With Chrysler now under control of Europe’s Fiat, and its immediate future assured, we can relax and concentrate on the vehicles this venerable automaker has in its current stable of products.

And despite the anti-American-automaker ravings we keep seeing and hearing in various media, there are some quite nice vehicles in the Chrysler lineup, which also includes the Dodge and Jeep brands.

Among the best of this automaker’s 2009 lineup is the Dodge Journey midsize crossover.

Built on a unibody chassis, the Journey – which arrived last year as an ’09 model – joins the growing cadre of crossovers on the market, a segment that is growing rapidly as consumers move away from traditional SUVs.

Crossovers are the hottest family-haulers on the market, mostly because of their fuel economy, which generally is much better than that of the truck-based SUVs that were so popular for more than a decade.

The Journey comes in three trim levels, the base SE, midlevel SXT and uplevel R/T, and prices range from $20,925 (plus $675 freight) for the SE to $29,335 for the R/T all-wheel-drive model.

Our tester was the SXT with front-wheel drive, whose base price is $23,925. With freight and options, the test vehicle rang up at $27,110, but it came with the key amenities that most consumers want.

Journey compete against such popular crossovers as the Ford Edge, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot and Nissan Murano, but unlike the Edge and Murano, it can hold up to seven people when equipped with the third row of seating.

In that regard, it also competes to some degree against the larger crossovers such as the Chevrolet Traverse and Ford Flex.

The Journey joined the compact Nitro as the second crossover model in the Dodge lineup. The Nitro essentially is a version of the second-generation Jeep Liberty, although Dodge dealers got the vehicle first as a 2007 model. The new Liberty arrived for 2008.

All three are built on unibody designs, rather than using the body-on-frame arrangement of traditional truck-based SUVs. But the Nitro has a more-rugged appearance than the softer-styled Journey, and both the Nitro and Liberty have room only for five.

Dodge aimed the Journey at a broad range of consumers, from young singles and couples to families and even empty nesters, many of whom have grandchildren and occasionally need the third seat. As with most three-seat vehicles in this class, the third row is limited to two people and is best suited for children.

Five adults can sit relatively comfortably in the first two rows, although the middle seat would be better for just two on a long trip.

Cargo space abounds, including bins in the floor and under the front passenger-seat cushion. In the floor behind the front-row seats are storage bins that can hold 12 cans of beverage – on ice. They are waterproof and have latchable lids and removable, washable liners, making them essentially built-in coolers.

Among the Journey’s standard safety features are front seat-mounted side air bags, roof-mounted side-curtain air bags for all three rows, four-wheel antilock disc brakes and electronic stability control with rollover mitigation.

Options include a back-up camera and all-wheel drive. Front-wheel drive is standard, and offers the best fuel economy.

The base engine is a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder, which produces 173 horsepower and 166 foot-pounds of torque. The engine also is used in the Avenger, Dodge Caliber and several other Chrysler and Jeep vehicles, and other versions of it are used in Mitsubishi, Hyundai and Kia vehicles as well.

It’s connected to a four-speed automatic transmission for the North American market, and is it is EPA-rated at 19 miles per gallon city/25 highway in the Journey.

The top engine, also from the Avenger, is a 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 235 horsepower and 232 foot-pounds of torque. This engine is standard on the SXT and R/T models. It’s connected to a six-speed automatic transmission. In the front-drive models, EPA ratings are 16 city/23 highway; with all-wheel drive, they drop to 15/22.

The V-6 engine, while not having as much horsepower as its key competitors, nevertheless was powerful enough for everyday driving. The four-cylinder, though, should be adequate for most uses, and offers the bonus of the higher fuel economy.

All models have a smooth, carlike four-wheel independent suspension with MacPherson struts in front.

All-wheel-drive system, which is not intended for serious off-road use, is offered only on the SXT and R/T models. The system does not have the low-range gearing necessary for extreme trail driving.

It’s automatic, powering the front wheels until it detects wheel spin, then transferring some of the power to the rear wheels. Besides being valuable on slippery surfaces, the all-wheel drive also kicks in on dry pavement between 25 and 65 mph to enhance handling.

