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Rotten Rental Car Review: Dodge Journey

The small people-hauler didn’t die with the Mazda5. It got restyled into an SUV, and as a result, lost a substantial amount of its utility in the conversion. This is what’s left of the affordable minivan market, and it’s a dismal place to be.

I had reserved a Mitsubishi Mirage (or similar) for a recent trip. I was actually looking forward to a highway drive in a sad little noisebox, but the only things left on the lot that morning were a Chevy (Anonymous) or this Dodge Journey. I picked it up at my local airport and immediately noticed, to my surprise, a dead pedal. You can see it in the picture above, just behind the parking brake. Excellent!

Except not. It would be the first of a series of disappointments in this perpetually compromised vehicle. The dead pedal is too short for any adult-sized foot: I could curl my toes downward and feel nothing but air under the ball of my foot. I didn’t know it was possible to do a dead pedal incorrectly, but this car manages to provide something actually worse than nothing at all.

Before driving away, I plugged my phone cable into the available USB port. It confused the stereo. It couldn’t understand an Android device as a USB audio input—which is fine—but anytime my phone played navigation directions, the car would switch from radio to USB input (and still play nothing). What’s more, the USB port couldn’t charge my phone. I had a dead phone battery before I got back to my office despite having the thing plugged in for 4 hours of driving that day.

That said, the stereo sounded fine when playing the radio. It had plenty of volume and range.

I didn’t expect much from the driving experience, so its relatively flat cornering and quiet cabin were copacetic; firm responses on road imperfections are an acceptable tradeoff, though in this vehicle it does feel a bit more trucklike than sporting. The chassis shudders over big bumps. It doesn’t feel like a firm, refined machine.

The throttle mapping is aggressive, making the Journey feel eager, yet jumpy. It takes some care to avoid chirping the long-wearing all-season tires on an unintentional jackrabbit start. The engine (probably the 2.4-liter four-pot, but who really cares?) provides smooth power and it’s fairly quick; it feels quicker than my 7-year-old Mazda5, especially when accelerating at surface-street speeds. It returned 25 mpg on my mostly-highway trip.

Though it’s quiet, the Journey provides judder all around. I can feel the drivetrain moving and settling in its mounts between gears, which is something I’ve noticed before in other recent Fiat-Chrysler products. It’s possibly the fault of it being a rental with 10,000 miles, but it does put me off.

Its steering is extremely light and numb. Not a surprise, but a disappointment—this is a perpetual theme with this car. Light steering does make parking easy, though the rear visibility does not. Tall rear-seat headrests conspire with wide C and D-pillars to make it difficult to see around the vehicle while you’re backing up. This is something you need to be watchful with in the day care parking lot. Might be worth springing for the backup camera.

The Dodge Journey does technically seat seven, but only to the same standard that a mid-size sedan seats five. It’s going to be crowded for those sitting three-wide in the middle row.

It wasn’t until I was about to return this car that I realized it even had a third row of seats. The small trunk tipped me off; it’s about the size of my Mazda5’s. Naturally, I wondered if it was harder to get into the back row without the ample space provided by a minivan’s practical sliding doors.

You can see the answer above. That’s as far forward as the middle row will go, and you can’t flip the seat flat if you slide it forward first—another drawback to those huge middle-row headrests. (Update: Commenters pointed out that I pulled the wrong lever. Pulling the top lever will pop up the seat bottom and allow easier entry into the back seat. This is better, but does not solve the problem I posed in the next sentence.)  How are you supposed to get any humans to climb in the back if you’ve got child seats in the middle row? And if you’re going to put your child seats in the back, you’ve got serious gymnastics to do every day just to pull the kids out.

Overall, this Fiat-Freemont-for-the-American-market does everything it has to—but in typical rental-fleet fashion, it does nothing well. Every feature is either adequate or disappointing; every opportunity to excel is missed.

There, however, is one place this car excels: Price. If you need a new 3-row vehicle, this and the Nissan Rogue are the only way I know of to get it this side of $25,000. (If I missed one, post in the comments.) The Journey starts just under $22,000; you’re almost at $24,000 before you can get a Nissan Rogue (Update: or a Mitsubishi Outlander). The Caravan starts at $25,000. You’re mighty close to $30,000 to touch a new Sienna or Odyssey.

