(The Real) 2016 Dodge Journey SXT Rental Review, This Time With Actual Content!

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth

You’ll have to forgive me for having a bit of fun with you yesterday. Somewhat odd/disturbing was that some of you actually enjoyed it.

If you want a review that mostly talks about everything you can learn about a car from reading the manufacturer’s website, or one that just reprints the press materials, I’m afraid you won’t enjoy reading a typical Bark rental review. However, if you want a story about my experiences while driving an everyday car that can be selected from a rental agency, by all means, keep reading.

My experience with the Journey was not a voluntary one.

When I arrived at Detroit Wayne County International Airport last week, I had exactly four choices: Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Chrysler Town & Country, RAM 1500 pickup, and the Dodge Journey SXT.

As I stood there in the much-too-cold-for-April Detroit evening, I sent my options to our Managing Editor, Mr. Mark Stevenson. Foolishly, I typed “Journey” first. As I believe Mark to be somewhat of a sadist, he refused to hear any other option.

“JOURNEY.”

“But what about that Ram 1500?” I pleaded.

“JOURNEY.”

Damn you to hell, sir.

Fine. Journey it is. I threw my bags in the back — well, let me correct that statement. I had to fold down the third row of seats first. Otherwise, my 27-inch suitcase wouldn’t have fit.

Next, I situated myself in the driver’s seat to prepare for my two-hour drive to Midland, Michigan. Before I go anywhere in my rental car, I make sure to do two things:

  • Find the USB port so I can plug in my phone for charging and audio purposes
  • Pair my phone via Bluetooth so that I can talk on the phone and obey all local ordinances

Number one was no problem. The USB port was placed logically in the storage compartment between the seats. Bluetooth? That proved a bit more vexing, mostly due to the fact that this 2016 Dodge Journey SXT — which is not the base model, and stickers for nearly $25,000 — did not have Bluetooth functionality. That’s right: if you want Bluetooth on a Dodge Journey, you have to option that sucker up an additional $550.

Oof. I accepted my lack of circa-2008 technology, and started up the car. I exited the rental car lot and turned onto the adjacent road, when I noticed that everything was very dark. Oh. I didn’t have my headlights on, because the Dodge Journey SXT doesn’t have automatic headlights. As far as I can tell, automatic headlights are only available starting at the second-highest trim — Crossroad Plus, which stickers for $27,395.

Once I managed to make the street visible, I set off on my, well, Journey.

The first thing you’ll notice about driving a Dodge Journey is the abysmally bad steering wheel. It’s so big that it feels like you’ve just signed a union contract to become a school bus driver. Well, except for the fact that the school bus wheel would feel less like it was directly sourced from a Power Wheels product. The plasticky feel of the Journey’s wheel is probably the worst I’ve experienced since the 2008 Mazda CX-7.

Are you sensing a trend here, perchance?

Acceleration and braking are mere suggestions. The Journey isn’t what one would call responsive. The accelerator and the brake pedal travel nearly to the floor before anything happens. I thought maybe something was broken, until I realized the pedals were just as bad as the rest of the car.

The first thing you’ll notice when you put the 2016 Dodge Journey SXT into reverse is the complete lack of assistance you’ll get from the car in doing so. No rearview camera, no beeping noises if you get too close to anything. It’s just you, your mirrors, and your finely tuned senses.

Next, let’s talk about the heating/cooling system. You can follow my Instagram for more detail — or exasperation — on this. In my rental, the dashboard vents didn’t work — at all. Again, I thought that something might have been broken, but upon further review, there’s simply no way to select them with a normal button. You can only select front or rear defrosters on the dash, and I was beyond perplexed by Uconnect’s climate screen. The vent selection “button” didn’t call attention to itself whatsoever. As a result, no air came out of the vents, because I only figured it out after I returned the car.

Let’s move on to the stereo, shall we? It was nightmarishly bad. Changing the tone settings made no difference whatsoever. Tinny and thin on the high end, and distorted on the low end. Thank God that Spotify randomly suggested the great Kenneth Gorelick’s “Sax Attack” for me to listen to as I drove along — the awfulness of that song meshed perfectly with the Journey’s purpose for existing. I felt as though I was being attacked by the plastic ghosts of CUVs past.

