Back in 2004, Chrysler thought it had a segment-busting winner with the Pacifica. Neither car, minivan, nor SUV, the luxurious large “crossover” was supposed to play a key role in Chrysler’s planned move upscale. Buyers lined-up none deep for Chrysler’s bloated station wagon. The automaker was forced to de-content, discount and discontinue the disastrous distraction. Stunned by the Pacfica-shaped sales sinkhole, it took Chrysler another five years to field another three-row crossover. The 2009 Dodge Journey is in many ways the anti-Pacifica. Will it be any more successful?
With its chiseled lines and pillbox-on-wheels proportions, people noticed the Pacifica (even if most didn’t like what they saw). In comparison, the Journey’s boxy—but not boxy enough to make a statement—exterior is totally, completely, utterly forgettable. Even with flared fenders, the Journey has no curb appeal whatsoever. In fact, the Journey’s so unrelentingly bland that it manages to appear much smaller than it actually is.
The Pacifica’s Mercedes-lite interior was the most upscale to ever grace a modern Chrysler. You’ll find no such luxury cues inside the new Dodge Journey (fake chrome highlights don’t count). Yes, there’s a bit of style, with a high-contrast color scheme and a few artfully curving surfaces. And the instrument panel upper is finger sink soft. But all the bits attached to it, including the protruding center stack, are straight from the bargain basement. It looks, feels and smells cheap.
Chastened by the Pacifica’s failure, Chrysler prioritized function over form. Innovative storage compartments fill every nook and cranny of the Journey’s cabin: under the front passenger seat, under the floor in the second row, under the cargo floor, inside the doors, pretty much everywhere you look. For larger cargo, every seat save the driver’s folds flat.
But budget cutting must have ravaged the human factors department; the driving position is an ergonomic abomination. The steering wheel rim obstructs the temperature gauge and the right half of the tach, and the optional rearview monitor is positioned at knee level. Get the nav, though, and the screen moves to the top of the center stack; apparently the legal department remains intact.
Consistent with the current ChryCo style, the seats could not be more lacking in contour. The second-row split bench (Captains need not apply) bi-folds to clear a narrow path to the third row. Unfortunately, third row accommodations are tighter than . . . well, you know what I mean. If any soul should dare trespass thereabouts, arguments are guaranteed. The second row is only roomy enough for adults when ratcheted all the way back—which eliminates any (as in any) third row leg room.
The Dodge Journey is offered with your choice of two powerplants: a 173-horse 2.4-liter four hitched to a four-speed automatic or a 235-horse 3.5-liter V6 connected to a six-speed slushbox. (Only the latter is available with all-wheel drive.) Motorvating two tons of crossover, the Journey’s V6 provides sufficient acceleration but few thrills- unless you’re turned on by mild torque steer. The 4.0-liter powerplant from the minivans would have made things more interesting, but that doesn’t seem to be the theme here.
That said, you can order the Dodge Journey with a (woo-hoo!) performance suspension and 19-inch alloys. Our test Journey had the touring suspension and 17s. Thus shod, the Journey feels very much like a 7/8-scale minivan. The amount of body lean is acceptable for a three-row family-hauler, and the chassis is sufficiently poised to keep the driver out of trouble.
Not that the driver will seek trouble. The somewhat heavy steering feels exceptionally numb. And speaking of Novocain, the Journey’s driving experience is the only aspect of the vehicle that’s more forgettable than the exterior styling. The upside: bumps and other road imperfections are nicely absorbed. The performance suspension won’t fix the steering, but it could well deprive the Journey of this single dynamic strength.
And then there’s quality control . . .
The V6 tester had a quarter-inch of water in the front passenger floorboard (promptly extracted via shop vac). The source was soon revealed, as a gurgle could periodically be heard from the perimeter of the sunroof and water rained down from the overhead console throughout the test drive. Get this: it wasn’t raining outside the car at the time; it had rained the previous day.
The Dodge Journey is everything the Pacifica was not; it’s forgettable, functional and designed to sell for a low price. But Chrysler has failed to realize that today’s CUV buyers aren’t looking for one thing or the other. They don’t want form at the expense of function or function at the expense of form. They want both, AND comfort AND reliability. Plenty of other crossovers deliver all four. The Dodge Journey is destined to be no more visible in the sales charts than it is on the road.