Who else offers a small minivan anymore? No one. And with all these compromises to its design, dealer incentives for the Journey are sure to follow. If you can deal with lackluster for the sake of a buck, the Journey delivers. It’s a car made by and for the proverbial bean-counter. The lifelong miser in me can appreciate that.

But as someone who also appreciates the practicality of a proper minivan, the ultimate disappointment of the Journey is not its own fault, but rather the fault of buyers in this market. Apparently nobody wants a minivan that’s not a highway-gobbling luxury liner with built-in vacuum. Shoppers for modestly sized 3-row vehicles are stuck with these compromised cars: Machines that are meant to be practical people-haulers but give up most of their actual utility in favor of SUV style.

In short, the Dodge Journey (or similar) is the perfect place to enjoy a meal from Nihilist Arby’s. It’s an adequate place to be for hurtling through time toward your own inevitable physical degradation and unavoidable death. Enjoy nothing. Eat Arby’s.

[Photos copyright 2017 Alan Cesar | Hooniverse]

  • Fred Talmadge

    It’s these kind of cars that make me look at low milage used cars.

  • Elliott Peeler

    I bought one these this past November to replace our 2006 Town and Country. I can’t disagree with anything you’ve written here good and bad. We have the same issue with the USB and phone connection to android phones. Stupid. It is comfortable however and crappy rear visibility notwithstanding it’s easy to drive. The clincher was the 3rd row which we need for an occasional 6th person and the fact that we drove a brand new 7 passenger crossover with a V-6 off the parking lot for just over $23k. It doesn’t do anything great but there’s nothing really egregious going on either and for us, for that money it was a no brainer.

    • MarionCobretti

      I drove a Pentastar Journey recently, and based on reviews, I was expecting it to be terrible. It really wasn’t. The interior was made of decent materials, the big V-6 provided adequate power, and it was reasonably quiet and comfortable, which far exceeded my expectations. We ended up with a CPO CR-V, which is (a) large enough to suit our needs and (b) what she wanted, but i think the Journey isn’t a bad choice, especially for the money.

      BTW, Alan, you forgot an under 25K three-row crossover. Here are some hints. It’s even more unloved than the Journey, and also comes standard with a 2.4L 4 banger. The manufacturer used to have an association with Chrysler, and currently has one with the maker of the Rogue you mentioned.

      • Alan Cesar

        As you’ve identified, “decent” “adequate” “reasonably” and “for the money” are the Journey’s key selling points.

        I have no idea which crossover you’re talking about. The only brand I can think of that fits your description is Renault, and they’re not selling in the U.S. The small minivan is definitely not dead in the world market.

        So, I give up. What is it?

        • MarionCobretti
          • ptschett

            And it’s related to the Journey two ways! The 2.4L engine comes from a DCX/Mitsubishi/Hyundai partnership, and the platform from a DCX/Mitsu partnership. [edited]

          • Alan Cesar

            Well damn. A friend of mine even owns an Outlander. But he has no kids, so I never considered that it would be a three-row vehicle. That’s why I didn’t bother to search Mitsubishi when I made that claim. Clearly a mistake.

          • Sjalabais

            I can’t believe how cheap this thing is in the US. The Outlander is Norway’s most sold pure gasoline vehicle and the PHEV versions sell even better. But they start at 46k $ if you’re lucky:
            https://www.mitsubishi-motors.no/outlander-phev-kampanjer/

      • Mark Thompson

        I did 1500 miles in a Pentastar-powered Journey last spring, and I agree: not terrible. Good power, 25 mpg, plenty of room for the 3 people and ton of stuff we had in the car. The only thing I truly disliked was the crappy cruise control buttons on the steering wheel–worst control set up since those horrible GM stalk mounted controls from the ’80s.

        • Luxury Lexus Land-yacht

          Ah…GM’s SuperStalk!!!

          Let’s put everything on the turn indicator lever.

          Turn indicators, high beams, cruise control, and yeah, throw wipers/washer on there, too, why the hell not?

          Don’t forget, make it feel like it’s going to break off in your hand every time you use it.

      • Elliott Peeler

        Agreed, the power is great even though as Alan mentioned, the throttle is really twitchy until you get accustomed to it. Interior materials are better than our van was which, while not stellar is certainly acceptable. I’d buy one again but I think I’d spring for the 8 inch uconnect if I had to do it again. Other than that, we got exactly what we expected and barring any crazy reliability issues should be happy for a while.

