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2014 Dodge Journey Test Drive Review
There’s plenty to like about a 2014 Dodge Journey, from its low pricetag and practical interior to its powerful V6 engine and good crash-test ratings. Perhaps more than anything else, the available Uconnect 8.4 touchscreen infotainment system makes the Journey especially appealing. But there’s no denying that for each of the Journey’s positive attributes there’s a negative, which means it's time for Dodge to execute a full redesign of this crossover SUV.
Look and Feel
It is remarkable what Dodge has been able to achieve with the Journey crossover SUV, which is based on the same platform that underpins the underwhelming Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger sedans. Birthed during a bleak time in Chrysler’s history, the Journey has since enjoyed a regular program of improvement that today makes this often-overlooked model unexpectedly compelling.
Dodge sells the 2014 Journey in 6 trim levels ranging in price from $20,490 to $29,990. The least-expensive version is equipped with the American Value Package, and after subtracting rebates from the dealer invoice price, this model is easily affordable to buyers on a budget who are looking for maximum room for a minimal amount of money. Most people, however, will want the Journey SE ($22,490), as it provides access to more equipment as well as popular options.
The best-selling versions of the Journey are the SXT ($24,290) and SXT Plus ($25,285). If you’re seeking a more luxurious version of the Journey, choose the Limited ($29,390). Want something sportier? Get the Journey R/T ($29,990). A new Journey Crossroad trim is also joining the lineup and debuted at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show.
A V6 engine is optional for the SXT, SXT Plus and Crossroad, and it's standard for the Limited and R/T. All-wheel-drive is optional for all of these trims, too, but at a cost of $3,400, it does not come cheap.
For this review, I drove a Journey SXT Plus with the Popular Equipment Group, the Sun/Sound Group, the Navigation Group, a V6 engine and leather seats. My test vehicle also had the Blacktop Package, which blacks out the Journey’s brightwork and adds a set of Gloss Black 19-inch wheels. The pricetag was $30,960.
Displaying modern performance design themes in the form of its black wheels and blacked-out trim, the Journey’s Blacktop Package gives the SUV a sporty look, though I do think matte-finish paint would be more convincing than Gloss Black, especially for the wheels. Nevertheless, the 2014 Journey is a good-looking crossover SUV save for its jutting chin, which certainly limits its ability to journey anywhere off-road.
Inside, the Journey is packed with more storage cubbies, bins and solutions than anyone is likely to need, and the cabin is more refined and consistently rendered than those of many competitors. Soft-touch, low-gloss, tastefully textured material covers the dashboard and upper door panels, and my Journey was equipped with a plushly padded center console armrest as well as a thick-rimmed, tilt/telescopic steering wheel wrapped in premium leather. From time to time, you stumble upon evidence supporting the Journey’s affordable pricetag, but not nearly as often as you might expect.
My test vehicle had a 283-hp 3.6-liter V6 engine, an upgrade I strongly recommend, because the 173-hp, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that's standard in some Journey models is significantly short of power. Additionally, the 4-cylinder engine is equipped with a 4-speed automatic transmission while the V6 has a 6-speed automatic, allowing the more powerful engine to return fuel-economy numbers nearly as good as those of the smaller, weaker engine.
According to the EPA, my Journey V6 with front-wheel drive was expected to get 17 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway and 19 mpg combined. During my week behind the wheel, the SUV returned 20.1 mpg, but that included plenty of highway driving.
Refined, and offering plenty of power, the Journey’s 3.6-liter V6 engine is strong, if thirsty. Dodge has calibrated the 6-speed automatic to do the best possible job of maximizing fuel economy, though, as the transmission exhibits a tendency to resist downshifts, which prompts the driver to press harder on the accelerator, an action followed by a decisive gear change and more acceleration than was desired in the first place. The transmission also frequently clunks into gear when shifting out of Park, which doesn’t inspire a sense of quality in terms of engineering.
Occasionally, I found it difficult to smoothly modulate the Journey’s brake pedal. The brakes bite when light pressure is applied, but in situations where the driver is already braking lightly and traffic suddenly grinds to a crawl, I found it hard to apply additional pressure for a rapid but progressive decrease in speed without causing the brakes to grab and toss occupants’ heads forward.
