive midsize crossover representing significant value, but the trade-off of more space for worse gas mileage may be too much for more frugal shoppers.
When it was first introduced in 2008 as a 2009 model, the Dodge Journey didn't really impress, but big changes were made for the 2011 model year that got buyers' attention. Gone was the hideous dashboard, replaced by a far better one-piece design made of soft plastics and high-quality buttons. Gone was the outdated audio and navigation system, replaced by Chrysler's excellent Uconnect system, which we've praised in other models. The buzzy old 3.7-liter V-6 engine was punted in favor of a more powerful, more efficient 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, which now appears in most of Chrysler's models across its brands. For 2013, Chrysler added more standard content to some of the Journey's upper trim levels but lowered their prices. See a comparison with the 2012 model here.
On paper, the Journey seems to cross competitor boundaries: It's priced better than a Toyota RAV4, but offers content more in line with the larger, more expensive Toyota Highlander. But does this segment-bending work in the real world? Can an older-but-updated model like the Journey truly be competitive?
A Familiar Face
From the outside, the Journey looks familiar because it hasn't changed much since its introduction as a 2009 model. For the 2011 model year, it received a few minor tweaks, like LED taillights and a revised front end, but there isn't much to visually differentiate an original model from the latest one. Thankfully, it's a decent design that doesn't look terribly dated. The upright cabin and squared-off tailgate make for more-than-adequate headroom inside and maximize cargo space, as well. It definitely looks more like a wagon than an SUV, with a fairly low overall height and a seating position that isn't quite as lofty as some competitors, like the Ford Edge. The R/T trim I drove added 19-inch wheels, body-colored mirrors and grille, and a more aggressive lower bumper with fog lights. It also deleted the roof rack, all of which gave it a sportier look. For Dodge to gain some traction in this segment, however, a styling update wouldn't be a bad thing.
Powertrain, Ride & Handling
Two engines are available for the Journey. Standard is Dodge's 173-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder. My all-wheel-drive test vehicle came with the 283-hp, 3.6-liter V-6, as all all-wheel-drive models do. It brings impressive power to the party, combining with the all-wheel-drive system to provide more than adequate motivation, with gobs of reserve power for passing on two-lane roads or confidently entering fast-moving highway traffic. The standard six-speed automatic transmission doesn't feel quite as sophisticated as the engine, however, alternating between slow and lazy shifts meant to keep fuel economy up, and abrupt gear changes if you suddenly need to floor it. There seems to be little middle ground in its operation — it's either lazy or aggressive.
The Journey's gas mileage is only average; its big V-6 is estimated to get 16/24 mpg city/highway, 19 mpg combined, with all-wheel drive. Our testing returned an average of about 20 mpg in mostly city driving. Still, while the Journey may be one of the few vehicles in its class to offer a big V-6 and significant horsepower, the tradeoff in fuel economy versus its four-cylinder competitors is obvious. For that matter, the four-cylinder Journey is rated only 21 mpg combined, a mere 1 mpg better than the front-drive V-6 version, which gets an estimated 20 mpg combined.
The Journey's handling is quite respectable. Upgrades made for 2011 resulted in a remarkable change in behavior; it's gone from being a soft, ponderously handling slug to a taut and communicative vehicle. Body roll is well-controlled in corners, and steering feel is direct, not sloppy. It's no BMW, but no longer will the Journey embarrass itself when roads get twisty, or scare its passengers in an emergency maneuver. This is especially true in the Journey R/T, thanks to its sport suspension and optional 19-inch wheels and tires, which are unique to the sportier trim level. Unfortunately, the Journey's brakes are not as improved as the rest of the vehicle, with long stopping distances and mushy pedal feel inspiring little confidence. Heat the brakes up with some aggressive driving and they exhibit significant fade. It would seem this area didn't receive much attention in the big 2011 upgrade.
