The 2023 Dodge Hornet GT is the first new Dodge model in 10 years. Like the Durango that launched for 2011, it’s a utility vehicle. Unlike that large three-row SUV, the new Hornet is a compact crossover—a segment Dodge hasn’t played in so far, but one that’s now the center of the U.S. vehicle market.

The little crossover offers two powertrains, which Dodge expects to sell in equal numbers. The Hornet GT arrives at dealers next month at a starting price of $31,590 (including a mandatory $1,595 destination fee). It’s powered by a 2.0-liter turbo-4 driving all four wheels through a 9-speed automatic transmission. Above it sits the Dodge Hornet R/T, which should be in dealers by late spring as a 2024 model. Dodge’s first plug-in hybrid, the R/T is the faster and more performance-oriented Hornet.

Think of the Hornet as something close to a “hot hatch” from an unlikely brand—one built as a small SUV, because that’s where the buyers are. Execs at the media drive in and around Asheville, North Carolina, suggested Hornet buyers will be “additive”: A shopper who can’t get a muscle car along the lines of the 1,025-hp, $100,000 Demon 170 isn’t likely to opt for a small crossover. But will a brand that sells a Challenger that can go from 0-60 mph in 1.7 seconds be able to sell small crossovers without V-8s?

2023 Dodge Hornet GT2023 Dodge Hornet GT

Dodge Hornet goes where the buyers are

The Hornet gives Dodge a high-volume offering as the Challenger and Charger depart, and it eases the company’s transition to battery-electric hot rods—previewed by last summer’s Dodge Charger Daytona SRT Concept. Dodge marketers called it a “bridge” to those models, which will maintain the brand’s reputation for extroverted performance.

The little Hornet is actually a modified version of a different Stellantis car: the more upmarket 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale arriving later this year. The little utility shares some underpinnings with the Jeep Renegade and Compass and the Fiat 500X. While Alfa Romeo and Dodge may exist under the same corporation, they’re highly unlikely to be cross-shopped. All Hornets will be built in Italy, as are the Renegade and 500X.

To make a Tonale into a Dodge that can be sold under the “Domestic; Not Domesticated” tagline, Dodge retuned the powertrains, restyled the front and rear ends, and added recognizable Dodge graphics and contrast stitching to the interior.

2024 Dodge Hornet R/T2024 Dodge Hornet R/T

Infusing Dodge into the Hornet

The transformation is most successful at the front, where the beveled nose and narrow full-width grille between wraparound headlights strongly resemble the larger Durango. Dodge calls it the “raccoon mask,” and gives it an oversized honeycomb pattern in the large lowest intake. A pair of extractor vents in the hood exhaust air, echoing Dodge’s performance models. In side profile, the Alfa shape remains, but again at the rear the Dodge identity comes through, with a full-width taillight band that pinches in its center—a nod to the grille shape up front. Optional 20-inch wheels further underscore the performance look.

2024 Dodge Hornet R/T2024 Dodge Hornet R/T

Inside, dark upholstery and contrast stitching combine with recognizable Dodge graphics on the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 10.3-inch central touchscreen display. The Plus package for the GT and R/T delivers red seats, and the Track Pack adds Alcantara inserts that really do make the interior feel more premium.

The Hornet will hold four 6-foot adults comfortably, though you wouldn’t want to try for five. Unlike some small performance SUVs, the rear seat provides both adequate headroom and legroom. Front-seat passengers sit low, with the beltline close to shoulder height, which requires raising the power driver seat almost to its full height to get a good view of the road in front. With a rising waistline and a thick triangular roof pillar, over-the-shoulder visibility is all but nonexistent.

2024 Dodge Hornet R/T2024 Dodge Hornet R/T

2024 Dodge Hornet R/T: electrification for performance

We drove both versions of the Hornet, and found each has its own personality. The less-pricey GT is more predictable, but the 9-speed automatic transmission requires a heavy throttle foot to get reasonable performance.

