I didn’t see this one coming. It snuck in under the radar.
In the midst of all the new arrivals in the compact SUV/CUV segment from Asia and Detroit, the Dodge Journey had escaped my attention.
Sure, there are a lot of them around, but I put this down to fleet sales and assumed they were old. After all, the design has undergone very little change in recent years.
But obviously Canadians have not ignored the Journey, buying in sufficient numbers to put it comfortably in the top five in a very crowded and competitive CUV/SUV segment, well ahead of such nameplates as Chevrolet, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Nissan and Volkswagen – all of whom have more recent product in the class.
That fact is not reflected in my heavily-optioned R/T Rallye AWD test vehicle, which listed at near $39,000 after taxes. But what the test vehicle did was remind me of how thoroughly changed Chrysler products have become subsequent to emerging from bankruptcy.
Two factors in transformation
There are two main factors in the transformation, especially in those models that have not benefited from a redesign – interior and driveline.
The exterior of the Journey has seen little change since 2008 beyond a mild facelift. But the interiors of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep products have been universally modernized and in the process moved from the back of the pack to contending for top spot.
In the meantime the engineers had been well down the road in development of a modern V-6 engine that would replace a variety of ancient cast iron hunks used in various Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles.
Dubbed internally as the Pentastar V-6 this silky smooth, overhead cam engine boasts all the good stuff like variable valve timing and four valves per cylinder. It is usually mated with a new six-speed automatic transmission with the old four-speed having been relegated to lesser trim levels where it is paired with a four-cylinder engine.
Combine the two – a thoroughly re-crafted interior and a smooth and efficient new powertrain and the Journey is transformed – literally and figuratively.
The surprises started when I opened the door and climbed aboard. One look around and I saw materials of a higher quality than expected, expertly applied to tight tolerances.
The loaded tester had a gigantic 20-cm touchscreen dominating the central portion, boasting very clear, but low-buck graphics. It controls a wide variety of items from HVAC to audio and navigation systems.
This is meant to be a family car and that quickly becomes evident. One gets the strong feeling the designers have young children and regularly travel with them.
There is a booster seat incorporated into the second row seats. Beneath the bottom cushion of the front passenger is a hidden storage compartment and there's another pair beneath the floor in the second row.
The back of the front passenger seat folds flat so you can carry extra long items and do so with the cargo door closed. There are power outlets and small storage nooks and crannies throughout.
You will also be pinched in the third row, but it is there for those occasions when you don't want to leave someone behind.
With all seats in place there is a reasonable amount of cargo space. Fold that third seat down and you have a massive amount, growing to a more than 1,900 litres when the second row is also downed.
The second major surprise occurred before I had gone a block. The new Pentastar V-6 and new six-speed automatic transmission, combined with extensive work on insulation and isolation, have lowered NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) to levels previously unimagined in this vehicle.
With 283-horsepower under the hood, the engine has plenty of power for all occasions. The transmission was caught out trying to make up its mind what gear to be in on a couple of occasions but otherwise paired well with the smooth engine.
Other areas that have benefitted from recent makeovers are the steering and suspension, with the former now quicker and the latter stiffer. The Journey is certainly not a sports car, but it's a lot better than it used to be with an acceptable compromise between ride and handling.
If you are among those, like me, who has overlooked the Journey, do yourself a favour and give it another look.