Loaner Review: 2018 Dodge Journey: The A-Body Wagon Goes On Forever

I recently had to take my 2017 Pacifica in for service and rather than wait all day for them to perform the 8th seat recall and replace the battery (!) and a few other things, picked up a 2018 Dodge Journey as a rental. Driving it, I was struck by a familiar view out the windshield and out the rear view mirror . . . broad A pillars, good visibility, long roof, three rows of seats, rectangular, slightly sloped forward rear window in a tailgate . . . it was highly reminiscent of the GM A Body wagon (Century, Cutlass Ciera, 6000, Celebrity) which ran from 1984-1996.

The Journey is FWD like the GM A Bar wagon and also powered by either a 4 or a 6, and like the A car wagon, has a vestigial third row for very small children and very occasional use. It’s probably about the same size as the A car wagon externally (those of you committed to numbers and nitpicking can compare in the comments) except higher with a good bit more headroom. Like the A car wagon, the Journey has doddered on from its debut in 2009 to achieve a 10 year lifespan with no signs of fading, and like the A car wagon, has decreased significantly in price relative to other cars. Also like the A car, wagon or not, now in its steady foot soldier middle age, the Journey regularly appears on car authorities lists of aged and doddering platforms not worth buying and gets a lot of stick.

Are those criticisms valid? Confession, I’ve never driven a car fancier than rental DeVilles back in 2001-2006, so I have no idea what an S class or the top of the line or even middle of the line BMWs drive like. I’ll put my two car enthusiast cards on the table now by saying I owned a 1987 Grand National from 2006-2017 and I had a 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Convertible with the 210 hp 3.4 from 1997-2001. Most of my day is spent in the car, 8-10 hours a day, in traffic or on long highway drives. My priorities in a car tend to be space, comfort, utility, ride, reasonable power, and some degree of handling, but I’m not driving snaky mountain roads at 8/10ths. Given that, what is a Journey like and would I consider buying one?

First of all, let’s consider price. This Journey stickers at 24,430, although Chrysler’s massive rebates get a stripper Journey like this one down to around 18-19,000. In this day and time, that places it squarely against new cars like a very base Corolla, heavily rebated Sonata, Elantra, Encore, Veloster, and in used cars, 2015 CR-Vs and RAV4s and Equinoxes and the occasional Caravan. If you really want to go budget, new cars like a Fiesta or Spark or Versa are going for around $12K. I didn’t heavily research all the fine print so take it for what it’s worth. The summation here is; you’re not getting a whole lot of luxury and fancy doodads for $19K.

What’s it like for $19Kish? This Journey has handsome if somewhat anonymous styling. It’s close enough to the Grand Cherokee and the Durango to be attractive if nondescript. It’s neither overstyled like the Nissan Kicks/Honda HR-V/Toyota whatever it is nor is it the box that it came in. The styling won’t age badly.  It has 17 inch tyres on steel wheels with hubcaps (aside: do you NEED alloy wheels? I’ve never had an instance in which I thought an alloy wheel was preferable to a steel wheel; I just think I prefer a smaller wheel with more sidewall for compliance and cost.) The windows aft of the b pillar are tastefully tinted.

The interior is done in black, with what appears to be long wearing seat fabrics jollied up by some sort of pattern. There are strips of fake aluminum in the dash (why fake, aluminum is what they make Coke cans out of , why cannot it be real?) to liven up the straightforward dash. All the dash and door panels are covered with a black vinyl which is reasonably soft to the touch. You won’t be offended by the materials, like I was in a rental Mustang Convertible, but you won’t sit in the car at night caressing the door panels and dash. It’s not terribly dour for being all black and isn’t completely poverty spec but Audi won’t be looking to this interior for inspiration any time soon.

The instruments include a tach, which I’ll bet you good money will never be used for whatever purpose it was originally intended and would be better put to use as a Lyft/Uber information screen, a speedometer, a fuel gauge, and an information screen. Limited but useful information as in an A car. It’s well laid out and clear and uncluttered. Unlike many budget cars like the Cruze and some Ford products, Chrysler didn’t see the need for dozens of tiny buttons laid out in an architectural but confusing manner; there’s a small touch screen with some redundant radio and HVAC knobs below.


It’s easy to get in and figure out all the controls without looking at them more than once. There’s dual zone climate control and an actual cd player as well as an aux input for both a flash drive and whatever the kids use to play music in the car, how should I know? I bought a new Ciera as a college kid in 1996 so there. The transmission is a venerable four speed automatic and includes an ?Autostick? feature. The parking brake is a floor pedal, push to engage, push to release. It does have push to start and heated mirrors. A nice feature is that the backup camera is integrated into the rearview mirror, so those of us over a certain age who look at the mirror when backing get a clearer view of what’s behind us than by turning our heads. The headlamps have an automatic setting, which is also nice.

