The Numbers

3605cc, V6, FWD, 206kW, 342Nm, 10.4L/100km, 242g/km CO₂, 0-100km/h N/A, max N/A, 1942kg

The Topgear Verdict

One of the most versatile vehicles on sale, with a price you just can’t fault.

2011 Dodge Journey SXT

Consider for a moment the tail light of the Dodge Journey. Look into the red lens cover and you’ll see a ring of lights, LED lights. These have become known within Dodge’s world as the Ring of Fire.

This feature is not exclusive to the Journey. The Ring of Fire has sped with blazing ferocity through the lineup so that similar rings can be found on overseas products as diverse as the Grand Caravan people mover and Avenger compact.

Was this just a marketing person’s stroke of genius, to name the bright lights the Ring of Fire, or did Johnny Cash speak from the grave? “Hey, you should call those lights the Ring of Fire. Have a nice day.”

To me, however, they look more like a Gatling gun, viewed head-on through the red-misted eyes of some perp who’s about to pay big-time. Tailgate me and you’ll be Gatlinged. I’m going to have a bumper sticker made: ‘If You Can Read This, Duck’.

On the other hand, maybe the transgressor isn’t really meaning to invade my road space. Maybe he’s just admiring the Ring of Fire, or some other detail of the new Journey. Even in its previous guise, the Journey was probably the best of a generally bad lot of cars Chrysler New Zealand was importing, the 300C excepted. Maybe. Have to think about that. But certainly better than the Jeep Patriot or Compass – but watch this space, the new Compass is quite slick and we’ll test it in a month or so.

The reason for the Journey’s ascendency in the product mix was that it was so darned useful; it’s been described more than once as a Swiss Army knife on wheels and the thing is, it was. Bins, stowage and cubby holes for every possible requirement. Hugely versatile seating. It even possessed adequate performance.

On the other hand, the styling was strange, as though they’d hired an eight-year-old who boasted creative flair with crayons. The interior used hard and unattractive plastics. The dash was a mess, as though assembled from scraps of said eight-year-old’s toys.

This has all been fixed, and Dodge has iced the cake with the new Pentastar V6, now being rolled out in all sorts of Chrysler products. The main guy to thank for the new and pleasant interior is Klaus Busse, the head of interior design at Chrysler who had spent the previous decade doing the insides of Mercedes-Benzes.

He took an approach that I’d have thought might have caused a complete cock-up, but it seems like he’s on to something. Instead of assembling a team and letting them fight over an overall design, he put people on small sections of the interior; Helmut on footwells, Mary on the headlining; that sort of thing. Clearly he never got where he is today by having everyone take the big picture. By either magic or great skill, the bits and pieces of interior have come together seamlessly, particularly the dash which is now a lahar of soft-touch plastic with a chunky but satisfying appearance.

The interior has a couple of useful party tricks. First, it’s a seven-seater that boasts reasonable space and accessibility for the rearmost passengers, and legroom that can be enlarged by sliding forward the second row, which then might disadvantage those passengers, but never mind.

The second trick is being able to fold all the left-hand seats flat, including the front passenger’s, providing enough room to sleep on, stretched out, or to carry all that long stuff you need to buy at the home improvement centre but wouldn’t possibly fit in most vehicles. I just wish I’d been ready to start fixing all of the rotten bits of my deck when I had my time with the Journey.

It’s no surprise that, being recently designed, the 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 is a refined engine, with enough power and torque to move the Journey quite briskly on its journey. CO₂ emissions are down compared to the previous generation V6, but overall fuel economy is the same. The six-speed automatic is also carried over from the previous model.

Handling, as ever, is competent though not exciting, but with the partner, 2.7 children and the dog on board you’re probably not looking to give it a damn good thrashing anyway.

Reviewed by: Phil Hanson