Loafing around town, the GT’s engine revs largely stay below 2,000 rpm for the sake of fuel economy (EPA ratings are only 24 mpg combined, mediocre for the segment). To get quick acceleration, flooring the pedal causes the 9-speed automatic to shift down, often three times, before the 268-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 spools up and delivers its peak power to the four wheels. Driving entirely in Sport mode fixes this and makes the Hornet genuinely fun to toss around, at the cost of fuel economy that could fall below 20 mpg.

The Hornet R/T is undeniably more powerful. It may be the first U.S. Dodge ever to feature an engine as small as 1.3 liters, but that turbo-4 unit has both a 44-hp electric starter-generator on the engine itself and a 121-hp electric motor driving the rear axle, powered by an L-shaped 15.5-kwh battery pack under the rear seat and in the tunnel. That makes the R/T a so-called “through-the-road hybrid,” with the front wheels powered by the engine and the rears by the e-motor. Running in electric-only mode, the R/T is rear-wheel drive—again, a Durango parallel.

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2024 Dodge Hornet R/T: Electric “PowerShots”

Total available power for that combination is 288 hp, with 383 lb-ft of torque. The special sauce for the R/T is its “PowerShot” capability, in which the rear motor delivers an extra 30 hp for up to 15 seconds if the battery’s charge level is 80% or more. To invoke a PowerShot, the driver puts the R/T in Sport mode, pulls back both steering-wheel paddles, and mashes the accelerator through a detent. The result is a 0-60 mph time of 5.6 seconds, according to Dodge.

Wringing maximum performance out of the R/T can be somewhat unpredictable. The motors provide immediate torque while the little engine spools up, but especially if the pack is depleted, the engine still has to work hard to do its share. The 6-speed automatic also may downshift twice to deliver power at 5,000 rpm, but adding the electric motor to the mix makes it harder for a driver to predict what combination of power sources may kick in when.

2024 Dodge Hornet R/T2024 Dodge Hornet R/T

Beyond the saucy looks, the most enjoyable part of the little Hornet is its handling. It corners flat for a small SUV, and roadholding on both versions is confident and predictable—even as the R/T’s powertrain shifts torque hither and yon. Both the standard 18-inch and high-end 20-inch wheels deliver a refined ride. While larger wheels usually worsen ride and noise, that is barely the case here.

The R/T also has an Electric mode that drives on battery power alone, and it’s usable around town when more power isn’t needed. The “e-Save” mode either holds battery charge or uses the engine to recharge the battery (for those PowerShots), and Sport also recharges it. This means the Hornet R/T has little to do with driving emissions-free; it’s all about motor power for performance. Premium fuel is recommended, though the Hornets will run on regular. Both versions have stop-start capability as standard, though it can be turned off as desired.

2023 Dodge Hornet GT2023 Dodge Hornet GT

Dodge Hornet options galore, in packages

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has tested the Dodge Hornet for crash safety. All versions of the Hornet include automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, and active lane control as standard. The optional Tech Pack adds traffic-sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, rear parking sensors, automatic parking, and a surround-view camera system.

Both versions of the Hornet come standard with all-wheel drive, dual-zone climate control, the aforementioned screens, a flat-bottom steering wheel, and alloy wheels. For $5,000 more, the GT Plus adds such features as a 14-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, navigation, wireless smartphone charging, a sunroof, power-adjustable heated and cooled front seats, and leather upholstery.

The 2024 Dodge Hornet R/T carries a recommended starting price $10,000 higher than the GT at $41,590, again including destination. The R/T Plus costs $5,000 more with the same additional features. A Hornet R/T with every box ticked can reach $50,000.

Among the option packages and equipment groups, the Blacktop package spiffs up appearance, with gloss black moldings, wheels, and other trim. A Cold Weather group adds heated front seats and steering wheel, and remote starting. For performance, a Track Pack adds adjustable dual-stage dampers, Brembo brakes with red 4-piston front calipers, 20-inch black-finish wheels, Alcantara seats, and various dress-up interior items.

Dodge’s muscle car DNA is thoroughly infused into the 2024 Hornet, especially the electrified R/T model. The Hornet adds some fun to the compact crossover segment that’s mostly focused on not ruffling any feathers. That should help it sell.

Dodge provided airfare, lodging, and meals for Motor Authority to bring you this firsthand report.

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