Dodge is coming back to its original minivan formula with the Journey, a vehicle about 10 in. shorter than current minivans. And it’s loaded with clever features.

Then and now
1992 Caravan
 
2009 Journey
-
Engine
3.5-liter V6
-
EPA fuel, mpgg
16/23
178.1
Length, in.
175.2
72
Width, in.
71.1
76.9
Height, in.
67.9
112.3
Wheelbase
113.8
3,275-
Weight
3,907
14,000
MSRP, $
23,125

First of all, kudos to Dodge for giving the Journey, what they call a crossover vehicle, a handsome look. It’s a bit boxy, but that makes for a good amount of interior space. The big plus for vans and SUVs is that they are easy to get in and out of, an important feature if you don’t bend like you once did. Although he did not comment, our 6-ft 2-in. offspring got in and out of the Journey with a lot less effort than he exerts getting out of his low-riding Cavalier.

Once inside the Dodge, you find firm and comfortable seats made more so with a manual lumbar adjustment. My better half, however, thought them too soft. Lots of storage is one pleasant surprise. There are three glove compartments in the dash, a box between the seats, a large one under the passenger seat, and a small one overhead for sunglasses. And if this is not enough, the front-passenger seat flips up to reveal a holder sized for a large pizza. Also overhead is a clever fish-eye mirror that lets the driver see all of the rear-seat passengers without turning around.

Three rows of seats will hold about seven in a pinch and six comfortably. As you’d expect, all seats fold to create a vast flat expanse when cargo is the catch of the day. The third row of seats, an option, is really best for small children. I crawled back there and I do not recommend it for anyone over 5 ft.

Power comes from a 235-hp, 3.5-liter, 24-valve V6 which is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The base powerplant is a 160-hp, 2.4-liter I-4. If you are used to a four-cylinder engine, the V6 provides plenty of kick. In fact, its acceleration is so exhilarating, I was looking for more places to use it. But power has its price: Lower gas mileage. After a week of mostly city driving, I recorded 16 mpg, but the EPA says to expect 23 mpg on long trips.

The Journey rides smoothly and comfortably even over rough roads, thanks to an independent suspension all around. I felt much less road vibration than from the tighter suspension on my regular ride a, PT Cruiser. And you gotta love power disc brakes. They make stops sure, easy, and certain.

A few notable safety features include multistage front air bags, supplemental side-curtain air bags in all rows, and front-seat-mounted side air bags. Other safety items include electronic stability and traction control and electronic roll mitigation.

Our vehicle carried a base price of $23,125. But the options, an exterior appearance package (19-in. wheels, performance steering and suspension), and the 5+2 seating arrangement, kicked the price up to $25,540.

Although a nice package, it’s not hard to see what could be fixed: the poor mileage (16/23 mpg). The way to do that is with a base engine the EPA says delivers 19 to 25 mpg. That will also tend to keep your inner NASCAR driver in check.

— Paul Dvorak