Monday, August 27, 2007

2009 Dodge Journey Crossover Revealed

Dodge's new midsize crossover, named Journey, was revealed this past weekend. Although the Journey shares its platform with the Sebring and Avenger, it has a much longer wheelbase to accommodate the all-important third row seat. It will reach US dealerships in the first quarter of 2008, and will be sold in Europe (where Chrysler is working to establish the Dodge brand) starting in the middle of 2008.

Before even getting into the vehicle itself, I find it interesting that so many family haulers carry names that invoke adventures/travels. Other than the 2009 Dodge Journey, Chevrolet will come to market around 2009 with its Traverse crossover. Ford already sells the Expedition (and used to sell the Excursion). Chrysler/Plymouth used to sell a Voyager minivan. Actually, of the nine synonyms for 'journey' in the Microsoft Word thesaurus, 33% of them are, or were, recently-sold vehicle names (Voyage[r], Expedition, and Excursion). Incidentally, Word lists six synonyms for 'traverse,' of which one - 'navigat[e/or]' is the name of a vehicle.

The Journey is a nice looking vehicle. Certainly, it has much more attractive proportions than its platform mates, the Avenger and Sebring. The front is reminiscent of the Dodge Grand Caravan and at least looks like other Dodge products, and the profile reminds me of a Mazda CX-9 (certainly not a bad looking vehicle to emulate). The rear view is reminiscent of a Volkswagen Touareg, with horizontal taillights placed in the middle of the sides. Both front and rear overhangs appear to be fashionably short, especially considering its front wheel drive-based underpinnings.

Inside, although interior space won't be as voluminous or useful as a Caravan's, there are some nice family-friendly features either standard or optional, depending on the trim level chosen. The second row seats slide forward or backward to improve either second or third row passenger room, there are numerous "hidden" storage compartments under seats or in the floor, YES Essentials stain- and smell-resistant upholstery is available in all cloth seat-equipped versions (leather in standard in the top R/T model), and integrated child booster seats. From the press release photos, the interior detailing doesn't look as impressive as some of its competitors will. Until I actually see one in person, I'll reserve judgment on the quality of interior materials. After spending a few hours in a 2006 Dodge Magnum last weekend, I can attest that although the Magnum's interior design is somewhat bland, most of the dash is soft-touch, and not as bad as it looks. Chrysler said early in 2007 that they were going to have a renewed commitment to interior design and materials. This vehicle may have been too far along in the development curve to receive the full benefit of that, but it's nicer looking inside than other recent Chrysler efforts.

In terms of safety equipment, the Journey is coming to bat with everything that's expected in an all-new family hauler: multi-stage driver and front passenger airbags, front seat-mounted airbags, three-row side curtain airbags, standard ABS, stability control, roll mitigation, an available back-up camera, and optional all-wheel drive.

Powertrain options are numerous. Since the Journey will be sold in Europe, a small 2.0 liter turbo diesel is available there only with a 6-speed Getrag DSG gearbox. US engine choices include a 173 horsepower 2.4 liter four cylinder, a 186 horsepower 2.7 liter V6, and a 235 horsepower 3.5 liter V6. The 3.5 liter comes with a six-speed automatic, while the other engines get four-speeds. Chrysler has not given an estimated curb weight, but only people who care more about fuel economy than safely merging onto the highway would select the four cylinder, because I'm guessing it will be overwhelmed by a three-row crossover's mass. The 3.5 liter V6 is about 30-40 horsepower down on the class norm of 265-275, and that baseline might continue to increase by early 2008, but it should still have enough power to move the Journey briskly when needed.

The crossover field certainly is getting crowded. Chrysler was caught for the past few years without any viable crossovers in its Dodge lineup; hopefully they can catch onto the crossover wave and sell a few of these. They seem like a reasonably attractive, compelling package for families.

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