The rear seats are pretty spacious, so that’s a good thing. You won’t find more room in anything at a comparable price point that isn’t a Caravan. Getting kids in and out of car seats would be a breeze in the Journey. There’s also an option for built-in car seats, which seems like a great idea until you realize that children have a tendency to grow.

Visually, the Journey is embarrassing. I felt like apologizing to people for driving past them on the freeway, lest they accidentally catch a glimpse of the Dodge somehow before managing to avert their eyes. It feels as though somebody accidentally approved a child’s rendering of the Mystery Inc. van, and somebody back in the days of DaimlerChrysler said, “Well, let’s see if anybody notices.”

Now, with all that being said … it’s not that bad to drive. I had to put quite a few miles on the Journey throughout the course of the week, starting with that nighttime drive from DTW to Midland, and then another four-hour jaunt to Traverse City and back, another hour or so each way to Gladwin, followed by the return drive to Detroit. So, all in all, I had over ten hours of windshield time in the Journey, which is more than any auto journo would normally get in any car.

It’s a passable way to get from point A to point B if that’s all you need it to do. Visibility is actually quite good. Fuel economy was around 24 miles per gallon. Considering my average speed of nearly 90 mph for most of my drive time (I was running late for no real reason), that’s 24 mpg figure isn’t bad.

If you can get past the barebones nature of the vehicle and accept it for what it is — a bargain basement multiple-person mover for people who don’t like minivans — then it’s perfectly acceptable. The name “Journey” is completely appropriate, though, because driving one is indeed a journey … back in time to 2003. We all would have been thrilled to drive something like this for this price point around the time that John Kerry was flipflopping around like a dying fish.

Unfortunately, this is 2016, and a car like this just doesn’t fly any more. If we were to add Bluetooth and Uconnect to the Journey — and remember, this isn’t just a convenience, it’s the law in several states around the country — we’re looking at a sticker price of $26,000, with current bonus cash offers bringing it down by $1,250. Yes, it’s still going to be one of the cheapest seven-passenger CUVs you can get, but let’s be honest with ourselves here: there ain’t no way that anybody bigger than Peter Dinklage is riding in that third row for any length of time. And if you do have to have the rear seats up, then storage space is equivalent to a Tic-Tac box.

There are cheaper Journeys available, though. The SE model can be had at $21,490, and you don’t lose that much in comparison to the SXT. In fact, you even gain folding, heated side mirrors. At that price, minus whatever bonus cash/negotiating you can do, the Journey becomes slightly more palatable.

But only slightly. And, as many of you pointed out yesterday, it’s very difficult to accept the value proposition of a Dodge Journey when the Caravan exists. Heck, it’s even hard to accept it over the Kia Sportage, which looks and drives a million times better, and has much better standard features.

In the end, whether you preferred yesterday’s “Just the facts, ma’am” review, or a little more of today’s storytelling, all around the world, it’s the same song.

The Journey does, in fact, suck.

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
Mark "Bark M." Baruth

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  • Eyeflyistheeye Eyeflyistheeye on Apr 23, 2016

    After going domestic, well Euro-domestic with a Sonic that was replaced by a Focus, I would never buy a car that has a headlight dial and no automatic headlamps. The Japanese/Koreans do much better with the headlight switch on the end of the turn signal stalk. At this point, FCA is just letting the Journey rot on the vine when their main priority is rebadging them as Freemonts with more standard equipment and selling them overseas. On the other hand, I would hope that the next Journey would be as well executed as the Pacifica which knowing Chrysler's record, could be another LH car, beautiful, innovative and durable as polvoron.

  • Fremontwatch Fremontwatch on Nov 22, 2017

    Wow I just bought a used 2017 Dodge Journey and love it. I can't believe how spoiled some people are. My budget was tight, I don't like spending a ton of money on cars and this fit the bill. My last car was a 2007 Ford Focus so this is definitely a step up. The air works great, it has privacy glass and it has controls for air and climate in the second and third row seats. I have a pet rescue so this was ideal. Not used to having any tech in my car anyway so I really didn't care about a back up camera and blue tooth. I was able to get a 2017 used former rental with only 18,000 miles on it for 16,000 bucks. I added an additional warranty and gap insurance. Got this all for under 20,000 bucks and am thrilled my car payment is not like a rent payment. I would never pay a lot of money for a car without the technology which is why this was perfect for me. 16,000 dollars was more than reasonable for this car. Realize that buying a car is a very personal decision and what one person needs in a car may not be another person's needs. I'm really happy with my Dodge Journey and when I work an extra job next summer I'll add some tech.

