With marriage looming, fatherhood has become an ever-increasing possibility, albeit one that is still far enough away that I can justify spending money on myself. When that day does come though, I'd like to think that I'd be the cool dad with the awesome wagon. However, increasingly competent crossovers are starting to look more and more appealing. In that vein, a 2009 Dodge Journey was ordered up for a little bit of testing. I'll skip to the end for those in a hurry: It wouldn't suit me as a car for when I have a family, but it would be nearly ideal if I suddenly became a drug dealer instead.
My time with the Journey was all planned out in order to replicate the experience of modern family life. There was sightseeing in Oak Park, a trip to the mall, and another to a community theater in the 'burbs. And though the Journey was up to these tasks, it never felt right. You can't simulate parenthood without offspring, and I could never keep my friends intoxicated enough for long enough to authentically replicate infants. I'm an only child and the closest thing my father had to a family car was a Subaru BRAT.
The Journey may be a family car, but to me it felt like the ideal car for a drug dealer. Having watched every episode of HBO's crime opera The Wire, which claims to have realistically chronicled Baltimore's drug trade, I feel like I can safely say this particular crossover is up to the task. Of course, It probably says something — something deeply disturbing — that it's easier for me to visualize myself in the role of Avon Barksdale than in the role of the Pater Familias...but you're supposed to write what you know. Or at least what television convinces you that you think you know.
The Journey crossover's first advantage for the man with product to move is its exterior. Though based on the Dodge Avenger, there isn't much resemblance other than the family's crosshair grille. And that's a good thing. What respectable underworld kingpin would sneak around in an Avenger? The Journey's higher beltline also gives a more muscular appearance; it's reminiscent of the Magnum it theoretically replaces and, in profile, is far more attractive than any SUV currently for sale under the Dodge banner. Best of all, it's not as conspicuous as an Escalade rolling on 22's. A real thug is a thug that's hush.
Inside is where the narcotics distributor on the up is going to feel right at home. Though there's an optional third row, even Chrysler can't call it a seven-passenger vehicle with a straight face (they call it "5+2" seating). They're exceptionally cruel devices for anyone larger than an Oompah Loompha so we'd suggest opting out and instead taking advantage of the extra room in the back for other things. Besides, it's not the space; it's the features that make it such a great vehicle for drug promotion.
Dodge designers have created numerous compartments of varying size that are ideal for the lifestyle accessories demanded by the modern drug trade. As with other new vehicles from the company, there's the Chill Zone that holds bottles of water or two 12-oz cans and keeps them cool using the air conditioning. Take out the plastic divider and it'll hold a bottle of relatively chilled champagne. I tested it with a bottle of sparking pear juice, but a bottle of Cristal could easily be substituted.
The front passenger seat includes the Flip n' Stow feature, which is a hidden storage area under the seat cushion large enough to secretly hide approximately six kilos. There are also two large storage boxes similar to those found in the cabin of the 2009 Dodge Ram in the rear passenger foot wells. But unlike the Ram's cargo areas, these are removable. Ideal for moving weapons, drugs or holding sodas (everyone gets thirsty, even enforcers). There's another hidden compartment below the rear storage area large enough to hold maybe ten bricks of oregano.
And there are lots of other features that'll work for any sort of businessman, on the up-and-up or otherwise. The optional uConnect system allows you to speak wirelessly through the car's stereo system (talking on a cell in Chicago is illegal; who needs that noise?) and the 115-volt power inverter makes it easier to charge all those disposable cell phones criminals seem to need.
Though this particular model didn't feature it, I have to imagine the optional rear backup camera probably makes it easier to avoid getting snuck up on, and the remote start means that getting going quickly is a cinch...though it's in the getting going where you run shy of your average G-Wagen. The Journey's 3.5-Liter V6 is the same version found in a variety of Pentastar vehicles, including the Dodge Charger, but it's good for only 235 HP in this trim. When paired with the reasonably smooth-shifting six-speed there's enough get-up-and-go to merge onto the highway but not enough to outrun a helicopter.
You may not be able to outmaneuver the fuzz either. In the handling department, the Journey ends up closer to the SUV or minivan end of the crossover spectrum. In fact, the wheelbase and length of the Journey are nearly identical to the previous-generation Dodge Caravan. In the SXT trim, you're talking about more than 4,000 pounds of vehicle being pulled around by the front wheels. As if that wasn't enough of a challenge, it feels like the steering column has to pass through a vat of pudding on its way to the wheels.
But who cares? If you're a crime boss you're probably not driving anyways. And that's maybe where the Journey ultimately falls short. Though quite roomy, the seating is covered in a low-quality cloth that's not up to the luxurious standards of what television has taught us most well-connected criminals require. Unless this is a vehicle that is going to be subjected to repeated staining from either juice boxes or gunshot wounds, the leather upgrade is worth the cash.
In the end, the 2009 Journey SXT was endowed by its creators with a plethora of neat features that make it more of a crossover between a great ride for a drug dealer or a small family, than a crossover between a car and a minivan. It's also a lot of car for less than $23,000; important considering that, though crime often pays, most of that money ends up going to lawyers and bail. Someone wake up the Journey's marketing team. It's a new day.
• 2009 Dodge Journey SXT, Part One