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It’s Not A Muscle Car, But It Delivers As Much Performance For The Money As Possible

Dodge Hornet RT R/T 2024 2023 GT SUV
Image via Dodge.

The new Dodge Hornet is out of place. In a showroom of burly muscle cars (and one SUV) all offering that satisfying power and attitude of a cast-iron, pushrod Hemi V8 engine, the Italian-built Hornet stands to offer half the cylinder count, and is the shape of an angry jelly bean in contrast to its broad-shouldered full-sized stablemates, also angry. It’s a salad at a Texas BBQ food truck. But, as is the purpose of the humble salad, every brand needs a good palette cleanser to go with the savory brisket. And there’s been pent up demand for one, too.

When the new Dodge Hornet was officially revealed in August 2022, it put dealers in a frenzy. Overnight, the Hornet racked up over 14,000 orders from Dodge franchisees. A demonstration of just how customer critical this product is. In fact, it’s Dodge’s first all-new product since the Journey, which ended production in 2020. That midsize SUV first came out in 2009. The current-generation Charger, Challenger and Durango have all evolved from something born even earlier. Speaking of critical: if you recall the serious words of Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares from 2021, each brand has 10 years to demonstrate viability to the automotive conglomerate, or be cut from the team. And the clock is ticking.

2023 2024 Dodge Hornet RT R/T Hybrid SUV
2024 Dodge Hornet R/T in Hot Tamale

With a sense of urgency, the new Hornet is the Dodge brand diving into the deepest water it could find: the compact SUV segment. And with far more gusto than the bygone Dart, Caliber and Avenger. All examples of entry products gone wrong. With the Hornet, we actually find class-leading performance specs, and a far-from-basic interior.

“This segment is so large. There are so many shoppers that are in the compact (SUV) space, so for us to go in and take a fair share of that was a huge opportunity for Dodge,” said Chris Wincek, Senior Manager, Dodge UV Product to MC&T during the Hornet drive program in Asheville, North Carolina. “We’re going after the heart of the market. For $30-grand, you’re getting best-in-class performance. Not only horsepower/torque and 0-60, but also a driving element that frankly isn’t currently in the segment.”

2023 2024 Dodge Hornet RT GLH Concept
Image via Dodge

Why Consider The Dodge Hornet?

Above all: what does the Dodge Hornet have to offer in this large, fickle market space? Simply put: Performance. Distilled down to simply that, it’s a Dodge through and through. In the case of the 2023 Dodge Hornet R/T, you get 288 horsepower and a Hemi-rivaling 383 lb-ft of torque courtesy of a 1.3L turbocharged engine, combined with a 15.5-kWh battery pack that is also expected to deliver more than 30 miles of all-electric range on a full charge. 0-60 of the Hornet R/T is just 5.6 seconds.

Again, it doesn’t have a Hemi. It doesn’t even have a V6. And that’s likely going to give The Brotherhood of Muscle – the cult following of current Dodge muscle car enthusiasts at the core of the brand’s identity – an allergic reaction. But the Hornet isn’t necessarily for the Scat Pack customer. But maybe somebody who is used to, say, a Volkswagen Golf GTi, Honda Civic Si, or the bygone Focus ST, or a Hyundai Veloster N, would find its deluxe hot hatch proportions and performance as something worth a test drive.

2023 2024 Dodge Hornet RT SUV Hybrid New
Image via Dodge.

The big risk? It’s basically an Alfa Romeo. And if you look at the quality studies, it’s not exactly the golden standard in reliability. And reliability (along with a screamin’ deal) remains paramount in this ocean of compact utility vehicles. Moreover, because it’s got premium Italian genes (remember: it’s even made in Italy), the Dodge Hornet isn’t exactly the cheapest date. In fact, the Hornet R/T hybrid we tested starts at $44,995 USD. That’s for a small SUV. This comes at a time where customers need an affordable option more than ever.

That said, Dodge is known for favorable value. At least when it comes to performance. Delivering more horsepower for the money than anybody else out there, in just about any shape or form, is how the brand captured one of the youngest buyer demographics in the industry. In this sense, Dodge still delivers. The Hornet R/T is the quickest and most powerful SUV for the money.

Moreover, Dodge will lean into the personalization and performance tuning trends that are popular among hot hatch customers with its Direct Connection program. We saw it first with the Hornet GLH concept, and a followup with the Hornet R/T GLH concept, which is an upgraded take on the hybrid version. DC support is a unique offering that’s going to be above and beyond what everybody else is doing, and shows that Dodge will continue to lean into performance, no matter the shape, segment, or cylinder count.

2023 2024 Dodge Hornet R/T
The charge port of the Hornet R/T. Image via Dodge.

What’s The Dodge Hornet Like To Drive?

During our time with the Dodge Hornet, it was largely behind the wheel of the go-faster R/T hybrid model. It’s the range topper, with the most power and most fuel economy of the lineup. And there are hot-hatch echoes in the way this busy bee is willing to bob and weave through pristine Appalachian mountain roads, largely thanks to the tire choice. The Michelin Pilot Sport All Season 4 (available with the optional Track Pack) is totally overkill if you’re comparing the Hornet to the new Chevy Trax (which wears the much less athletic Goodyear Assurance), or the Ford Escape (the blasé Bridgestone Ecopia). Even the Mazda CX-5, the bullseye for the Dodge Hornet, wears the not-so-enviable Bridestone Turanza EL440. All of this might sound esoteric, but tires are the biggest way to make a quick difference on how a vehicle rides and handles. So much so that automakers engineer entire vehicles around them. And Dodge choosing a more performance-oriented tire to get the most noticeable handling edge above the competition is the most effective way to do so.

