February 21, 2024
Wheels

Hornet GT takes Dodge muscle-car approach in different direction

New SUV offers turbo powerplant with attitude-forward style

The 2023 Hornet GT, featured in Acapulco Gold, adds more muscle to the Dodge stable.

For generations, Dodge has been hanging its hat on big V8 blocks, muscle-car looks, and large SUVs capable of extraordinary power and performance. The entry of the 2023 Hornet signals a change for the American automaker that may be necessary – but it does not yet feel completely familiar.

The Dodge Hornet enters the market and will compete with segment-leading sales champs Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Ford Escape. It’s not an easy task given the cache behind those rock-star compact crossover SUV brand names, but in its first iteration, the Hornet has enough upside to give them all more than just a sting.

I recently tested the 2023 Dodge Hornet GT Plus which has a base price of $34,995. The Hornet is also available as a plug-in hybrid, giving Dodge fans an electrified powertrain option. Maybe the bigger news is that the Hornet is based on the all-new Alfa Romeo Tonale. Both models are produced in Italy, and the exterior styling is clearly a new direction for Dodge.

Exterior Style

Dodge offers the Hornet in GT and GT Plus trim levels, each equipped with standard all-wheel drive. On the outside, the Hornet still pushes out a distinct muscle vibe that steals cues from its siblings the Challenger, Charger, and Durango. I liked the Charger-esque dual hood vents and wide lower vent in the front bumper which is clearly a nod to Durango.

For my tastes, the Hornet’s tiny, slotted grille adds a busyness that is merely a distraction from the rest of the good things going on up front. My Hornet GT Plus tester featured the optional ($1,995) Blacktop package that added sporty 18-inch x 7.5-inch Abyss Finish rims and all-season 225/55R18 rubber, Gloss Black painted mirror caps, Dark “Hornet” badge, Dark GT badge, and sharp Gloss Black painted side window moldings.

The Hornet has a cool hatch style with a distinct roof spoiler, wraparound tail lamps, and a full-width light bar with an illuminated dual-slash Dodge Rhombi logo. Overall, it may look a bit narrow at first, but everything about it oozes athleticism and an aggressive attitude.

Interior Feel

With ample soft-touch and padded surfaces on the console, dash, and door trim, Hornet immediately feels a level above most compact crossovers. The more premium Alfa Romeo Tonale lends plenty of style to the cabin. Leather covers the shifter and flat-bottom steering wheel, the latter heated in GT Plus trim.

The best part of the Hornet for the driver is the control and display layout, which features a slightly slanted center console and infotainment screen. The 12.3-inch digital instrumentation panel is driver-configurable, featuring large, easy-to-read gauges and clear, bright graphics. Hornet GT features a standard Uconnect 5 infotainment system with Bluetooth connectivity for two devices simultaneously, wireless Apple CarPlay, and wireless Android Auto compatibility. My GT Plus model took a very competent six-speaker stereo and upgraded it to an outstanding 14-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system.

Storage is not as generous in the Hornet as other competitors’ offerings. While there is a small tray for items located in front of the shifter, it also serves as a wireless smartphone charger. Getting the phone in and out of the charging station is a bit awkward.

Seating in the front row is very comfortable with power adjustments, as well as ventilated, and heated comfort. The seating is firm but feels appropriate for the GT model. My GT Plus took standard cloth up to artificial leather seating, which is a nice upgrade for the price.

Rear seating is a little more cramped with a flat cushion bench that, thankfully, features a 60/40-split design and a center pass-through door. The fold-down center armrest has dual cupholders. At 27 cu-ft behind the rear seat and 54.7 cu-ft with the back seat folded down, the Hornet GT’s utility space is slightly less than other competitors. The GT model has some hidden room under the cargo floor because it does not have the plug-in hybrid battery and related hybrid electronics of the Hornet R/T.

Performance

The Dodge Hornet GT and GT Plus offer standard turbo power from a competent 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 268 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, there is noticeable grip-and-go power on demand from the Hornet.

Offering zero to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds acceleration, the Hornet is a lot of fun to drive. I found the throttle response to be great with slight hints of turbo lag. The 295 lb-ft of torque is fun, too, as the turbocharger builds boost quickly. Expect a combined EPA fuel economy of 24 mpg.

Thanks to the Italian genes, this GT’s powertrain sounds more like a buzz than the typical Dodge grumble. While you can manually shift the Hornet GT using the gear selector on the center console, steering-wheel shift paddles are not unavailable.

Safety

The Hornet GT and GT Plus both feature driving assistance features, including adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with pedestrian and cyclist detection, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic high-beam headlamps.

My tester featured the optional ($2,245) Tech Pack featuring Active Driving Assist that bundles adaptive cruise control, lane-centering assist, and low-speed Traffic Jam Assist functions for use on well-marked roads. The upgrade Tech Pack includes a traffic-sign recognition system, a driver monitoring system that detects inattentive or drowsy drivers, front and side parking sensors, and a 360-degree surround-view camera that replaces the standard backup camera.

Final Thoughts

Can Dodge make the shift to a smaller, more flexible SUV work? I think this Hornet GT Plus delivers on looks and a great cabin, as well as high-end safety features. Overall, this is a fun-to-drive crossover that pushes Dodge out of its comfort zone a bit.

My Hornet GT Plus was equipped with the Blacktop and Tech Pack Plus, which brought the manufacturer’s suggested retail price to $40,710, including the $1,595 destination charge. The attractive $30K starting price for the GT makes this a vehicle many will be checking out.

John Stein is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. He has more than 25 years of experience driving, testing, and writing about the automotive industry, its latest innovations, and vehicles.