Inside is where the new Journey really shows how much it has improved. After years of Chrysler — under its previous owners, Daimler and Cerberus — taking content and cost out of its vehicles, Fiat finally gave designers the mandate to put money back in. The results are immediately obvious: Gone is the multi-piece instrument panel, replaced by a stylish one-piece affair that feels more solid, looks fully modern and successfully transforms the Journey from rental fleet filler to driveway dweller. Chrysler's 8.4-inch Uconnect touch-screen is front and center in the R/T, featuring one of the best entertainment and application systems on the market. It's easy to use and works reliably well, and its position makes it convenient while driving.
Large, bright gauges sit behind the heated steering wheel and flank a multicolor trip computer and information display. My tester had a navigation and sound package that included a rear park assist system, backup camera, Garmin navigation system and a year's worth of SiriusXM satellite radio with Travel Link.
The seats in the R/T feel larger than those of many competitors, with power adjustments for both the driver and passenger, and are smartly trimmed in sporty red and black leather in the R/T. The Journey has an optional third row, as well, making this one of the smallest seven-seat crossovers on the market, but my tester did not come with this option. The audio system was decent for a vehicle in this category, with a six-speaker, premium setup. The rear seats feature an optional 9-inch overhead video screen with remote control and wireless headphones for two, for keeping little ones occupied (and sedated) on longer trips.
Trim Levels & Features
Fitting the Journey into a category is a little difficult, given its breadth of content options and price. Pricing is also more than a little confusing. The range starts at the SE model but includes a standard "American Value Package" for $19,990 (including a $995 destination charge), which buys you a respectably optioned model that includes the four-cylinder engine, an ancient four-speed automatic transmission with AutoStick, seating for five, Uconnect Bluetooth system, power doors and locks, keyless entry with push-button start, and dual-zone climate control. But you can also add black roof rails, tinted glass and LED taillights for $2,000 more in a model also referred to as the SE, making this one of the worst trim package decisions imaginable. Moving up to the SXT at $24,090 makes a bit more sense, with its optional V-6 engine, all-wheel drive and six-speed automatic transmission, standard fog lamps, more aggressive styling, standard 17-inch wheels and some more niceties inside, like floor mats, cargo covers and satellite radio. The luxury version is the Crew at $29,190, which includes the V-6 and six-speed transmission standard, along with a touring suspension, 19-inch wheels, power driver's seat, an 8.4-inch touch-screen and automatic climate control. The top of the line is the R/T performance version, which swaps out the touring suspension for a performance suspension and adds a standard sporty black leather interior, starting at $29,990.
The Journey earned at least four stars in all National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, with a scattering of five-star ratings in select tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the Journey Good across the board and named it a Top Safety Pick. The Journey comes with all the requisite electronic safety equipment, including traction control, stability control and antilock brakes. Seven airbags are standard: front, front-seat side-impact, driver's knee and full-length side curtains.
See all the safety features listed on the Specifications page.
In the Market
As for who the Journey's competitors are, that gets a little tricky. At the lower end of the price spectrum, the base Journey undercuts smaller compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4 by thousands of dollars. The entry-level Journey starts a full $4,155 less than a RAV4, making it an exceptional value if you prefer space and people-hauling capacity over efficiency. The Journey's standard four-speed transmission can't hold a candle to the five- and six-speed automatics its compact competitors employ; combined with a 300- to 500-pound weight disadvantage, this results in a significant fuel economy disadvantage for the Journey, even in its four-cylinder models. Cargo room behind the second row is surprisingly similar to the compact competition, but legroom both front and rear is inferior despite a significant advantage in length. The Journey is wider and taller than most of its competitors, however, resulting in greater overall interior volume. See how the Journey stacks up to the competition here.
The Journey really makes its play on the value card, however, with Dodge suggesting that the content available in a well-optioned model brings features unavailable in competitors at similar prices. A loaded Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD can top $30,000, as can a loaded Journey Crew AWD — but the Journey has seating for seven, a far more powerful V-6 engine and more interior room. As long as you can live with the compromises in fuel economy, the Journey represents a considerable value in the small-crossover class.