There are a few vehicles out there that don t get the attention they deserve, I ve even done a story naming a number of them. How s this for overlooked- I forgot to put the Dodge Journey on the list. Ouch. I attended the press launch over a year ago and came away thinking it would do pretty well. Good thing I m not your stock broker (but hey we can t always bat 1000).

So I requested a Journey R/T for a week of testing to see if my initial impression was just plain wrong. I showed it to friends, talked owners, had a couple folks check it out in the Costco parking lot. No, Journey is not perfect but as I suspected people were impressed.

The unknown crossover

Crossover Utility Vehicles or CUVs are all the rage with families these days. Somewhat replacing both the minivan and station wagon, many people shop RAV4, CR-V, Forester, Escape, Santa Fe, and Equinox. None of these are as versatile as Journey. The Dodge can seat up to 7 with the optional 3rd row. All passenger seats, including the front can fold flat to swallow a huge amount of stuff.

But that s just the beginning. Watch the streaming video and with the help of some of my kid s plush toys and you ll see that Journey s the closest thing there is to a Leatherman tool on four wheels. There s a spot to keep drinks chilled using the air conditioning. Storage under the front passenger chair cushion can hide a purse. With a blizzard of storage options, you will lose things in here, guaranteed.

More power please

A base front-wheel drive Journey that seats 5 starts at around 21 grand, this loaded AWD R/T model stickers for $35,795. Two engines are available. The first is a 2.4L 173 horsepower 4-cylinder with 166 lb.-ft of torque. I highly recommend moving up to the 3.5 liter V6 with 235 HP and 232 lb.-ft of torque. At around 4200 pounds as tested the Journey R/T is no lightweight. 0-60 times of 9.2 seconds are not exactly Challenger territory. I ve got to believe the 4-cylinder would take over 11 seconds to make the same run. These days that s s-l-o-w.

The 6-speed automatic transmission is generally well behaved (the 4-cylinder gets a 4-speed). It can be shifted manually on the console, no steering wheel paddle shifters here. The all-wheel drive system is completely transparent to the driver. Antilock brakes are decent with moderate feel. They feature brake assist plus there s the inevitable traction and electronic stability control. Again, standard equipment. R/T has a 3,500 pound towing capability.

Journey s ride quality is good and it s moderately quiet while on the highway. Good visibility too. Cornering is average in the car-based crossover class but buy a 3 Series if you re looking to do hot laps. EPA scores fuel economy at 15 city, 23 highway, up one MPG for 2010.

The Insider

The main cabin is an upgrade from past Chrysler products. It s no Audi but certainly better than the wide expanses of plain plastic used in the original Caliber, Compass and Patriot. Cup holders are lighted, there are cubby holes everywhere and a conversation mirror so mom and dad can see who really started it . The Chill Zone that s good for keeping a couple cans of Coke cool is right above the glovebox. It works too. There are two power ports on the lower console; one keeps the juice flowing even when the car is turned off. Handy when charging electronics while away from the car.

For the techies out there the Uconnect navigation system has real time traffic, a 30 gig hard drive and a back up camera. It s controlled with a small knob that gets turned and nudged. Good thing there s voice commands. Load music onto it with the USB port that also supports iPod control. Bluetooth for phones is here too. It s all pretty easy to use and the sound system does its job well.

Row #2

The rear doors open very wide to help get the kids in and out. The second row features the most flexible seating system available on any car regardless of price though it feels like I m sitting on, rather than in it. Seats splits, move fore and aft, recline and can even be had with optional integrated booster seats. This R/T has a separate climate zone back here too (yes, it can be locked out so kids can play with it).

There are removable bins in the floor behind the front seats that can hold toys, tools or ice and soda. A 9-inch screen can descend from the ceiling to delight your children. No DVD? No problem. Journey has SIRIUS Backseat TV so there are kid s channels playing 24/7. Watch it up front too if the Journey is in park. There are also inputs and an AC power plug to hook up a game console. Heaven forbid your kids leave that behind.

Row #3

It s easy to get into the way back if Journey is ordered up with the 3rd row do seats. Seats glide forward with one touch of a lever. Wise adults will avoid this space for long trips. There s enough headroom but leg and foot room can get a bit pinched depending on how generous the middle row folks are with the sliding seat. Focused LED aircraft style reading lights that don t bother the driver might be a good excuse to get the children to read a book rather than watch videos.

With all seats usable there s a small amount of cargo space behind the third row (one bundle of TP in my measurement system). Under the load floor, there s room for a couple laptop computers. A rechargeable flashlight lives back here too. Yes it ll get lost, Dodge says replacements are affordable. Drop row 3 (easy to do) and there s a good amount of room for family stuff. An average score in this class is 10 bundles of Kirkland bath tissue, Journey does well at 13.

Summing up

This Dodge isn t the quickest in class but it s supremely useful and in that regard it gets a big thumbs up. In the week our family lived in it, all of the spaces and features were used and appreciated. Still, not one neighbor, friend or Costco shopper knew the Journey existed. Sounds like the marketing people need a bigger budget to work with. Families with storage needs may want to consider taking a Journey.

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