TESTED 2012 Dodge Journey R/T
WHAT IS IT? Dodge's entry in the not-quite-minivan, not-quite-S.U.V. crossover contest.
HOW MUCH? Base 4-cylinder front-drive models start at $19,990 for 2013; $31,395 as tested for 2012 model with all-wheel drive and brilliant red tricoat pearl paint.
WHAT'S UNDER THE HOOD? Chrysler's 3.6-liter V-6 (283 horsepower, 260 pound-feet of torque), 6-speed automatic transmission.
IS IT THIRSTY? The Journey R/T is rated at 17 m.p.g. in the city, 25 on the highway.
ALTERNATIVES: Mazda 5, Ford C-Max Hybrid
JOURNEY, the veteran rock band, had a big year in 2007. First, its 1981 hit "Don't Stop Believin', " gained new cultural cachet when it was featured in the finale of "The Sopranos." Later that year, Journey announced that Arnel Pineda -- a Filipino vocalist discovered on YouTube -- would become the new lead singer. Soon after hiring Pineda, the reinvigorated Journey released a platinum-selling album and kicked off a two-year tour.
But while Mr. Pineda and the band were enjoying their success, another Journey was arriving on the scene. Introduced as a 2009 model, the Dodge Journey suffered from a low-rent interior and a weak V-6 engine. The crossover might have left the stage for good if not for an intervention by an unlikely Italian savior. In 2011, the Journey benefited from a revision financed by Fiat, Chrysler's new master, and it returned to the fray with a new interior and a fresh 283-horsepower V-6.
Critics and buyers alike responded by -- well, nobody seemed to notice, actually. And I suspect that's partly because the Journey is a crossover, a genre known to induce drowsiness and tortured metaphors. But if you can focus your attention long enough to ponder the Journey, you discover a well-executed vehicle beneath that rectilinear exterior.
I drove a 2012 Journey R/T, the ostensibly sporty model distinguished by a monochrome exterior, black leather interior with red stitching and 19-inch wheels. For 2013, Dodge decided that perhaps a vehicle with a name that stands for "road and track" should have some sort of performance credentials, so the very latest R/T model includes a stiffer suspension. Still, the Journey R/T is not likely to go down in Mopar history as the most coveted performance edition of a Dodge.
The Journey is available with 4 cylinders or a V-6, with front drive or all-wheel drive and with either two or three rows of seats. Basically, you can have it any way you want. (The third row, though, is comfortable only for the young.) Before the 2011 overhaul, the Journey dash didn't get much lovin', but the upgraded soft materials are downright worthy of touching and squeezing. And when the lights go down in the city, you'll find that the available UConnect Touch 8.4-inch media screen is still clearly visible in direct sunlight.
While the 4-cylinder, 173-horsepower models are inexpensive, I'd recommend you be good to yourself and go for the V-6. With an extra 110 horsepower and two additional gears in the transmission, the V-6 is worlds apart from the basic powertrain. The Environmental Protection Agency says the front-drive V-6 Journey will faithfully deliver 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 m.p.g. on the highway.
Handling probably isn't a top priority on a multipurpose family car, but even without the upgraded R/T suspension, the 2012 Journey never threatened to put a wheel in the sky. Of course, I tested the Journey in South Florida, where the roads are straight as a line of fire.
All-wheel drive is available on the R/T, and I'd recommend that option on any Journey with a V-6 simply because it would help to quell the mild squirm of the steering wheel that afflicts the front-drive version under hard acceleration.
The all-wheel-drive system also sharpens the handling at speeds from 25 to 53 m.p.h., automatically sending power to the rear wheels when you're on the throttle. Above 53 m.p.h., the system basically reverts to front-wheel drive.
The Journey lineup is for the most part shrewdly priced, and the AVP model (for "American Value Package") is said to be the lowest-priced seven-passenger crossover in the United States, with a sticker of $20,945. However, that's a highly specific boast, as the 2012 Mazda 5 Sport costs $20,420 but seats only six, because it has second-row captain's chairs.
You take your bragging rights where you can find them, I suppose.
My R/T's as-tested price of $31,395 seemed a bit steep to me, and evidently Dodge agreed: for 2013, the R/T's price was reduced $1,000.
Since the Journey received its second lease on life, I've thought of it as one of the better cars that nobody knows about. Apparently, though, public awareness is dawning, because October was the Journey's best month ever. Back in Italy, I'm sure that kind of news is welcomed with open arms.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.