Youâ€™ll have to forgive me for having a bit of fun with you yesterday. Somewhat odd/disturbing was that some of you actually enjoyed it.
If you want a review that mostly talks about everything you can learn about a car from reading the manufacturerâ€™s website, or one that just reprints the press materials, Iâ€™m afraid you wonâ€™t enjoy reading a typical Bark rental review. However, if you want a story about my experiences while driving an everyday car that can be selected from a rental agency, by all means, keep reading.
My experience with the Journey was not a voluntary one.
When I arrived atÂ Detroit Wayne County International Airport last week, I had exactly four choices: Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Chrysler Town Country, RAM 1500 pickup, and the Dodge Journey SXT.
As I stood there in the much-too-cold-for-April Detroit evening, I sent my options to our Managing Editor, Mr. Mark Stevenson. Foolishly, I typed â€œJourneyâ€� first. As I believe Mark to be somewhat of a sadist, he refused to hear any other option.
â€œBut what about that Ram 1500?â€� I pleaded.
Damn you to hell, sir.
Fine. Journey it is. I threw my bags in the back â€” well, let me correct that statement. I had to fold down the third row of seats first. Otherwise, my 27-inch suitcase wouldnâ€™t have fit.
Next, I situated myself in the driverâ€™s seat to prepare for my two-hour drive to Midland, Michigan. Before I go anywhere in my rental car, I make sure to do two things:
- Find the USB port so I can plug in my phone for charging and audio purposes
- Pair my phone via Bluetooth so that I can talk on the phone and obey all local ordinances
Number one was no problem. The USB port was placed logically in the storage compartment between the seats. Bluetooth? That proved a bit more vexing, mostly due to the fact that this 2016 Dodge Journey SXT â€” which is not the base model, and stickers for nearly $25,000 â€” did not have Bluetooth functionality. Thatâ€™s right: if you want Bluetooth on a Dodge Journey, you have to option that sucker up an additional $550.
Oof. I accepted my lack of circa-2008 technology, and started up the car. I exited the rental car lot and turned onto the adjacent road, when I noticed that everything was very dark. Oh. I didnâ€™t have my headlights on, because the Dodge Journey SXT doesnâ€™t have automatic headlights. As far as I can tell, automatic headlights areÂ only available starting at the second-highest trim â€” Crossroad Plus, which stickers for $27,395.
Once I managed to make the street visible, I set off on my, well, Journey.
The first thing youâ€™ll notice about driving a Dodge Journey is the abysmally bad steering wheel. Itâ€™s so big that it feels like youâ€™ve just signed a union contract to become a school bus driver. Well, except for the fact that the school bus wheel would feel less like it was directly sourced from a Power Wheels product. The plasticky feel of the Journeyâ€™s wheel is probably the worst Iâ€™ve experienced since the 2008 Mazda CX-7.
Are you sensing a trend here, perchance?
Acceleration and braking are mere suggestions. The Journey isnâ€™t what one would call responsive. The accelerator and the brake pedal travel nearly to the floor before anything happens. I thought maybe something was broken, until I realized the pedalsÂ were just as bad as the rest of the car.
The first thing youâ€™ll notice when you put the 2016 Dodge Journey SXT into reverse is the complete lack of assistance youâ€™ll get from the car in doing so. No rearview camera, no beeping noises if you get too close to anything. Itâ€™s just you, your mirrors, and your finely tuned senses.
Next, letâ€™s talk about the heating/cooling system. You can follow my Instagram for more detail â€” or exasperation â€” on this. In my rental, the dashboard vents didnâ€™t work â€” at all. Again, I thought that something might have been broken, but upon further review, thereâ€™s simply no way to select them with a normal button. You can only select front or rear defrosters on the dash, andÂ I was beyond perplexed by Uconnect’s climate screen. The vent selection “button” didn’tÂ call attention to itself whatsoever.Â As a result, no air came out of the vents, becauseÂ I only figured it outÂ after I returned the car.
Letâ€™s move on to the stereo, shall we? It was nightmarishly bad. Changing the tone settings made no difference whatsoever. Tinny and thin on the high end, and distorted on the low end. Thank God that Spotify randomly suggested the great Kenneth Gorelickâ€™s â€œSax Attackâ€� for me to listen to as I drove alongÂ â€”Â the awfulness of that song meshed perfectly with the Journeyâ€™s purpose for existing. I felt as though I was being attacked by the plastic ghosts of CUVs past.
The rear seats are pretty spacious, so thatâ€™s a good thing. You wonâ€™t find more room in anything at a comparable price point that isnâ€™t a Caravan. Getting kids in and out of car seats would be a breeze in the Journey. Thereâ€™s also an option for built-in car seats, which seems like a great idea until you realize that children have a tendency to grow.
Visually, the Journey is embarrassing. I felt like apologizing to people for driving past them on the freeway, lest they accidentally catch a glimpse of the Dodge somehow before managing to avert their eyes. It feels as though somebody accidentally approved a childâ€™s rendering of the Mystery Inc. van, and somebody back in the days of DaimlerChrysler said, â€œWell, letâ€™s see if anybody notices.â€�
Now, with all that being said â€¦ itâ€™s not that bad to drive. I had to put quite a few miles on the Journey throughout the course of the week, starting with that nighttime drive from DTW to Midland, and then another four-hour jaunt to Traverse City and back, another hour or so each way to Gladwin, followed by the return drive to Detroit. So, all in all, I had over ten hours of windshield time in the Journey, which is more than any auto journo would normally get in any car.
Itâ€™s a passable way to get from point A to point B if thatâ€™s all you need it to do. Visibility is actually quite good. Fuel economy was around 24 miles per gallon.Â Considering my average speed of nearlyÂ 90 mphÂ for most of my drive time (I was running late for no real reason), thatâ€™s 24 mpg figure isn’t bad.
If you can get past the barebones nature of the vehicle and accept it for what it is â€” a bargain basement multiple-person mover for people who donâ€™t like minivans â€” then itâ€™s perfectly acceptable. The name â€œJourneyâ€� is completely appropriate, though, because driving one is indeed a journey … back in time toÂ 2003. We all would have been thrilled to drive something like this for this price point around the time that John Kerry was flipflopping around like a dying fish.
Unfortunately, this is 2016, and a car like this just doesnâ€™t fly any more. If we were to add Bluetooth and Uconnect to the Journey â€” and remember, this isnâ€™t just a convenience, itâ€™s the law in several states around the country â€” weâ€™re looking at a sticker price of $26,000, with current bonus cash offers bringing it down by $1,250. Yes, itâ€™s still going to be one of the cheapest seven-passenger CUVs you can get, but letâ€™s be honest with ourselves here: there ainâ€™t no way that anybody bigger than Peter Dinklage is riding in that third row for any length of time. And if you do have to have the rear seats up, then storage space is equivalent toÂ a Tic-Tac box.
There are cheaper Journeys available, though. The SE model can be had at $21,490, and you donâ€™t lose that much in comparison to the SXT. In fact, you even gain folding, heated side mirrors. At that price, minus whatever bonus cash/negotiating you can do, the Journey becomes slightly more palatable.
But only slightly. And, as many of you pointed out yesterday, itâ€™s very difficult to accept the value proposition of a Dodge Journey when the Caravan exists. Heck, itâ€™s even hard to accept it over the Kia Sportage, which looks and drives a million times better, and has much better standard features.
In the end, whether you preferred yesterdayâ€™s â€œJust the facts, maâ€™amâ€� review, or a little more of todayâ€™s storytelling, all around the world, itâ€™s the same song.
The Journey does, in fact, suck.