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Back in the 2009 model year, the brand-new Dodge Journey had only made it halfway to its intended destination. Pitched as a seven-seat alternative to the company's bigger family minivans, the crossover was on target for size, flexible seating, and sheetmetal--but lacking severely when it came to a quality interior or a modern six-cylinder powertrain. With its major issues solved in a makeover last model year, the 2012 Dodge Journey arrives with very few changes included, or needed.
The Journey's a good-looking crossover vehicle, one that walks a smart line between blocky SUVs and tall wagons. The Dodge crosshair-style grille works here--it translates down in size much better than the chrome boomerangs on some luxury cars, for example--and the slight taper to the rear end give the Journey a pert look that sets it cleanly apart from Dodge's bigger utility vehicles, while it still looks harmonious with the humongous Durango. The new interior that came along in the 2011 model year is a wonderful triumph of plastic over plastic. The first-year Journey's brittle, grainy dash and its oddly misaligned, cheap-looking gauges were junked, and the new dash couldn't be more sophisticated. Big new dials and knobs and an LCD touchscreen are framed by much higher-quality materials, with only a couple of minor gripes created in the wake. The new center console cuts down on knee room a little, and some of the ancillary switches embedded in the metallic trim are tough to find and use without distraction.
The Journey's pricetag starts well below $20,000, and to keep it there, Dodge offers a basic powertrain consisting of a coarse, loud four-cylinder engine with 173 horsepower, teamed to a four-speed automatic. If it sounds like vintage early-1990s technology, it's because it is. Acceleration is dawdly, and even fuel economy struggles to beat out the much more desirable V-6. A 3.6-liter now found across the Dodge lineup, this engine produces 283 horsepower and is hooked up to a new six-speed automatic for much better responsiveness in this moderately chunky vehicle. The six-speed automatic can take some of the polish off the package, though: in some versions we've driven, the automatic juddered and hesitated before it downshifted.
The Journey's handling is reasonably responsive. Last year Chrysler reworked the suspension to include stiffer, better-responding shocks and a lower ride height in front, and it's honed some of the Journey's duller responses. The ride quality remains a strong point, with the proper damping and roll control for a family vehicle, but the very light and very quick steering feel leaves a lot to be desired.
Unchanged in terms of interior room and function since it was introduced, the Journey seats up to seven passengers. We think three adults will be too close for comfort across the second row, but three kids will fit easily in the middle row, as will two in the way-back. The front rows of seats have flat-feeling bottom cushions, but ample head and leg room, taking good advantage of the Journey's size proportions. On some Journeys, the middle-row seat moves fore and aft to boost leg room or cargo room; on those same models, the front seats have hidden storage under their bottom cushions to complement the deep storage in the center console, found under its tilt-and-slide top. Bins and cubbies abound in the Journey, in fact, and its cargo space hits 37 cubic feet when the second-row seat is folded down. With all three rows of seats in use, though, cargo space shrinks to 10.7 cubic feet behind the raised third-row seat. Flip everything down behind the front seats, and you can fit a half-dozen flat-screen TVs in the Journey's 67.6 cubic feet of space.
The Journey sports some of the most extensive offerings for entertainment in this class, but to get them all, you'll be spending considerably more than $20,000. A new base model for 2012 is configured as a five-seater with power windows, locks and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; pushbutton start; a cooled glove box; a telescoping steering wheel; and an AM/FM/CD player. Options include a not-terribly-intuitive Garmin navigation system with voice-command controls; Sirius Satellite Radio, TravelLink and Backseat TV, an on-the-go service with a small selection of kid-friendly programming; a new DVD entertainment system; and a premium audio system and uConnect multimedia with MP3 player controls. A USB port is standard now, but it's buried deep in the center console, so there won't be any texting and driving without a long cable. Bluetooth is added on the top three models for free, but it's available on the base trims, too.