In North America, there are plenty of new and innovative models from Stellantis’ Jeep and Ram divisions. Not so much in the Chrysler and Dodge camps that collectively produce a grand total of five vehicle models.
Things are looking a bit brighter for Dodge, however, with the arrival of the 2023 Hornet compact utility vehicle, propping up a brand mostly known for the low-volume (and very old) Challenger and Charger.
A Hornet concept vehicle was trotted out more than 15 years ago, but that’s as far as it got. The new Hornet originates from the Alfa Romeo Tonale, which means it will be built in Naples, Italy and not in North America.
The vehicle joins a red-hot segment that includes plenty of competition, such as the Honda CR-V, the Toyota RAV4, the Hyundai Tucson and the Mazda CX-5. The Dodge Journey might have been considered part of the segment, but it was long in the tooth and was retired in 2020. That left the brand without a small utility vehicle at a time when they were pretty much all that buyers wanted (other than pickups). For context, the RAV4 and the CR-V are top sellers for their respective brands.
Compared with the class leaders, the Hornet’s length and distance between the front and rear wheels are on the more compact side. So is the cargo volume, but it’s close enough that you likely won’t notice.
The vehicle’s appealing bodywork should generate interest. So too will the interior finishings and controls, including a large 10.25-inch touch-screen that’s angled toward the driver. A traditional floor shifter is part of the mix.
But to significantly separate it from the herd, Dodge is betting that creating a performance-oriented vehicle for the masses — with standard all-wheel-drive — will generate considerable buzz (pun intended).
The base GT, which is priced at $40,200, including destination charges, has a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that produces 268 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Standard active-safety technologies include automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, and backup sensors.
The R/T plug-in hybrid (PHEV), arriving next spring, gets a turbocharged 1.3-litre four-cylinder with electric assist. Net output is 288/383. The PHEV also provides about 50 kilometres of electric driving before the gasoline engine kicks in. While not quite segment-leading — the Toyota RAV4 Prime PHEV makes 302 horsepower but less torque — the R/T is still pretty stout.
An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard with the GT and a six-speed automatic is in the R/T. Fuel consumption numbers are not available.
According to Dodge, the GT can scoot to 60 mph (96 km/h) from rest in a respectable 6.5 seconds; the R/T is just 0.4 of a second quicker at 6.1. A so-called PowerShot feature, exclusive to the R/T, delivers 25 more horsepower for a 15-second burst.
Along with its quicker reflexes, the R/T comes with Hybrid, Electric and E-Save (economy) drive modes. There are Brembo-brand brake calipers, Koni-brand shocks, a dual exhaust system and 18-inch wheels (17s are installed for the GT).
A Track Pack option, available for both trims, provides 20-inch wheels and unique interior trim.
With the Hornet’s arrival, Stellantis appears determined to maintain Dodge as a performance brand. The vehicle also offers a clear alternative to buyers of mainstream compact utility vehicles.
But that’s not all. Dodge’s performance notoriety will expand to include potent battery-electric vehicles such as the two-door Dodge Charger Daytona SRT.
Stellantis appears to have no intention of letting the Dodge brand slide, leveraging its global manufacturing horsepower to do so.
What you should know: 2023 Dodge Hornet
Type: All-wheel-drive compact utility vehicle
Engines (h.p.): 2.0-litre I-4, turbocharged (268); 1.3 litre I-4, turbocharged with electric assist (288)
Transmissions: Eight-speed automatic (2.0); six-speed automatic (1.3)
Market position: The Hornet marks the first new model in Dodge’s lineup since the ill-fated compact Dart sedan (2013-’16). The Hornet shares platforms and powertrains with the equally new Alfa Romeo Tonale. That means the Hornet will be built in Italy.
Points: Styling has a European flavour but with recognizable Dodge touches. • Both powertrain choices offer good power, which helps the brand’s performance creds.• Attractive interior combines modern controls along with a familiar shift lever. • Performance fans will be attracted to the R/T. • For a vehicle with standard AWD, pricing appears to be right on target.
Active safety: Blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic backup alert (std.); automatic emergency front braking (std.); inattentive-driver alert (opt.); lane-departure warning (std.); pedestrian detection (opt.)
L/100 km (city/hwy): n.a Base price (incl. destination): $40,200
Toyota RAV4 AWD
- Base price: $36,700
- Class-leading model is easy on fuel. Hybrid and plug-in hybrids available.
Hyundai Tucson AWD
- Base price: $39,850
- New-for-2022 model can be had with two optional hybrid choices.
Volkswagen Tiguan AWD
- Base price: $35,800
- Largest-in-class utility vehicle comes with a 184-h.p. turbo four-cylinder.
– written by Malcom Gunn, Managing Partner at Wheelbase Media