On the outside, the Journey announces its presence with the familiar Dodge crosshair grille. The look might be described as bold. But the upright shape of the grille and its relation to the aluminum hood and windshield is very reminiscent of the current Dodge Grand Caravan, and no SUV ever earned sales by looking like a minivan.
Beneath the grille, the Journey has a larger air intake than the Grand Caravan. Actually, it runs the full width of the vehicle and is flanked on either side by integrated fog lights on Crew, R/T and Lux models. Around the sides, the Journey features pronounced wheel arches and a creased character line that starts at the top of each headlight, angles upward, and wraps completely around the vehicle. The roofline flows nicely from the windshield, curving down slightly front to rear. The B- and C-pillars are blacked out to, as Dodge puts it, give the look of a car-like greenhouse and an SUV-like lower half.
At the back, the Journey's taillights wrap around the sides of the vehicle and continue into the tailgate, which opens upward. The taillights themselves are now ringed by LEDs. The rear bumper has an integrated step pad that matches the height of the load floor. Models with the V6 engine can be distinguished by their dual chrome exhaust tips.
The Journey is bigger than it looks. In overall dimension, it is actually longer than such seven-passenger crossover competitors as the Toyota Highlander, Subaru Tribeca and Hyundai Veracruz. The Journey's size translates to plenty of interior cargo room, but the design isn't as space efficient as some of its competitors.
The Journey's cabin features a new design for 2011 that is much more inviting. It offers plenty of room for passengers and cargo, available seating for seven, and several smart and convenient storage solutions.
The hard plastic surfaces of previous Dodge products are replaced with rich soft-touch surfaces in an attractive layout for 2011. The dashtop, door panels, armrests and center console are all soft to the touch. Added sound-deadening material makes it quieter underway. The look, feel and calm places the Journey at or near the top of the class for interior quality. The same couldn't be said last year.
The center stack is completely redesigned for 2011 with three low-set knobs surrounded by several buttons. The climate controls are arrayed around the center knob, and they're easy enough to use.
The infotainment system choices are all new for 2011. Instead of MyGIG, it's now called UConnect Touch and it's offered in four varieties. The base version has a 4.3-inch touchscreen and a standard audio input jack and USB port; it's offered with or without Sirius satellite radio. The next step up comes with an 8.4-inch touchscreen and a 30-gigabyte hard drive that can hold up to 6700 song files. There is also a premium version of this unit that adds Bluetooth streaming audio, voice command, a Garmin navigation system with Sirius Travel Link, and pre-programmed hands-free texting responses. We've had limited exposure to the new system but it works fairly well. Given Garmin's reach, more people should be familiar with the navigation system, but we think it looks cartoonish. We also like the idea of hands-free texting.
The Journey offers plenty of entertainment features for all occupants. An AM/FM radio with in-dash six-disc CD changer and six speakers is standard. An available rear DVD entertainment system has a nine-inch screen and wireless headphones. Dodge's UConnect Phone hands-free cell phone link and a premium Infinity sound system are also offered.
Space is good but not great. The driver's seat offers plenty of head and leg room for just about any occupant. The view is generally unobstructed front and rear. The Journey's unique storage and convenience features, however, are what really make it shine. All Journeys have a dual-level glove box with Dodge's Chill Zone up top. Chill Zone uses the air conditioning system to keep up to four soda cans cool.
The Journey's center console/armrest has a lid that slides forward three inches. It has enough storage space for up to 10 DVD cases. Two cupholders are located in front of the console, along with a tray for cell phones and the like. An additional, more discreet storage space is standard in R/T, Crew and Lux models. The front passenger seat bottom flips up to reveal a storage bin that has about enough room for a good-sized purse. The seat back also folds flat, allowing items up to nine feet long to be loaded into the Journey. And to help drivers keep an eye on the kids, there is a popular minivan feature, a fisheye conversation mirror.
The second row is equally as ingenious. The three-passenger bench seat is 1.6 inches higher than the front seat to give passengers a better view of the road. It slides forward and back up to 4.7 inches in seven-passenger models, and can be ordered with integrated child booster seats for the outboard positions. The Journey also has two in-floor storage bins with removable liners. Each bin can hold up to six soda cans plus ice. The seat backs are split 60/40 and fold flat. When the optional Flexible Seating Group is ordered, the second-row seats fold in a scissors action, with the seat bottoms tilting up, the seatbacks tilting forward, and the seats sliding forward, to provide easy access to the third row. The rear doors also open 90 degrees, making entry and exit easy.
Base seating is for five, but the Crew and Lux models come standard with the Flexible Seating Group, which expands seating capacity to seven. It is also offered as an option. The third row is 0.6 inches higher than the second row, is split 50/50, and folds flat. Dodge says it offers enough head room for a 95th-percentile male. That's all well and good, but leg room is tight and the bottom cushion is low to the floor, so adults sit with their knees up. It will be possible to fit seven adults in the Journey, but the third-row passengers and second-row middle occupant will be none too happy about it. Younger children will have plenty of room, though.
Both the five- and seven-passenger Journeys have a shallow under-floor storage bin that extends from the rear of the vehicle forward to just behind the last row of seats. That means the five-passenger version has considerably more space under the floor than the seven-passenger version. The cover for this bin is reversible, too, with carpet on one side and plastic on the other. The plastic will allow for worry-free stowage of items such as muddy boots.
Cargo space expands to 67.6 cubic feet with all the seats down, which is average for the class but bested by the Toyota Highlander and even the smaller Honda CR-V. Loading cargo shouldn't be tough, as the liftover height is relatively low. It would be nice, however, if the tailgate had a separate opening glass. As an added bonus, a removable, rechargeable flashlight is included in the rear cargo area in higher line models.