Dodge Journey Preview

Dodge gets ready to introduce its first-ever crossover vehicle, the Journey, in the first quarter of 2008

Chrysler held its first auto-show press conference since becoming a privately held company under the control of Cerberus Capital Management, with its globally aspiring Dodge Division choosing the Frankfurt limelight to introduce an all-new crossover vehicle -- Chrysler's first in the crowded mid-size segment -- called the Journey.

The new crossover will begin its journey at U.S. dealerships during the first quarter of 2008, with versions earmarked for Europe and Asia to follow later in the year.

Originally known inside Chrysler as the Crew, the '09 Journey shares its flexible architecture with several other models, including the mid-size Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger sedans. Set for production at Chrysler's assembly plant in Toluca, Mexico, where the PT Cruiser is also assembled, the Journey not only sits a good bit higher than those four-door models, but stretches 1.7 inches longer, nose to tail, with an extra 4.9 inches added to its wheelbase, which now measures 113.8 inches.

Flexibility is, indeed, a word Chrysler officials use a lot when describing the new crossover vehicle. Start with seating. The standard edition comes with two buckets and a three-seat second-row bench, which splits, folds, and also can recline. Optional is a third row that provides room for two more.

The new crossover also boasts plenty of storage space, notably including large bins built into the second-row floor. Removable and neoprene-lined, they can be used as in-vehicle coolers, or hiding spots for a purse, a camera, or other objects you might want to keep out of sight. A second glovebox, meanwhile, offers a chiller for a couple of soft drink cans. There are plenty of cupholders, of course, including bottle holders molded into the lower door panels. Yet another hidden storage bin can be accessed through the liftgate.

A critical goal was to deliver "lots of the attributes of an SUV," explained Joe Dehner, Dodge vice president of design, while making sure the Journey was "not just another box on wheels."

While not as distinctive, perhaps, as the Nissan Murano, Dodge's offering is still a stand-out. Up front, it features the distinctive Dodge crosshair grille, and Avenger-like quad headlights in modified surrounds intended to emphasize the crossover's width. The wheel flares also were borrowed from Chrysler's muscle car models, and buyers will be able to fill them with optional, 19-inch wheels and tires on the Journey R/T. The sporty styling extends to the blacked-out C-pillars and long and sturdy taillights. The lightweight, composite liftgate includes a molded-in spoiler.

The up-level version of Journey will feature a slick, two-tone interior, but even the base model is notable for its fit-and-finish, far more refined than the utilitarian cabins Chrysler has long been known for. The center stack, in particular, rises at a rakish angle, enhancing the Journey's sense of roominess, with a large, seven-inch navigation screen available at the top of the column. Interior LED lights offer plenty of illumination, and further enhance the up-market appearance. And, most notably, the materials and surfaces are significantly more pleasant than those used in the Dodge Avenger sedan.

The optional navigation system is part of a broad spectrum of electronic accessories, including Sirius satellite radio, uConnect Bluetooth (for hands-free cellphoning), and the MyGig system, which includes a 20GB hard drive for storing MP3 audio. There's also an eight-inch rear DVD screen available.

For the moment, Journey buyers won't have access to the new SiriusTV system, which Chrysler is using as a come-on for its newly-restyled minivans. But product czar Larry Lyons hints that the three-channel system could be added in the not-too-distant future.

Buyers also can order a remote starter.

There will be three different powertrain packages, starting with a base 2.4-liter in-line four, making 173 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque, offered on the Journey SE. Mated to a four-speed automatic, it delivers 19 mpg in the city and 25 in the EPA's highway cycle (which has been modified and toughened for the 2008 model year).

The SXT gets a 2.7-liter V-6 generating 186 hp and 191 lb- ft. Designated flex-fuel, to run on an ethanol mix of up to 85 percent (E85), it offers 17 mpg city/23 highway.

Standard on the R/T and optional on the SXT is the 3.5-liter V-6, which is mated to a six-speed automatic and available in either front- or all-wheel drive. The big engine pumps out 235 ponies and 232 pound-feet, and gets 16 mpg city, 23 highway.

Markets outside North America -- especially Europe -- haven't been neglected. As such, the Journey gets the smooth, VW-supplied 2.0-liter turbodiesel, making 138 hp and 229 lb-ft. The diesel is offered with a standard six-speed manual gearbox or optional dual-clutch six-speed automatic. It's not VW's DSG transmission but a new Getrag unit that, according to Chrysler officials, actually makes its global debut in the Journey. Fuel efficiency with the new six-speed is improved up to six percent compared with the four-speed automatic transmission it replaces.

On the safety front, Chrysler is following industry trends, adding to the list of standard features with such niceties as four-wheel discs, anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, Brake Assist, and Electronic Roll Mitigation. Standard, as well, are dual-mode frontal and side airbags and three-row head curtain airbags.

While pricing hasn't been released yet, expect it to be "very competitive" with other models in the segment, such as Ford's popular crossover, the Edge, hints Chrysler PR chief Jason Vines. That would put it somewhere in the $25,000 range.

The Journey will be positioned somewhere between the entry-level Caliber and Chrysler's newly-updated minivan models. The target buyers are young couples who may be just starting out their families -- and aren't yet ready for a minivan -- or older, empty-nesters. In the auto show introduction, a couple 'magically' changed into several outfits for work, play, and an evening out.

Chrysler hopes to raise its market share in Western Europe to 1.4 percent by 2009, which would more than double its share compared with 2005. Instrumental to this is the introduction of Dodge, which the automaker says could account for 30 percent of Chrysler sales outside North America by the end of 2009.

The Journey appears a full eleven years after Toyota launched the modern crossover market, with its RAV4. Sales of crossovers beat those of conventional sport-utes, for the first time, last year; they are expected to top three million for all of 2007, as the traditional, truck-based SUV continues its decline.

2009 Dodge Journey Pricing

(All prices include $625 destination)

Dodge Journey SE -- $19,985

Dodge Journey SXT -- $22,985

Dodge Journey SXT AWD -- $25,530 (includes 19-inch aluminum wheels and

tires, fog lamps, performance suspension)

Dodge Journey R/T -- $26,545

Dodge Journey R/T AWD -- $28,295

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