CHELSEA, Mich. -- We're whipping a sporty steering wheel to the right, then left, now right again to thread a wily Journey R/T crossover utility vehicle by Dodge through snaky chicane curves on a blacktop race track at Chrysler's vast vehicle test facility in Chelsea, Mich.
Dodge builds the Journey for the Class of 2013 with front-wheel-drive (FWD) traction or optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) with four-cylinder and V6 engine choices in five different trim versions -- the price-leader Journey AVP (America Value Package), base issue Journey SE, upscale Journey SXT, Journey Crew and sport-tuned Journey R/T (the initials signify "Road and Track" in recognition of Dodge's muscle car heritage).
Every issue looks sharp dressed in honed sheetmetal.
Journey's body projects a stubby prow and the profile of a sporty coupe despite a pair of doors hanging off each side and a rear-sloping roofline which tapers to the boxy tail of a hatchback-hinged wagon.
Front and rear overhangs have been whittled away and the large wheels on front and back corners convey an impression of strength and speed.
And that face with a horse-collar honeycomb grille marked in shiny cross-hair chrome looks familiar, as it conforms to the front-end styling for many vehicles in Dodge's garage.
Built on a car's unit-body structure with car-like independent suspension system tuned to deliver a smooth ride quality, Journey feels sure-footed and stable to drive on a wiggle road like the curvy Chelsea test track.
The independent suspension elements consist of front MacPherson struts with coil springs over gas-charged shocks and stabilizer bar mounted on an isolated suspension cradle, and a rear multi-link arrangement with coil springs, link-type stabilizer bar with gas-charged shocks and an isolated rear suspension cradle.
Journey provides many active safety systems designed to keep an alert driver out of harm's way by avoiding an accident. The equipment includes a quick-response rack and pinion steering system and four-wheel disc brakes tied to the anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake assist (EBA) and anti-skid devices via the electronic stability control (ESC) system and all-speed traction control (ASTC), plus electronic roll mitigation (ERM).
Dodge offers two different engines to propel Journey through the five trim levels.
Journey AVP, SE and SXT editions tote a 2.4-liter four-in-line plant with dual overhead cams (DOHC) and dual variable valve timing (VVT) to generate 173 hp at 6000 rpm plus torque of 166 lb-ft at 4000 rpm.
The four-cylinder plant links to a four-speed automatic transaxle, the 40TES.
This powertrain earns Journey's highest fuel economy numbers -- up to 26 miles per gallon (mpg) for highway cruising.
Journey SXT, Crew and R/T tote a Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 which applies all torque to the front wheels through an intelligent six-speed electronic automatic transaxle.
The twin-cam aluminum-block six-pack engine delivers serious muscle numbers -- 283 hp at 6350 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm.
Yet it can run on regular unleaded (87-octane) gasoline (or E85 ethanol) and earns fuel economy numbers of 17 mpg for city driving and 25 mpg on the highway for the FWD version, or 16 mpg city and 24 mpg highway with optional AWD rigging.
The on-demand AWD device, available solely with the 3.6-liter V6, controls front/rear torque split via an electronically controlled coupling (ECC) with variable torque output, but the system always defaults to FWD.
Journey's passenger compartment, padded and insulated, amounts to a comfortable space lined with stylish appointments and clever accessories. The layout consists of two sport buckets up front and followed by a bench broad enough for three but with indented sections for two.
The back of the front passenger bucket folds forward to form a flat horizontal surface, and backs of the second-row seat, divided 60/40 into separate sections, also fold flat.
An optional third-row bench, split 50-50, has seatbacks that tip down to expand the flat-floored aft cargo bay. Long cargo items can be stacked on top of these folded seats and stretched from the front dash to rear tailgate.
Journey AVP the price-leader model rolls on 17-inch steel wheels with 225/65R17 all-season tires. It provides standard equipment ranging from the Keyless Enter-N-Go with push-button start to air conditioning, power controls for windows and locks and mirrors, tilting-telescoping steering wheel, UConnect Bluetooth cell phone connection and an audio kit with a 4.3-inch touchscreen and AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA/USB.
Journey R/T models receive a retuned high-performance suspension for sporty handling traits, monochromatic exterior treatment and 19-inch satin carbon aluminum wheels with 225/55R19 all-season touring tires. The cabin gains new red accent stitching on dimpled leather seats, a heated steering wheel and a premium sound system with six Infinity speakers, subwoofer and 368-watt amplifier.
Dodge's price chart for 2013 starts at $18,995 for Journey AVP 5-seat or $20,045 for 7 seats. Journey SXT begins at $22,995, Journey Crew tallies to $28,995 (FWD) or $29,795 (AWD), and Journey R/T runs up from $28,995 (FWD) or $30,795 (AWD).