No one who has driven a car in the last 20 years, or pretty much ever, will have difficulty figuring out the controls. Your grandmother, whose most recent car was a George Bush II Buick LeSabre, could figure it out. Chrysler has made a simple car which is user friendly; unlike a Versa I had as a rental, there’s no hidden fuel filler button and nothing at all confusing or look off the road to adjust anything.

Other features I noticed are: Standard electric everything, steering wheel radio/information screen controls, driver’s side manual fore and aft, recline, height adjustable seat, tilt/cruise, rear window washer wiper, lots of bins and cubbies including bins underneath the second row floor, and a rear 12V (cigarette lighter) in the hatch. The second row rear seats are theater seats, so they’re raised over the first row, and they pivot forward to allow access to the vestigal third row for small and limber children. The back doors open 90 degrees to allow easy installation and removal of car seats.

How does it drive? It’s quite nimble, actually, and the steering and braking response is good. The steering is quite quick although there’s some off centre non feel and it takes a few milliseconds for the rack to respond just off centre. The brakes are strong without any softness or long travel. Many reviewers criticise the lack of power from the 2.4 4 cylinder

, and the four speed automatic, but I found it was well more than adequate for passing, which, the way I drive, I did a lot, and it hit 80 which was as fast as I was willing to go with no difficulties and it zings from 2500 rpm to 5000 rpm responsively. I LIKED the four speed automatic; more gears than that, like the 9 speed in the Pacifica, seems to make the transmission constantly hunt and shift without any discernable benefit. It rides ok, rougher roads make it bounce a lot, there’s a considerable amount of vibration over rougher roads as well as road noise and it definitely isn’t quite as quiet on the highway as the Pacifica but it’s more than adequate.

How big is it? I didn’t even try to get into the third row. I’m 6 foot tall, and like to lean my seat back while driving a good bit, but the second row seat looked comfortable. Most importantly, it looked like you could get two car seats in the back row easily and still have room for a couple of small, under 10 year old children in the third seat, and still fit room for a reasonable Wal-Mart expedition.

Overall, at the price and considering the competition, a lot of which admittedly I have not driven, it’s a very useful vehicle, like the A car wagon was back when. What this car is really good for is the young lady (there’s a very specific person I have in mind) with two car seats and a baby daddy and another child who is big enough to be out of the car seat to go on her various life experiences, or the Uber/Lyft driver who goes to the airport to pick up two or three people plus luggage. The liftover in the back is high, but once the third row is folded, there’s adequate space for their luggage and whatever odds and ends the Uber/Lyft driver needs to carry around. It’s much easier to get luggage or larger objects into the back than it is into the mail slot trunk of a compact sedan like a Corolla.

I was favourably impressed by the Journey. To me, it was a very competent car. Is it likely to impress automotive journalists who just stepped out of the latest Mercedes/BMW? No, but the likely buyer for this car is coming out of a fourth hand Cavalier she inherited from her brother who was going into the Navy and didn’t need it anymore or some Great Aunt’s W body Regal in which three windows and the air conditioning don’t work and the transmission is about to go. It certainly has better utility than a compact sedan with much more limited space and a mail slot trunk, and drives if not inspiringly, very well. It’s certainly better than the overstyled and overcompact crop of tiny SUVs that are coming out.

The Journey, as a budget Chrysler, stamps on the graves of the 200 and Dart, as it costs no more but is much more useful in daily life. Despite what Steven Lang has claimed about Journey reliability, the powertrain is proven, and I had the same powertrain? Is the 2.4 the same as it was in the 2006 Caravan? And it went 232000 miles with basic maintenance. . . some of those alleged reliability problems can be placed on the shoulders of the owners, who were likely to neglect the car. Is it better than a 4 year old CR-V or RAV-4? I don’t know which of those cars can be had with three rows, which may be a consideration for the buyer I have in mind for this car. The CR-V and RAV-4 are going to have better resale values 4 years from now, but if the buyer drives whichever car into the ground, it doesn’t matter, does it?

Financing gives better terms on a new car than a used car, so there’s also that to consider; the same quoted price on a car may end up lower on a new car than on a used car due to interest and other calculations. I’d definitely recommend this car to anyone looking for budget transportation and for fiscal reasons, way more over a buy here pay here BMW or Mercedes. It did feel like if you took care of it, it would last long beyond the payment book and you would like it. It’s more useful and drives better (what doesn’t) than a Corolla at the same price. It’s very much like an A car wagon with a lot more headroom, the same vestigial third row, but this time there’s a little room behind the third row for groceries and such, a lot more pep, simple controls, a four speed transmission, a choice of 4 or 6 cylinder engines, more standard features, a LOT more pep, more driving competence, and a similar long life on the shelf. The Chevrolet Celebrity Wagon Lives on.