The Journey has Dodge’s signature crosshair grille with the Ram’s head logo. Other exterior features include quad halogen headlights. Optional are fog lights and 19-inch wheels. At the rear is a single-piece liftgate, and with the 3.5-liter engine there are dual chrome-tipped exhaust outlets.

While the five-passenger seating arrangement is standard, and was included in our test model, the third seat is available on all trim levels. On the SXT, the third seat comes as part of the Flexible Seating Group ($995), which also adds a tilt-and-slide center seat that allows for easy access to the third row, automatic climate control, and rear heating/air conditioning controls.

The Journey’s rear doors open 90 degrees for easy entry and exit, as well as for loading of bulky cargo into the middle seat. The seats are arranged theater-style so everyone has a good view forward.

With the tilt-and-slide feature, the second row of seats can move 4.7 inches front to rear to give adults more legroom or to bring kids closer to the front seats.

This was the first vehicle in the midsize crossover class to have integrated child booster seats, a $295 option that puts two of these seats in the middle row, and also adds daytime running lights (although I have no idea what that has to do with the child seats).

Developed originally for the Dodge and Chrysler minivans, these boosters raise a child seated in the second row by four inches and are designed for children up to 4 feet 9 inches and from 48 to 85 pounds. Some states require booster seats for children of this size.

The middle seat has a 40/60 split-folding feature, and the third seat a 50/50 split. Folding the seats can expand the cargo area, and there is even an optional fold-flat front passenger seat to accommodate long items such as skis.

Cloth seats are standard on the SE model, but optional is Chrysler’s new YES Essentials stain- and odor-resistant upholstery. But that fabric was standard on our SXT model. Leather upholstery is standard on the R/T.

Other standard features include Chrysler’s Chill Zone, which uses the air-conditioning system to help keep four beverage cans or bottles cold in the upper level of the glove box; and an AM/FM/compact-disc audio system with six-disc changer, MP3 playback and Sirius satellite radio. There also is a jack to allow connection of an iPod or other audio device.

A navigation system is optional, along with a rear back-up camera system.

Our tester came with the Convenience Group ($695), which added a roof rack with adjustable crossbars; a cargo-area cover, cabin air filter, Bluetooth communications, special LED dash lighting, universal garage opener, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and steering-wheel audio controls.

We also had a power sunroof ($795); Exterior Appearance Package ($795), which brought fog lights, 19-inch wheels, and performance steering and suspension; and Deep Water Blue Pearl Coat paint ($225).

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at 210-250-3236;

2009 Dodge Journey

The package: Midsize, five-door, five- or seven-passenger, front- or all-wheel-drive, four-cylinder or V-6-powered crossover utility vehicle.

Highlights: New for 2009, this is Dodge’s first midsize crossover. It has nice styling, a well-designed interior, good fuel economy (especially with the base engine), and lots of standard amenities.

Negatives: Outdated four-speed automatic transmission in base models hurts fuel efficiency – the optional six-speed should be standard.

Engines: 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder; 3.5-liter V-6.

Transmissions: Four-speed automatic, six-speed automatic.

Power/torque: 173 HP/166 foot-pounds (2.4-liter); 235 HP/232 foot-pounds (3.5-liter).

Length: 192.4 inches.

Curb weight: 3,801-4,233 pounds

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc power, antilock.

Electronic stability control: Standard.

Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; side curtain for both rows.

Cargo volume: 10.7 cubic feet (behind third row); 39.6 (behind second row).

Towing capacity: 1,000 pounds (4-cylinder); 3,500 pounds (V-6).

EPA fuel economy: 19 mpg city/25 highway (2.4-liter); 16/23 (3.5-liter, front drive); 15/22 (all-wheel drive).

Fuel capacity/type: 20.5 gallons/unleaded regular (front drive); 21.1 gallons/unleaded regular (all-wheel drive).

Major competitors: Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Murano, Mitsubishi Endeavor, Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorrento.

Base price range: $20,925-$29,335 plus $675 freight.

Price as tested: $27,110, including freight and options (SXT, five-passenger, front-wheel drive).

On the Road rating: 8.2 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.

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