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August 5, 2013

Cargazing: Dodge Journey makes a turnaround

Quiet cabin, third-row seat help crossover SUV stand out

The Dodge Journey had a difficult start to life. It was designed at a time when Chrysler was nearly bankrupt, and it came to market in 2009 as a rough-hewn stone of a crossover.

But now that the new, revitalized Chrysler has had some time to polish it, the Journey has turned into quite a gem.

One of the most obvious improvements is in the cabin, where better sound insulation and suspension refinements make it one of the quietest crossovers I can recall driving. It's a drastic change in a short amount of time.

It also has an unusually smart cabin layout for its class. It's a compact crossover with a starting price around $19,000, which puts in one of the most competitive categories of the automotive world.

Virtually all its competition only offers seating for five, though, while the Journey can seat up to seven. Dodge managed to squeeze an optional third-row seat into the back, which allows for a couple of extra passengers and gives it those bragging rights. 

When equipped with the optional V6, the Journey is surprisingly SUV-like in its capability. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 makes a hearty 283 horsepower, which is more than ample for accelerating and passing, while getting a 25-mpg highway fuel economy rating.

Unfortunately, I can't recommend the four-cylinder version of the Journey because it's woefully inefficient. It makes 173 horses — not a bad amount of power — but an outdated design and four-speed transmission mean it only qualifies for a 26-mpg highway rating. That's barely better than the V6 and considerably worse than most of its four-cylinder competitors. 

Other than that, there's not much to complain about in the Journey. The interior packaging is so smart — including a "Flip-N-Stow" in-seat storage system that lets you hide things under the seat cushions — that it almost feels Toyota-like in terms of clever little storage bins.

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