2023 Dodge Hornet SUV Promises Power and Efficiency

·8 min read

Dodge’s performance heritage lives on with plug-in hybrid R/T version and turbocharged Hornet GT

Dodge Hornet GT

By Jon Linkov, Jeff S. Bartlett

With the new 2023 Hornet, Dodge has released its first small SUV since the woeful, unimpressive Caliber and its first all-new model in almost a decade.

The Hornet shares most of its body, powertrain, and interior with the 2023 Alfa Romeo Tonale. These mechanical twins will be built alongside each other at corporate parent Stellantis’ Giambattista Vico plant in Pomigliano d’Arco, Naples, Italy.

Like Chrysler, Dodge has been at a major disadvantage for years, offering just the aging Challenger sports coupe, Charger sedan, and Durango and discontinued-for-2021 Journey SUVs. These large, mostly powerful models are relics of another era that kept Dodge out of the game as the market shifted toward more efficient SUVs. Rubbing salt in the wound is that Jeep continued to add SUVs of all sizes to its lineup. Now, the Dodge brand finally has something to attract the SUV-hungry public back to its showrooms.

The Hornet takes flight in December 2022, with the GT powered by a conventional turbocharged engine. It will be followed by the R/T plug-in hybrid in spring 2023.

What it competes with: Ford Bronco Sport, Hyundai Tucson Hybrid, Kia Sportage, Toyota RAV4 Prime, Volkswagen Taos
What it looks like: Alfa Romeo Tonale with a new grille, revised taillights, and a unique fender-mounted badge
Powertrains: 268-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and nine-speed automatic transmission; 288-hp, 1.3-liter four-cylinder hybrid engine and six-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel drive
Price: $29,000 to $38,000 (estimated)
On sale: Hornet GT, December 2022; Hornet R/T, spring 2023

CR's Take

Fitting with the brand’s muscle car image, Dodge is positioning the Hornet as a performance-oriented sporty compact SUV. Sharing mechanical pedigree with the Alfa Romeo is a promising start. Dodge builds on that with its two powertrains, each boasting slightly more power, with the base model packing 268 hp for less than $30,000. The automaker is highlighting many “class exclusive” suspension and performance features, particularly on the Hornet GT GLH Concept model. Still, it remains to be seen if Stellantis’ performance brand can get the basics right. Past products, such as the Caliber crossover, and more recent ones such as the Dart sedan were long on promise but short on execution.

The 2023 Dodge Hornet is the brand's first compact SUV in more than a decade.

Photo: Dodge

Outside

Like most cars and SUVs that benefit (or suffer, depending on your point of view) from badge engineering, the Hornet’s main shape and sheet metal are almost identical to the Tonale. The key design differences are the Hornet-specific front fascia and hood, along with a few retro touches that celebrate the use of the classic Hornet name.

The front end has an SUV-ized version of the wide but short grille and slimmed down headlights most recently seen on the short-lived Dodge Dart sedan. Beneath that are various openings for airflow, along with additional lighting.

The lightly sculpted sides are largely unremarkable from most other small SUVs on the market today, aside from a small Dodge Hornet badge on the fenders. The bottom of the windows flows out of the hood, which on the Dodge features two large vents for removing engine heat, and begins to curve upward midway through the rear door, forming a curved triangular-shaped third window that tapers at the roofline.

It’s nice to see that the roofline doesn’t dramatically taper down; rather, it gently drops to the top of the rear hatch. Similarly, the rear window doesn’t appear to have a significant rake to it, and the wiper appears to cover a significant swath of glass. The key differences between the Hornet and Tonale are slight treatments to the lights that stretch the width of the SUV and the use of the Dodge logo in place of the Alfa’s Biscione logo.

Dodge also introduced a Hornet GT GLH Concept, which is being used to showcase the Direct Connection collection of available performance parts. The GLH (Goes Like Hell) name was first used on the Shelby-tuned Dodge Omni, which was sold between 1984 and 1986. These additional parts range from engine and suspension upgrades to wheels, stripes, and styling enhancements.

The controls and center screen in the 2023 Dodge Hornet are slightly angled toward the driver.

Photo: Honda

Inside

As with so many of today’s models, the interior is “all about the screens,” and in the Hornet’s case it’s the standard 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in front of the driver and the accompanying 10.25-inch touch screen infotainment display on the center of the dashboard. Much like the exterior, these screens, along with most of the design and hardware, are shared with the Tonale.

The Uconnect 5 system—based on the Android operating system—provides a variety of features, including support for two connected mobile phones, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, Amazon Alexa connectivity, and various vehicle settings and performance data. Unfortunately, the system lacks any sort of knob for tuning, although a volume scroll wheel sits on the center console to the right of the conventional gear selector.

The main climate controls sit beneath the center air vents and are similar in style to those in the redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee and Wagoneer we tested. The controls for seat positioning, along with the optional heated seats and steering wheel, are all accessed through the touch screen. The multifunction steering wheel has controls for entertainment selections and volume, the driver information center in the gauge cluster, cruise control, and some active safety features. There’s also a pronounced button labeled “Sport” for the driver to change between hybrid driving modes in the R/T and performance modes in the GT.

The interior in the accompanying photo is dark but appears nicely trimmed. All Hornets get red accent stitching throughout the cabin on the seats and armrests. Cloth seats are standard, with leather seats coming on the GT Plus and R/T Plus trims. Dodge will also offer more aggressively bolstered racing-style seats covered in grippy Alcantara synthetic suede.

The 2023 Dodge Hornet GT GLH Concept showcases upgrades available through the automaker's Direct Connection catalog.

Photo: Dodge

What Drives It

The Hornet will be available with two powertrains, both shared with the Tonale, yet with slightly more power.

The base Hornet GT features a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a nine-speed automatic transmission. It produces 268 hp—on premium gasoline. Engaging Sport mode sharpens throttle responses, optimizes shifts for performance, and tightens the steering feel. This enables a claimed 0-to-60-mph run in 6.5 seconds.

Hornet R/T versions use the more interesting-sounding powertrain, a plug-in hybrid that nets 288 hp combined, based on a 1.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, paired with a six-speed automatic, that works in parallel with a 90-kilowatt electric motor on the rear axle and 15.5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery. (This output is up slightly from the 272 hp plug-in powertrain in the Tonale.) The system sends power to all four wheels, with the automatic sending power to the front wheels and the electric motor driving the rears. The peak torque output is a potent 383 lb.-ft.

Its real trick is a PowerShot feature that uses the hybrid system to give a jolt of 25 extra hp for up to 15 seconds. Dodge claims this reduces 0-to-60-mph time by a second, dropping it from 7.1 to 6.1 seconds. (For comparison, the Toyota RAV4 Prime ran 0 to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds in our test.)

In addition to a Sport mode, there are driver-selectable models for Hybrid, Electric, and E-Save to use the engine now and preserve electric power to use later on the drive.

The plug-in hybrid has a 30-mile electric-only range. It uses a 7.4-kW onboard charger. Dodge claims the battery pack can be replenished in 2.5 hours on a 240-volt, Level 2 charger.

Both powertrains are offered strictly in all-wheel-drive configuration.

Safety and Driver Assistance Systems

The Hornet comes with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, blind spot warning, lane departure warning, lane keeping assistance, and rear cross traffic warning.

An optional Tech Pack adds speed sign recognition, a driver attention monitor, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, and lane centering assistance.

The 2023 Alfa Romeo Tonale shares much with the Dodge Hornet, from where it's built to what powers it.

Photo: Stellantis



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