  • Citric

    The Journey is like the car equivalent to one of those off-brand stereos you can get at a hardware store. It looks okay, if cheap, but nothing works quite like you want and eventually you just wish you had saved your money.

  • Sjalabais

    It’s pretty damning how most reviews I trust end up presenting one FCA cliché after the other, tl;dr “cheap crapcan”. And if a company first has established that kind of reputation, perpetually manifesting it with model after model, what kind of engineers and designers to they attract? Self-reinforcing circle maybe.

    I recently enquired our local Honda importer if there are any plans to get the Jade to Norway. Got a reply that they, too, would expect the Jade Hybrid to sell like hot cakes in our tiny country, but they’re dependent on Honda Europe’s import decision and they are not planning to get a small van to Europe. It would be perfect to replace my Stream.
    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-0vU7KBShpyM/VK-2eozL0MI/AAAAAAAAWlA/E0IFJGvR2pA/s1600/Honda-Jade-Hybrid-3.jpeg
    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-D3lvxeIFNjk/VK-2fp3WdNI/AAAAAAAAWlU/07dhUXD6eUI/s1600/Honda-Jade-Hybrid-6.jpeg

    • P161911

      But then FCA goes and does something like the Hellcat or Demon. That may be as much an attempt to attract quality talent as it is an attempt to attract customers. Dodge/Ram trucks and some Jeep vehicles seem to be somewhat competent too. Still the reputation of FCA and all the previous iterations of MOPAR keep me from seriously considering buying a new one.

    • ptschett

      FCA can’t be that bad, they use the same “World Class Manufacturing” system as where I work.

      • Sjalabais

        I guess it’s not that bad isolated. But in almost every attempt to categorize reliability, their products come out last or close to last, consistently. So relatively speaking they’ve fallen behind. The lack of desirable haptics and facepalm solutions like the Android snap or folding rear seat leaving next to no space to enter are just icing on the cake.

        • Alan Cesar

          This.

          It’s been said that there are no really bad cars anymore. So, sure, these aren’t Yugos leaking oil in the dealership parking lot. Looked at on its own, it’s a fine conveyance for your people and things. But it fails to meet the standard of its competitors.

          Sure, it’s cheap. But in this case, that doesn’t mean good value. It means you get what you pay for.

          • Luxury Lexus Land-yacht

            So…if Wal-Mart sold automobiles?

            • Alan Cesar

              Precisely.

  • A Transit Connect starts at a MSRP of $25,700 in XLT trim and has a $3,500 rebate. Not bad if you’re ok with truck like manners and want a sliding door.

  • neight428

    I think you just doubled the amount of thought that the entire universe has dedicated to the Dodge Journey.

  • Maymar

    Two things – first, that’s absolutely a V6 Journey – you can tell both from the Flexfuel badge, and because it’s not utterly gutless. The 2.4 is barely adequate in the Avenger, I can only imagine how bad it’d be with an extra 500lbs.

    Second, the middle row does actually tilt and slide forward for access to the back – pull the top handle, the cushion flips up, and the whole thing slides. You probably pulled the bottom handle at the rear, which just flips the seatback down. It’s not bad once you’re back there, at least if you’re my size (5’8), but really best for kids.

    I don’t find the Journey the absolute most objectionable thing in the world, but up here in Canuckia where they’re practically giving stripper Caravans away ($20k CDN!), I feel like you’d have to be vain and braindead to chose the Journey over the minivan.

    • Alan Cesar

      You’re probably right. But that method still leaves the rear seat inaccessible if you have child seats in the middle row. I have two young children, so in my use case, I wouldn’t be able to make use of those rearmost seats for *several* years.

      • Maymar

        I think that’s a problem common to almost all three-row crossovers though – Nissan made quite a big deal over the ’14 Pathfinder’s ability to slide the middle row forward with child seats in.

        • Alan Cesar

          Man. SUVs really do suck at people-hauling.

        • neice

          you are right but even in full size Suv’s its hectic accessing the 3rd row when you have full size car seats on the second row. I had a ford explorer when my children were younger

      • neice

        I have a journey and 2 small children in booster seats. When allowing people in the back seat I simply put the booster seats on the floor and let the seats down. I’m 5’7″ so my drivers seat is all the way back but i tend to sit up when driving so when i drop the second row the seats go all the way down. I admit I drive an older model so I can’t comment on a “dead peddle” because my car doesn’t have one of those. But I will say the journey is comfortable for my FAMILY of 6.

