Taking Another Journey

2012 Dodge Journey 5
2012 Dodge Journey SXT. All photos by Randy Stern

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2012 Dodge Journey

There are two rules in the automotive business. The first rule is that you never throw away a good vehicle that sells well in several markets. The second rule being that if you do decide to cancel such a vehicle – please refer to the first rule.

Good thing Serigio Marchionne, Chrysler and Fiat stuck with the first rule. The Dodge Journey was designed to be the company's answer to the small-to-midsized crossover craze. Designed to seat seven, the flexible Journey has been the best selling vehicle of its kind in Canada and Mexico for a few years running. For 2011, Journey became part of a company-wide makeover of products to be sold in the next few years. The overall package has improved with a new instrument panel and the installation of the 3.6litre Pentastar V6 as the optional engine for the Journey.

Fiat also saw the Journey as a potential global product. Late last year, Fiat installed a new grille and badges on the Journey and christened it the Freemont. When it arrived in Italy, sales for the Mexican built, Chrysler designed three-row crossover was pretty brisk. Its price point was the biggest draw, compared to the Ulysse minivan and Chroma wagon it replaced. The Freemont is now being sold in several places across the globe.

I’ve always found the Journey to be a curious vehicle. Two years ago, I drove a 2010 SXT model with all-wheel drive and the old 3.5litre V6. There were a few disappointments to recall – the interior, the fuel economy and several other minor complaints.

I try to have an open mind about vehicles and always hope that any improvements made are a step in the right direction. From my first contact with the latest Journey, it appears that Chrysler and Fiat have done all they can to improve upon these complaints. Now presented with an opportunity to drive one, perhaps I can find out whether these improvements are for real.

From the onset, the grille was sharpened up with a new crosshair design and Dodge's new badges. For the SXT model being driven for this review, the lower lip has been deepened with a satin trim at the bottom. Rearward, the Journey remained practically the same, save for some LEDs in the taillights and some nips and tucks in the bumper. It was a handsome package that does not apologize for what it is tasked to do.

The Journey’s doors open wide to accommodate adults easily. The liftgate also opens wide to swallow a ton of goods from a week's vacation to a day's shopping. It is safe to say that the problem with the original Journey was not on the outside. Chrysler did a good job of leaving it mainly alone.

2012 Dodge Journey 10

Inside, it is all change. Soft touch materials greet you upon entry. Big chairs up front are improved with better material, even in the SXT model. All of the problems I had with the previous Journey had been tackled – a bigger instrument panel cluster, better switches, an improved shifter position and better reach to audio and HVAC controls.

Reading key functions of the vehicle is easier thanks to a set of larger dials and a TFT version of the center screen showing trip, fuel economy and vehicle readouts. The fuel and temperature gauges are a bit lower than I liked – being a tall driver and all. Though instrumentation remained canted lower for "average" sized drivers, having a larger and more logical binnacle helped matters for the Journey.

Redundant steering wheel controls also help ease some of the stress of dealing with all of the functions of the Journey. In this model, the Journey came with a push-button start with a key fob transponder – something we should see more of as Chrysler switches away from previous ignition designs of yore. In all, the quality is way up where it needs to be.

The SXT's seats offer up plenty of adjustment up front. Lumbar adjustments helped with my back for both firmness and height. The chairs are quite comfortable for the driver and front passenger to enjoy the view. This tester came with only two rows of seating, even though Chrysler touts this as the lowest priced three-row crossover in the marketplace. Second row passengers would experience good leg and headroom and reasonable comfort from the seats. That second row could be folded down for expanded cargo space.

The improved Journey was one of the first Chryslers to install its 8.4" TFT center screen now seen in models from the Chrysler 300 to the new Dodge Dart. This SXT tester only came with the new standard audio set up that feature a smaller 4.3" TFT screen that has touch functions for almost everything, including HVAC functions. I have to admit to not liking the radio screen, as it looked fussy and too busy for its size. All other screens were cleaner and easier to work with. A set of knobs and buttons take care of key functions for the center stack. Missing the big TFT screen has an advantage for some folks – additional storage space for your UConnect-ed and Bluetoothed mobile phone.

