Ford Escape car-based crossover wagon stocks more equipment

2008, Ford, Escape XLS FWD

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- The chiseled body of a new crossover utility vehicle (CUV) from Dodge 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 the horse-collar grille marked in shiny cross-hair chrome looks familiar, as it mirrors the front-end styling for Dodge's mid-size Avenger sedan.

But there's the format of a wagon at work here, with a passenger compartment of generous scale and seats for five or seven riders on two or three rows plus space in the tail section for stowing gear.

It's as if the car designers at Dodge took an Avenger sedan and converted it into a CUV.

A chrome badge on the tail-side hatch door reveals the name: Journey.

Dodge builds the Journey for the Class of 2009 with front-wheel-drive traction or optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) for three different versions -- the price-leader Journey SE, an upscale Journey SXT edition and a sport-tuned Journey R/T (the initials signify "Road and Track" in recognition of Dodge's muscle car heritage).

Prototypes of the new Journey in various trims with two powertrain options pop up in Las Vegas for a sneak peak and road tests by automotive journalists, and we get to sample the collection with driving tests on the twisty two-lane roads ringing Lake Mead in the Nevada desert.

Initial impression from this drive-time experience: Journey, rigged on a car's chassis with a car-like independent suspension system tuned to deliver a smooth ride quality, feels sure-footed and stable.

A unit-body structure for Journey forges a tight and solid platform for mounting the suspension elements and handling mechanisms which make this CUV act like an easy-driving sedan.

Journey's cabin, 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 into two 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.

Cool concepts make life nice inside Journey:

* Chill Zone -- a bin below the dashboard to cool four 20-oz. bottles or cans.

* Flip 'n Stow -- a 10x8-inch storage bin concealed below the right front seat is accessable by tipping the seat cushion forward.

* In-floor storage bins -- two bins in the floor behind front-row seats hold 12 12-oz. beverage cans plus ice.

* Light-ringed cupholders -- the blue-green glow rings are easy to find in the dark.

* Power Inverter -- available 115-volt power outlet on the rear of the front console will juice electronic gadgets.

* Integrated child booster seat -- available for the second row.

* Tilt 'n Slide seats -- easy entry to the third row is available via the touch of a button to slide a second-row seat forward and out of the way.

* Tri-fold Load Floor -- a secret storage compartment below the cargo floor is covered by a folding deck carpeted on one side with washable vinyl on the other.

* UConnect -- optional hands-free wireless voice communication with a cell phone using Bluetooth technology.

* Remote Start -- optional tool to fire-up Journey's engine using the key fob.

Instruments on the dashboard include black-faced analog gauges housed in binnacles.

At the center of the dash is a cluster of stacked controls for climate and audio systems. Below the center stack, a floor-mounted console cradles the transmission's shifter lever.

Measures for passenger safety in the cabin extend from the sturdy safety-cage construction to front seatbelts with load-limited and pretensioning apparatus, backseat restraints with upper and lower anchors to mount a child's seat, smart multi-stage air bags up front and curtain-style air bags concealed in headliners above side windows for outboard seats on three rows.

Journey also provides active safety systems designed to avoid accidents, including the 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) and trailer sway control (TSC).

Dodge offers two different engines to propel Journey through the three trim tiers.

Journey SE the price-leader totes a 2.4-liter four-in-line plant with dual variable valve timing (VVT) to generate 173 hp at 6000 rpm plus torque of 166 lb-ft at 4000 rpm.

The four-pack ties to a four-speed automatic transaxle.

This powertrain scores Journey's best fuel economy numbers -- up to 25 mpg for highway cruising.

Journey SXT and the R/T pack a V6 engine mated to a six-speed automatic with AutoStick manual shift controller.

The single-cam 3.5-liter V6 produces 235 hp at 6400 rpm and 232 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.

With the V6, mid-grade fuel (89 octane) is recommended and the fuel economy figures drop to 16 mpg for city driving and 23 mpg on the highway.

The on-demand AWD device, available with the V6, controls front/rear torque split but defaults to FWD.

Prices begin at $19,360 for Journey SE. Journey SXT sets the MSRP at $22,360 and Journey R/T tallies to $25,920.

By Bob Plunkett

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