Suspension tuning is excellent for the city, suburbs and highway. Despite the more aggressive wheel/tire combo on my Blacktop-equipped test vehicle, the Journey does a remarkable job of soaking up bumps without feeling disconnected from the road surface. Similarly, the Journey’s steering delivers excellent straight-line stability and proves responsive in turns while exhibiting pleasing effort levels.
Regardless of the Journey Blacktop’s looks, though, this SUV doesn’t really emphasize the “sport” portion of the sport/utility equation. All-season rubber, torque steer, understeer and a lack of seat bolstering mean that it is best to tackle twisty roads with caution rather than abandon. But then, if you wanted something really fun to drive on local back roads, you probably wouldn’t be purchasing a crossover SUV, am I right?
Form and Function
Dodge employs a simple design and execution approach to the Journey’s interior, combining materials that match in terms of color, texture and tone with tasteful silver trim and chrome accents. The result is a cabin that looks and feels more upscale than the pricetag would suggest. Nothing in here screams cheap.
With the exception of placing the wiper controls on the same stalk as the turn signals, rather than on a separate right stalk, I find the Journey simple to understand and operate. The switchgear looks and feels like quality, and I’m a huge fan of the Uconnect 8.4 touchscreen infotainment system that Dodge installs in its vehicles.
While the Journey is rather narrow and rides a shorter wheelbase than many midsize crossovers, it is nevertheless comfortable for a family of 4. The front bottom seat cushions are a bit short, but the firm and supportive front chairs sit high off the floor and provide decent comfort on longer drives. The upper door panels are wide and padded, providing a great place to rest an arm. Residents of colder climates will certainly appreciate the Journey’s optional heated steering wheel.
The Journey’s rear doors open to nearly a 90-degree angle for easier entry and exit, so if you’ve got a kid like my 3-year-old, who demands “I do it!” in her constant quest for independence, be on guard to protect neighboring vehicles from dings even if they’re parked really far away. Similarly, if you’ve got a little one waiting patiently for you to open the door so that they can clamber aboard, watch their tiny little heads as you swing it open, because it’s got a really sharp lower edge that aligns perfectly with a youngster’s noggin. Dodge could stand to install more aggressive hinge detents for these doors, to hold them open better and to better control how far they open.
Rear-seat passengers sit tall on a firm bottom bench, enjoying a plush padded center armrest with integrated cupholders, and Dodge also pads a portion of the rear door panels, whereas many automakers employ hard, glossy plastic as a cost-saving measure. Legroom is adequate, neither snug nor roomy, and while the seat backs do recline, the comfort benefit is negligible. The seats also slide fore and aft to adjust space when the optional third-row seat is in use, but adult passengers will want the seats moved to their rearmost position.
Parents take note: Because of the shortage of distance between the front seatbacks and the rear seat, my 3-year-old constantly kicked the driver’s seat. Fortunately, the hard plastic backing was easy to clean.
If you can’t find a spot to stash stuff inside a Journey, you’re not trying hard enough. With the available Flip ‘N Stow front passenger seat, which contains a storage bin underneath the cushion and which folds in half to allow the Journey to carry longer items with the tailgate closed, the right rear passenger can use the seatback as an ottoman for stretched-legs comfort, though Dodge officially discourages this practice when the Journey is under way. I used the under-cushion bin to haul home a family meal from our favorite Mexican restaurant.
Additionally, my Journey had storage bins built into the floor forward of the rear seats that Dodge says can serve as coolers for beverages. As I discovered when my kindergartener removed her boots, boots that were filled with sand from the school playground, the seals around the in-floor bins are adept at trapping grime and grit. Sturdy plastic hooks on the front seat backs are great for hanging plastic grocery bags in order to keep them from sliding and rolling around, and the Journey provides a variety of bins and trays that are accessible by front-seat occupants while the SUV is under way.
