Style and practicality merge in seven-passenger crossover
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT, The 2010 Dodge Journey R/T combines the looks of a sporty crossover with the carrying capacity of a seven-passenger minivan.

Our test model 2010 Dodge Journey R/T arrived dressed up for a fight. With its bright red paint, bulging fenders, big chrome wheels, black leather interior and dual chrome exhaust tips, the mid-size crossover looked ready to race.

But as it turned out, the Journey is also very family friendly. It can hold seven people with the third row of seats pulled up. Folded flat, the rear cargo space is admirable. There are also numerous hidden storage spaces under the floor and front passenger seat. The second row of seats includes two pop-up child boosters. And it even had a built in cooler above the glove box.

The Journey is Dodge's attempt to combine the best features of a sports utility vehicle and a minivan. Based on the Avenger sedan chassis, it rides like a car but has enough carrying capacity for active families. The optional 3.5-liter High-Output V6 in our test vehicle had plenty of power. And the optional all-wheel-drive system means it will handle well in bad weather and on moderately bad roads.

But, for all its attributes, the Journey is still a compromise. Despite its aggressive appearance, the ride is too soft for hard driving. Despite the power, our test model handled more like a minivan that an SUV when pushed to its limits.

But in truth, the only people who should be disappointed by this are those expecting the Journey R/T to be a downsized version of the Durango R/T, Dodge's former high-performance truck-based SUV. The fact is, the Journey R/T is more practical in day-to-day driving and gets better gas mileage than the Durango R/T, even if its not as much fun. For those of you still longing for a fast, firm-handling Dodge SUV, check out the HEMI-equipped Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Of course, you'll pay a lot more for that level of performance. The based Journey starts at under $25,000 with the four-cylinder engine and two-wheel-drive. Our fully loaded test vehicle topped $35,000, but that included such options as the V6, the all-wheel-drive system, an upgraded stereo, a navigation system, a rear-view camera, voice-controlled phone connections and even a rear-seat TV. Most similarly equipped seven-passenger vehicles more - some a lot more.

And most if not all of them will be longer than the Journey, which is not significantly larger than a five-passenger Ford Escape or Subaru Forester. The relatively compact size made around-town driving and parallel parking a breeze. And the Journey looks just enough different from everything else that it doesn't get lost in suburban shopping center parking lots.

Of course, no vehicle is perfect and our test vehicle had some shortcomings. Although Dodge is getting better, its interior materials are still not as good as some competitors, relying on more hard plastic than others. The V6 also felt unrefined under hard acceleration and the six-speed automatic transmission did not always downshift immediately. The manual shift mode could be used to overcome that problem, however.

On a positive note, the interior looked good and worked well. The dash and center console were well designed, using large knobs for big functions like temperature and volume settings, and small buttons for things like fan speed and scanning radio stations. The only quirk was stacking the temperature controls on top of the stereo and navigation system, but that was an easy adjustment to make.

The Journey R/T may not completely live up to its image, but it proved to be a pleasant, practical, competent, affordable seven-passenger people hauler. Families who need the room but can't live with a minivan should be especially interested in seeing what kind of deal Dodge is willing to make these days.

Facts and figures

• Model: 2010 Journey R/T.

• Manufacturer: Dodge.

• Class: Mid-size crossover.

• Layout: Front engine, front and all-wheel-drive

• Style: Five-door liftback.

• Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (as tested).

• Transmissions: 6-speed automatic with manual mode.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 15/23.

• Price: Beginning at around $25,000 ($35,7 85as tested).

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