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2012 Dodge Journey SXT: Driven

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There are so many good choices among family crossovers, all well-packaged and reasonably well-performing—some with third-row seating—but for the most part they’re all so darn appliance-like and anonymous that it’s not surprising they drag us toward a state of anhedonia.

Somehow the Dodge Journey SXT escapes this. It not only shakes off the same-as sheetmetal dressing other crossovers and puts on sheetmetal that isn’t necessarily fresh, and it doesn’t drive all that much different than the rest, yet the product as a whole is refreshingly different—not so different as to be wacky, but different enough to avoid that rut.

The Journey has been often overlooked by those shopping in what’s really the heart of the family market nowadays—including compact crossovers and the most manageably sized mid-size crossovers. It’s a shame, but it’s understandable given that this vehicle has made its own journey—and as we recently affirmed, as a better model today, it deserves solid consideration.

While the Journey was introduced for 2009, it arrived at an awkward transition point in Chrysler history. It was a decent vehicle from the start, but for 2011 it got Chrysler’s new Pentastar V-6, a completely different instrument panel (we like the smooth, swoopy look and simple layout), and major improvements to reduce noise and vibration. Now in its fourth model year, the Journey seems to have caught on, with sales for the 2012 model year poised to be at their strongest yet.

Good family accommodations for the journey

Busy parents should still see plenty they like in the 2012 Journey. There are plenty of signs that Chrysler applied its long-earned expertise with minivans to the Journey’s interior design; people and cargo really do fit well into the Journey. Front seats are what we’d best describe as ‘American-sized’—think wider than some other seats. On curvy roads, we might have expected better bolstering, but on mostly flat Michigan highways these seats proved soft yet with enough built-in back support. Back-seat accommodations are among the best you’ll find in any vehicle this size, and the seats are contoured to fit adults; the seatback is adjustable for rake, and the whole bench slides fore and aft a few inches, so it’s easy to get comfortable back there.

In back, folding the seats forward takes an extra step—you slide the middle portion of the outboard cushions up and forward first—but the reward is that you get a lower, flatter load floor as well as that better contouring. There are also many thoughtful solutions for storing odds and ends, and keeping some of them out of sight. For instance, the cushion of the passenger seat flips up to reveal a bin underneath, while below the rearward portion of the cargo floor there’s a huge space vast enough for a couple of laptop bags.

Perkier, more refined than most

Chrysler's new Pentastar V-6 seems to cheer up pretty much any product it's been installed into, and the Journey is no exception. Here it makes 280 horsepower, and it’s enough to move this ute with authority. And never mind the numbers; in real-world driving it feels much perkier than the available 3.6-liter in the Chevrolet Equinox, which is roughly the same size.


 
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