Just talking up the tires wouldn’t tell the whole story, though. The new Dodge Hornet also offers what they’re calling Dual-Stage Valve Suspension. Depending on the drive setting, the dampers will stiffen to minimize body roll (Sport Mode), or keep things nice and supple in Normal Mode. The steering is also beyond expectation. It’s hot-hatch levels of sharp, and not so much the numb, disengaged feel that’s otherwise rife in the compact SUV space.

2023 2024 Dodge Hornet GT R/T
The wheels, tires and brakes on the Dodge Hornet Track Pack.

The only thing that really trips me up is the gimmicky “PowerShot” feature in the 2023 Dodge Hornet R/T. You have to pull back on both paddle shifters to activate it, and in doing so sends stored energy in the battery for an extra shot of power to (all of) the wheels when under acceleration. 25 horsepower for 15 seconds, to be exact. I’d rather just have all of that power available when I put my foot to the floorpan, but engineers on the media drive program mentioned that PowerShot helps alleviate stress on the Hornet’s battery hybrid system, rather than constantly dispersing its stored energy at such a rapid rate in perpetuity.

Ultimately, what are you paying for? You’re paying to have the best-handling SUV south of an Alfa Romeo Stevlio. Which, hey, is also a Stellantis product (but not the one the Hornet is based off of, that’s the Alfa Tonale).

However, if you seek the athleticism and (still not official) hybrid fuel economy of the new Dodge Hornet R/T, you’ll have to wait until summer 2023. In showrooms currently is just the base model, the Hornet GT. It’s plenty of performance for the money, but the R/T is the more impressive of the two.

Dodge Hornet GLH Concept
Image via Dodge

A Performance Parlay

It doesn’t take much to understand that Dodge is in a weird place right now. The brand just revealed the most powerful, quickest, fastest mass-produced car in the world in the shape of the Challenger SRT Demon 170. And after this year, it’s gone. In its place will be a production version of the all-electric Dodge Charger SRT Daytona Banshee Concept. An electron-powered replacement to what’s arguably the greatest muscle car duo the world has ever seen, and the rabid following that they’ve created. To parlay the branding and ethos created by the LX Charger and Challenger into a C-segment SUV and an electric coupe seems impossible. And because of this, a new-to-Dodge buyer is the primary objective of the Hornet.

Paddle shifters for the Dodge Hornet R/T.

“This is an all new section for us in the market,” said Wincek. “This is a new gateway for us that will bring in a new customer, a younger customer, that we’re very excited to get involved with Dodge… we’re all about ‘how can we get the Dodge muscle car experience into the hands of more customers?’ And with the compact UV space being the largest, fastest growing segment, it just makes total sense.”

The Hornet could also make for a great garage mate. A more agile and everyday companion relative to a shouty Scat Pack or a bulky Durango that would be parked in the stable next to it.

“We know we have Dodge fans, and they’re very loyal to us… we’re now expanding to a new audience.”

Just don’t call it a Dart.

Written by Manoli Katakis

Muscle Cars & Trucks was founded by Manoli Katakis - an automotive media veteran that has been covering the latest car news since 2009. His journalism has uncovered dozens of major product changes, updates, plans, and cancellations long before automakers were ready to make things official.

Some highlights over the years of his reporting include the uncovering of the Zora trademark before anybody else reported on the coming of a mid-engine Corvette, as well as the dead-accurate reporting of the coming of the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, two years before it hit the market, and even before the debut of the concept vehicle. This type of reporting has immediately continued here, with reports of the original seventh-generation Camaro plans being shelved, as well as what's in store for the Chevrolet Silverado.

Some of his work can be found on massive automotive media outlets, such as Motor1. He also has been a guest on the 910AM Radio Station with Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne, as well as the enthusiast-oriented Camaro Show podcast.

Over the years, Manoli has interviewed various automotive industry titans, leaders, and people that make things happen otherwise. These include figureheads such as GM CEO Mary Barra, GM President Mark Reuss, automotive aftermarket icon Ken Lingenfelter, Dodge firebrand Tim Kuniskis, along with various chief engineers of vehicles such as the Ford F-150 & Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro & Corvette, and many more.

At MC&T, Manoli is taking his journalism expertise, deeply planted sources, driving abilities, and automotive industry knowledge to new levels, covering more vehicles and brands than ever before. This is the place where you will continue to read groundbreaking stories about American performance vehicles, pickup trucks, and sport utility vehicles. Here is where you’ll also read insights and quotes from various automotive subject matter experts on the latest relevant products, as well as some of the latest official news from their manufacturers.

Fun facts: he also once beat Corvette Racing driver Tommy Milner in an autocross with a Chevrolet Bolt EV. The biggest vehicle he’s ever driven is a John Deere mining truck. Besides a go-kart, the smallest vehicle he’s driven has been a Hyundai i10. He’s also spent time in the cockpit of various American performance vehicle icons, including the fifth-generation Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, Dodge Challenger Demon, and Ford Mustang GT350R. He has reviewed dozens of trucks, SUVs, and performance vehicles over the years.

One of his favorite new vehicles on the market today happens to be the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison. He is also a card carrying member of the Sports Car Club of America, and regularly participates in Detroit Region autocross events.

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