My Journey did not have the optional third-row seat. Instead, it had a big storage bin under the load floor, which sits higher than expected for a crossover SUV. The main cargo-related downside to the Journey is that its maximum cargo capacity measurement is just 67.6 cubic feet, on par with compact crossovers. The Journey does, however, supply a generous 37 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats.
Technology, especially that of the infotainment variety, is increasingly important to new-car buyers, and Dodge has it mastered. If you’ve never experienced the company’s Uconnect 8.4 touchscreen system, you owe it to yourself to drop by a dealership for a demonstration.
I’m a big fan, because I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, my vision is failing, and I detest distractions when I’m driving. Uconnect 8.4 addresses all of these issues, thanks to its simple and intuitive layout, easy Bluetooth pairing, large graphics and icons, and big virtual buttons. Plus, Dodge includes separate volume and tuning knobs that fall readily to hand.
Entering destinations is easy, the system exhibiting Apple-style speed with regard to input response. Or, you can use the Voice Command system to operate Uconnect’s various functions. The system also provides real-time traffic and weather reports, can direct the driver to local gas stations based on listings of the price per gallon and more. Optionally, with Uconnect Web by Mopar, the system turns the Journey into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. A rear-seat entertainment system is also available for the Journey, complete with 2 sets of wireless headphones.
Unfortunately, however, the Journey is not available with Uconnect Access smartphone integration and services, which includes the ability to remotely access the system using a smartphone, to receive and reply to text messages while driving, and to request emergency assistance in the event of a collision.
Aside from the safety equipment that all new vehicles must include to meet government mandates, the 2014 Journey features a standard knee airbag for the driver. A reversing camera and rear parking-assist sensors are options, depending on the trim level selected, but Dodge offers nothing more sophisticated in terms of safety technology. At a minimum, especially for a vehicle designed for families, Dodge ought to upgrade the Uconnect system to provide Uconnect Access services, which includes a 9-1-1 Call function that is designed to speed rescuers to the Journey’s location following a crash in which the airbags deploy.
While a Journey might not be adept at helping a driver avoid a collision through technology, it does a good job of protecting occupants if a crash occurs. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Journey an overall crash-test rating of 4 stars, and the SUV gets a 4- or 5-star rating for every single individual assessment.
In tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Journey receives the top rating of Good in all tests for which it has been assessed. The IIHS had not, as this review was written, conducted a small-overlap frontal-impact test on the Journey, and so for 2014 this SUV is ineligible for a Top Safety Pick designation.
So far, the 2014 Dodge Journey sounds like a pretty decent crossover SUV available at a pretty decent value, doesn’t it? The problem is that when consumers compare the Journey’s fuel economy, reliability, retained value and cost-of-ownership ratings to other models, the Dodge doesn’t make good financial sense no matter how low the window sticker or how big the rebate.
In my experience, the EPA fuel economy ratings for this vehicle are accurate. But the Journey V6 is not a fuel-efficient vehicle, especially since it is smaller than most midsize crossovers, and especially if most of your driving is done in the city. In fact, until my family embarked on a 160-mile round-trip jaunt on fast-moving L.A. freeways (yes, sometimes they’re not clogged with traffic), this Dodge was swilling gas like a Seahawks fan was beer on Super Bowl Sunday.
In addition to its unimpressive fuel economy, a Journey is not expected to do a good job of retaining its value over time, according to ALG, and it's predicted to cost more to own over time than other crossover SUVs, according to Consumer Reports. That publication also estimates that long-term reliability will prove to fall below average, a prediction shared by J.D. Power. And while J.D. Power does say that the Journey’s quality has improved in recent years, the SUV still rates average in this regard.
Given the Journey’s unimpressive ratings, the deals are not as good as you might expect. To lease the 2014 Journey SXT with front-wheel drive, it’s gonna cost about $342 per month with no money out of pocket, plus tax. That’s the deal offered as this review is written, anyway. You can get a Honda Pilot for just a few extra bucks per month.
If you’re set on parking a Journey in your driveway, it might be better to take the $2,000 in rebates and bonus cash and avail yourself of financing that’s offered for as low as 0.9% APR for 36 months.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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