2009 Dodge Journey SXT, Part TwoS

Exterior Design: ***
The 2009 Dodge Journey is without a doubt one of the better looking cars in the Dodge lineup. But, that's not saying much. The sharp profile and muscular fender flares manage to hide the crossover's stubby dimensions while the cheaters on the B- and C-pillars also keep the shorter greenhouse from looking cartoonish (ahem, Nitro). You can't even tell there's an Avenger under there.

Interior Design: **
Ignore the nooks and crannies and the Journey's interior looks as though it was designed in 1998 by someone imaging how cars would look in 2008, sans the holographs. The center console is uncomfortably raked towards the never-ending dash. The gauge cluster consists of three rectangular pods with angled glass that looks cheap and tacked-on. The plastics? Matchbox cars get better stuff. The seats? Just good enough.

Acceleration: **
Even with the 3.5-Liter V6 providing adequate power, the Journey is too heavy to get anywhere quickly. Though a little faster than your average minivan, the crossover feels slower than competing vehicles like the V6 Ford Escape. Buyers should only pick races with the dads in the Windstars.

Braking: ***
Like most of the interactions between driver and vehicle, braking feel is almost nonexistent, lacking the reassuring feedback you'd expect from a similar vehicle. Weighting aside, the four-wheel disc brakes get the job done.

Ride: ***
Once again, the engineers managed to achieve consistent mediocrity with the Journey's performance. Drive it over a speed bump or two and the large crossover offers little in the way of complaint, but any attempt at tackling the pothole-ridden streets of a neglected rural area will have the kids switching from Jenga to Game Boy.

Handling: **
There's still an Avenger in there somewhere. Tackle anything but the most gentle curve and the crossover yaws alarmingly. Steering feel is vague and the please-stop-me-from-wrapping-this-around-a-tree system jerks on at the slightest hint of trouble.

Gearbox: ***
The V6 models come with a six-speed automatic that provides surprisingly smooth and predictable shifts, assuming you were predicting that the Journey was going to shift a tad early. If you prefer choosing your own adventure, the auto override works as well as the system on more expensive models, though the shifter moves left-to-right instead of up-and-down.

Audio: **
My main complaint with the sound system was with the placement of the controls being so low in the console, requiring the driver to shift his or her focus practically to the floor. Other than that, the standard six-speaker setup with the six-disc changer provided entry-level sound that was just good enough. Were it not for the relatively quiet interior, it would probably require more amplification.

Toys: ***
Assuming you consider storage areas to be toys, the Journey comes packed to the gills. There's the comically named ChillZone to keep two sodas cool, the removable floor compartments under the rear seat that can each hold a 12-pack with ice and the pop-down sunglasses holder that also includes a mirror for checking on any wee ones yet to come down from their Capri Sun high. Also, extra points for including a real outlet in the rear.

Value: ***
In mid-level SXT trim, the Journey represents reasonable value, coming in just under $23K. Though the power isn't anything to write home about, there's enough juice under the hood to keep from getting embarrassed and space enough to keep the juice boxes flowing to the rugrats. The exterior is of a quality higher than Dodge has produced lately and the unique features set it apart from the competition.

Overall: ***
The 2009 Dodge Journey SXT managed to be overwhelmingly average, providing an experience in each category that's neither embarrassingly awful nor suspiciously great. Smart features and competitive pricing makes this something worth checking out for those mothers and fathers not ready to make the leap to the Caravan but also not content with trying to fit a baby seat, stroller and the spoils from a Costco run into a Caliber.

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