Because it is the standard audio set-up does not mean that Chrysler skimped on the sound. Six speakers supplied fine sound throughout the cabin. The Journey’s standard audio system includes Sirius satellite radio, along with connectivity to your MP3 device.

2012 Dodge Journey 14

Under the hood is the 3.6litre Pentastar V6. Being one of the best engines in the business, you would expect it to change the Journey's character from the previous 3.5litre 24-valve V6 developed sometime after Lee Iacocca left Auburn Hills. The difference is 30 horsepower – the Pentastar has 280 under the Journey's hood compared to 250 two years ago. The answer to this assumption is "yes" if you measure ease of operation, exhaust burble, and other nuances supporting the newer V6 engine.

Another added bonus to the Pentastar V6 in the Journey was found behind the gas filler door. The cap just happened to be molded in yellow and reads that you could also add Corn Juice – E85 – to the tank.

Unlike the previous experience in the Journey, I got the added bonus of a six-speed automatic gearbox driving the front wheels. No all-wheel-drive? Considering the heat and the lack of stormy weather, the Journey's setup suited me just fine.

One could also tell the improvements made from the first batch of Journeys after the 2011 model year makeover in the way it drove. The ride has been smoothed out with road imperfections and assorted bumps absorbed to not bother anyone on board. Cornering is soft, but previous leans had been flattened out halfway from before.

As with most Chryslers driven of late, a sharper and better reacting steering rack helped matters, despite some limited play in the wheel in the Journey. Brakes felt good to the touch with better response and direct, downward stops. In all, the Journey felt much better controlled than before.

The biggest disappointment with the Journey in the 2010 review was fuel consumption. Two years later, the economy loop figure reflected a more realistic 19.0MPG. One could qualify the figure as being from a flex fuel V6 with only front wheel drive. I would argue that, even with all wheel drive, it is doubtful that the Journey would never dip to the figure achieved two years ago – not with the Pentastar V6.

2012 Dodge Journey 6

For being one of the best values in the marketplace, it was no surprise that the Journey was priced to sell or its segment. This SXT tester retailed for $26,685 – right smack in the middle of the compact-to-midsize crossover class is located. When you shop for a Journey, the SXT will be the most prevalent model out there. You can step up to the R/T and Crew models with equipment levels that build upon the popular SXT. If you want to save money, but are willing to lose two cylinders and two gears in the autobox, you can get the SE or the AVP (CVP in Canada). That is, of course, if you can still find one on a dealer lot right now.

When any strong selling model is revised at mid-cycle, one would hope for any complaints about the vehicle to be addressed towards improvement. In the Journey, Chrysler took advantage of the Fiat-guided Five Year Plan to achieve these improvements. In all, the Journey is a better small-to-mid-sized crossover that offers true value for weary consumers in the segment. But, is the best? Good question…

To answer that question, the Journey is a good middle of the road choice. It is not boring, but rather inoffensive and on point to justify its sales leadership in Canada and Mexico. The improvements made on the Journey certainly helped matters for Chrysler in the States as well.

As I was driving the Journey, I had to wonder whether it worked as a Fiat in those markets it is selling in. The enhancements Fiat made on the Journey to sell it, as the Freemont were minimal – badges, mainly. Before I answer my quandary of whether crossovers actually sell in Europe, one thing was made clear about the Freemont – people actually buy them, thanks to a starting point of under 24,000 Euro (currently at US$30,200).

The key element to the Freemont is replacing of both Chrysler engines with Fiat's own 2.0litre MultiJet II diesel – available with either a manual or an automatic. It makes us wonder whether we should be privy to such an engine or not. A diesel would make sense in the Journey on this side of the pond, as long as it meets emissions considerations for the NAFTA marketplace.

For what it was asked to do, the Dodge Journey simply accomplished it. On some level, I actually prefer this improved crossover to some of the vehicles in the same class I have driven over the past few years. The key to this summation is the leap in quality, thanks to Sergio Marchionne's commitment to improve Chrysler's reputation towards leveraging equity with the world.

Yeah, this Dodge Journey will do for now.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Chrysler Group, LLC

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