  • Fuhrman16

    Since it was brought up at the beginning of the article, what is the point of a dead pedal?

    • Alan Cesar

      A place to rest your left foot.

      • Fuhrman16

        But all the ones I’ve come across just seem to reduce leg room.

        • Alan Cesar

          I’m curious, where do you usually put your left foot? And how tall are you?

          I’ve always appreciated a dead pedal. I like having a place to comfortably plant and press my foot rather than putting it flat on the floor or against a curved part of the footwell or firewall. I’m also not tall.

          • Fuhrman16

            Normally beside the dead pedal and slightly behind the clutch pedal, unless I plan on shifting a lot, then it hovers over the clutch. I’m only like 6 foot-ish, but I tweaked my left knee back in high school, so I have a tendency to keep that leg stretched out. It probably doesn’t help that I like having the steering wheel some what close to me, and that tends to push my legs closer to the pedals on cars without telescoping steering column.

    • In a vehicle with a clutch pedal, a properly placed dead pedal will keep the driver’s left foot poised next to the clutch so only a quick sideways motion is needed to reach the clutch (without lifting and lowering one’s foot).

      It also can just be a comfortable place to rest one’s foot. When I had my MGB I made a dead pedal out of a spare gas pedal, as otherwise there wasn’t anyplace in the footwell that I found convenient as a foot rest. Curiously, the commercially available aftermarket pedals are of a rather different configuration and, although perhaps comfortable, don’t look like they would fulfill the other purpose of facilitating quicker clutchwork.

      • Vairship

        I wonder if that’s a safety “feature’, in the same way as the gas pedal isn’t in the same plane as the brake pedal – although lots of people still seem to confuse the two.

  • cap’n fast

    i can almost understand “renting” a minivan type car one doesn’t care for when the only options is shoe leather express or running dog bus service….but to actually purchase one….which one would have to drive and PAY FOR for a very long time until no longer up side down on the value/owed money thing is totally beyond my ken.
    search used minivans YES! manufactures(accountants) are not fools. lots of trashy minisuv trash parked at the distribution center because the planners shot them selves in foot(insert any anatomical part you desire) will get attention. i give you the pontiac aztek…..i really do not know what you would classify that thing as, but trashy.it got someones attention, just not the customers.
    we could build up a cottage industry of rehabing used minivans. think they would sell well? i have knowledge of several chrysler minivans with various decals and trim with in excess of 250K miles on the clock. tough minivans. periodic maintenance is all that is required in every case. keep chin up. things change all the time…

  • Robcole

    Hey looks like you used the wrong lever to move the middle seat forward. You’re actually suppose to use the top lever on the side. Yes the upper lever closer to the headrest. At 6′ 230lbs I was able to get inside of the vehicle easily. It was a tight fit once in and harder to get out but it works fine with smaller kids. Misinformation can remove credibility. Other than that I would probably have to agree with most of your points.

    • Alan Cesar

      You’re right, I used the wrong lever. Someone mentioned that elsewhere in the comments too. However, the proper lever doesn’t solve the problem I mentioned: No one can get in the back if you’ve got child seats strapped down in the middle row.

  • Jennifer Adams

    In order to write a fair review, you must A) understand how the vehicle works… like understanding how to properly adjust the seats and B) understand who it was crafted to. And never review a rental version, which are often stripped down and bare bones, no matter the make and model.

    I own a 2015 Dodge Journey Crossroad and love it. However, I did not buy it, expecting for the versatility of a minivan… it is not a van nor was it marketed as such. We are middle aged people whose kids are now grown, so our minivan days are over. I have no clue about handling issues, mine drives exactly how a nearly 200 inch crossover SUV should drive. This is a roomy crossover vehicle, which is affordable and full of amenities. Not sure about the base model rentals, but ours has heated seats, heated steering wheel, back up camera, navigation, a huge touch screen, power (leather) seats, moon roof, etc. All for under $25k brand new. Can’t find that with any of the competition for the same price.

  • Zentropy

    I always assumed the Journey sucked without giving it a passing glance. But I take from the article that you found the Mazda5 similarly dismal? I always thought a stick-shift 5 might be a fun family hauler.