- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2008

With the shorter length Caravan missing from Dodge´s lineup, it needed an appropriately sized vehicle to assume those duties; enter Journey.

Built on the Avenger platform, Journey features a wheelbase longer by about five inches than the sedan. Its styling is more minivan-like than aggressive as reflected by other recent additions to the Dodge lineup such as the chiseled Caliber. It carries Dodge´s distinctive crosshair grille, but otherwise its lines are softer and friendlier.

Blurring the lines among sedan, minivan and SUV, Journey´s available all-wheel drive qualifies it as a crossover. It may not be the best or roomiest in its class, but solid value and a few nifty options open some sunlight between it and its competitors.

If you think you can be satisfied with a 173-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder mated to a four-speed automatic transmission, you can get into a Journey for as little as the $20,750 needed to buy the base SE. It has 16-inch steel wheels, air conditioning, full power accessories, tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a six-speaker audio system with CD player.

Offering a bit more grunt, the $23,750 SXT and $27,410 R/T trim levels use a 235-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 with a six-speed driver-shiftable automatic to turn the front wheels. A $2,545 option in the SXT and a $1,750 option in the R/T, AWD provides additional mobility and stability in foul weather.

Dodge provided a FWD R/T for this evaluation. It builds on the standard equipment list of the SE, as well as including SXT features such as a trip computer, automatic headlights, six-way power driver´s seat, heated outboard mirrors and keyless entry. Also standard in the R/T are 19-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, leather seating, leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls and remote engine start.

As should be expected, fuel economy with the four is better than the V-6 – particularly for city driving where the Environmental Protection Agency rating is 19 mpg and 16 mpg respectively.

On the highway the four delivers 25 mpg and the V-6 23 mpg. When AWD is added, the fuel numbers drop to 15 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway.

Primarily a tool for moving people, Journey won´t provoke grins or wild whoops from its pilot. Even with the V-6, the experience is low key. It is a competent performer that is satisfied with transporting its cargo from point A to point B safely, quietly and efficiently.

Its four-wheel independent suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup in the rear. The emphasis is on ride quality rather than crisp handling; although, the steering is light and responsive.

It probably wouldn´t be the last one picked when choosing sides in a gym class basketball game of crossovers, but neither would it be team captain.

When equipped with AWD, Journey is still better suited for paved surfaces. Its transparent AWD system doesn´t include a four-wheel low setting for attacking rugged terrain, but improves stability and control in rain, slush and snow.

Dodge has given more than a quick nod to Journey´s passenger safety. Four-wheel disc brakes with antilock provide the basis for stability control, traction control and electronic brakeforce distribution.

A tire pressure monitor is also standard. Inside, front seat-mounted side-impact airbags, as well as full-length side-curtain airbags help cushion passengers if things should go wrong.

A bit smaller inside than some competitors such as the Toyota Highlander, Journey can still seat up to seven. When equipped with the third-row split bench seat, the second-row seat slides fore and aft. Both the second- and third-row seats recline and fold flat, as does the front passenger seat. Journey´s cabin is brimming with cupholders, bins, cubbies and storage compartments. It is certainly a segment leader in this regard.

Two of the storage bins are located in the floor in front of the second-row seat and can be used to ice down beverages. These are in addition to the “chill zone” glovebox that cools beverages.

Another hidden bin is located in the rear cargo floor. A rechargeable flashlight is also built into the rear cargo area.

The seats are comfortable enough and the third-row seat easily accessed. Taller passengers may feel a little cramped in the third seat, but it is roomier than expected. Large gauges and simple-to-use controls help keep the driver´s attention on the road.

There is no shortage of high-tech add-ons available.

Pony up the money and you can wow passengers with a DVD-based navigation system, dedicated iPod hookup, MyGIG music hard drive to store music, rear-seat DVD entertainment system and Sirius satellite radio.

Versatile, value-priced and easy on the eyes, Journey is a suitable replacement for the departed Caravan.

Although playing in an ever-growing and highly competitive segment, it holds its own. A more-than-capable people hauler, it provides minivan utility without that minivan stigma.

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