2009 Dodge Journey SE Review

Dodging minivans and sedans - The 2009 Dodge Journey SE is a crossover on a mission

2009 Dodge Journey SE Review
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People, apparently, enjoy having children. That must be why there’s such a market for six and seven passenger crossover vehicles, not to mention renewed interest in minivans. Nothing is more embarrassing than not being able to give your children’s friends a lift after band practice. Heaven forbid! While you can’t downsize in the children department, (legally) more people are retreating from their immense slabs of SUV in favor of smaller, more fuel-efficient crossover models like the Kia Rondo and Mazda 5. This new class of not-quite-a-car, not-quite-a-minivan have been popular in Europe and Japan for years.

FAST FACTS

1. Journey replaces short-wheelbase Caravan to be first mini-minivan from Dodge

2. Only car in class with optional V-6 and AWD

STARTING PRICE FAR ABOVE COMPETITORS

What, then, is the Dodge Journey? It replaces the short-wheelbase Caravan model, in the hopes of grabbing a foothold in the emerging market for small crossovers. Starting at about $3,000 more than the lowest-priced Mazda5 and $4,000 more than the least expensive Rondo for the base-model four-cylinder Journey SE, Dodge’s $20,625 MSRP reflects its larger size and features list. Dodge will happily upgrade you into a variety of options that make the Journey more powerful and capable, like a V6 engine and all-wheel-drive. But we chose to test the base model, preferring its no-frills approach to crossover motoring.

EVEN THE BASE ENGINE HAS CLASS-LEADING POWER

Speaking of motors, the Journey’s 2.4L four-cylinder powerplant trounces both the Rondo and 5 on power, by 10 and 20 hp respectively. Its larger appetite for fuel doesn’t diminish its cruising range compared with the competition, because of a larger fuel tank. Even when looking around the silver and grey plastic interior, you can’t help but noticed the Journey is engineered to be “more” car. Blank switches, used to control heated seats or other luxuries on more expensive models blanket the interior serving as a constant reminder of the options you didn’t choose.

PLENTY OF SAFETY FEATURES STANDARD

Thankfully a full suite of safety gear, including six airbags, traction control, stability control, child door locks, and a brake assist system are intact on the least expensive model. So too is air conditioning, an automatic transmission, power windows, power door locks, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo, heated mirrors, and intermittent wipers. Even a second-row 8-inch DVD screen with remote control, a premium sound system, and two wireless headsets is only an $1,195 option — about half of what you’d pay for a decent home theatre system. “Kids, bring the popcorn, we’re watching Shrek in the driveway.”

It’s strange that while Mazda fits sliding doors to the 5, Kia and Dodge both went for conventional doors in their crossovers. Dodge is the master of sliding doors, and yet for such an otherwise child-friendly vehicle, you’re always worried one of them will swing open and clip the car you’re next to. Maybe because sliding doors mean “van” to many people, and the unwanted stereotypes that go along with it. But it’s hard to look like a cool, crossover-driving daddy while using your gut as a human shield for the rear door as your nine-year-old bolts for Toys ‘R Us.

CLASS-LEADING STORAGE SPACE

Out back, a low entry height and a large expanse behind the second row of seat mean that loading family gear is easy. Hard-wearing plastics in the rear mean you won’t scratch anything you hold dear or ruin the interior from strollers sliding around during transport. Bins built into the floor behind the front seats are a welcome addition - perfect for toys, DVDs, or boxes of Goldfish crackers.

An important caveat: third row seating is not an option on the SE model (or the base Kia Rondo, for that matter.) The Mazda 5 offers six-passenger seating as standard, and to get three rows of seats in the Journey means opting for the more expensive V6-powered SXT model, then ticking the optional “Flexible Seating Group” package. You’ll be looking at just under $25,000 if you do, minus any special offers your dealer may be offering.

THE COMPETITION

When comparing the Journey SE to the Rondo and 5, it’s quickly apparent that it offers much more in some ways - like space - while being less fun to drive, less efficient, and more expensive. To get the features you really want, the range really starts with the Journey SXT - infinitely configurable and in many ways better than even the Grand Caravan minivan.

THE VERDICT

The SE, despite having more power, space, and interior configurations than the competition, always feels built down to a price, and not engineered to be a complete package for 20 grand. If you’re serious about a small crossover, the 5 and Rondo are class-leaders for a reason. But if you’re prepared to pony up the cash at your Dodge dealer, the SXT and R/T are more likely the Journey you’re looking for.

PLUS
Powerful engine
Spacious interior with lots of storage space
Plenty of standard safety features
MINUS
Significantly more expensive than competition
No sliding doors
No third-row for base model

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