    • Jacob Jacob on Mar 20, 2018

      What can I say about a comment like yours? Yes, the Journey works. It's a very basic, the most basic car. It's cheap for a vehicle with a third row seat (even though it has no cargo room in this configuration). But besides that, there is nothing good to say about it. The electronics are horrible. For one, like the reviewer said, the car does not have bluetooth, in 2016! I guess this shouldn't bother you much since you come from a 2007 Ford, the time when Ford used to make ridiculously noncompetitive cars too, like Dodge today. In 2007, Ford had to put wads of cash on the top of car to sell one, because only an idiot would choose a Ford then over say a Toyota or a Honda (today, Ford actually makes decent cars) for the same price. The second thing I notice is the horrendous climate control. No matter how many times I have tried to switch my rental Journey's front climate control to sync for both seats, eventually and strangely it would switch back to "driver-only" control when I push the red-blue heat buttons. It happens almost every day. Very stupid. The transmission and cruise control are ridiculous. The car's speed is at 60 mph, but I need to set the cruise control setting to something like 65 until the transmission and engine decide, hey we gotta go faster. The transmission is lethargic, so when I need to overtake someone on two lane road, I need to mash the gas pedal to the metal for the car to realize, hey, I think he wants me to go faster. In all respects is a very mediocre car. I guess it's ok if you need a three row seat vehicle for the least money.

  • 3SpeedAutomatic Once e-mail was adopted by my former employer, we were coached about malice software as early as the 90's. We called it "worms" back then.They were separating the computers that ran the power plants from the rest of the system in the early 00's. One plant supervisor loaded vacation pictures from a thumb drive on his work PC. His PC was immediately isolated and the supervisor in question was made an example of via a disciplinary notice. Word spread quickly!!Last I heard, they still had their own data center!! Cloud Computing, what's that?!?! 🚗🚗🚗
  • 3SpeedAutomatic At this time, GM had a "Me Too" attitude towards engine development:[list][*]the Euro luxury brands have diesels, so can we via an Olds V8[/*][*]variable value timing, welcome to the brave new world of Cadillac V8-6-4[/*][*]an aluminum block V8 engine via the HT4100, the go-go 80's[/*][*]double overhead cams, 4 valves per cylinder, no sweat, just like the Asian brands via NorthStar. [/*][/list]When you mindset is iron block and cast iron heads, life if easy. However, each time, GM failed to understand the nuances; intricate differences; and technical difficulty in each new engine program. Each time, GM came away with egg on its face and its reputation in ruin.If you look today, the engines in most Cadillacs are the same as in many Chevrolets. 🚗🚗🚗
  • 3-On-The-Tree I don’t think Toyotas going down.
  • ToolGuy Random thoughts (bulleted list because it should work on this page):• Carlos Tavares is a very smart individual.• I get the sense that the western hemisphere portion of Stellantis was even more messed up than he originally believed (I have no data), which is why the plan (old plan, original plan) has taken longer than expected (longer than I expected).• All the OEMs who have taken a serious look at what is happening with EVs in China have had to take a step back and reassess (oversimplification: they were thinking mostly business-as-usual with some tweaks here and there, and now realize they have bigger issues, much bigger, really big).• You (dear TTAC reader) aren't ready to hear this yet, but the EV thing is a tsunami (the thing has already done the thing, just hasn't reached you yet). I hesitate to even tell you, but it is the truth.
  • ToolGuy ¶ I have kicked around doing an engine rebuild at some point (I never have on an automobile); right now my interest level in that is pretty low, say 2/5.¶ It could be interesting to do an engine swap at some point (also haven't done that), call that 2/5 as well.¶ Building a kit car would be interesting but a big commitment, let's say 1/5 realistically.¶ Frame-up restoration, very little interest, 1/5.¶ I have repainted a vehicle (down to bare metal) and that was interesting/engaging (didn't have the right facilities, but made it work, sort of lol).¶ Taking a vehicle which I like where the ICE has given out and converting it to EV sounds engaging and appealing. Would not do it anytime soon, maybe 3 to 5 years out. Current interest level 4/5.¶ Building my own car (from scratch) would have some significant hurdles. Unless I started my own car company, which might involve other hurdles. 😉
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