2023 Dodge Hornet First Drive Review

Dodge’s first new model in years offers lots of personality but sits more on the compact side of the segment.

By Matthew Guy Wheels.ca

Mar 22, 2023 6 min. read

Article was updated 2 months ago

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The last time Dodge introduced an all-new vehicle to their showrooms, Jack Layton had not long elevated his NDP party to the status of Official Opposition, London was holding a successful Olympic Games, and a cruise ship captain managed to capsize the Costa Concordia whilst trying to impress their date.

So, yeah – it’s been a minute.

Enter the Dodge Hornet, an entrant into the murderously competitive small crossover class, a segment where content is king and price is paramount. There are a lot of sales to be claimed in this arena but customers tend to be very unforgiving of vehicles which roll a gutter ball.

Dodge Hornet GT

Dodge Hornet R/T

The new Hornet will be available in two models, each with their own unique powertrain but both with the type of aggressive styling one has come to expect from Dodge. The GT is powered by a turbocharged 2.0L inline-four engine making 268 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft of torque. This is all funnelled to earth via a 9-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive.

Meanwhile, customers selecting an R/T will find a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) power unit in which a 1.3L turbocharged four tag teams a rear-axle-mounted electric motor and belt-driven starter generator to produce 288 horses and 383 lb.-ft of twist. A 15.5-kWh battery promises roughly 50 kilometres of all-electric driving when conditions are right. All-wheel drive is standard here as well, though the transmission is swapped for one with six cogs.

Knowing our readers, we palmed the keys to a base model GT and a top-spec R/T, models representing bookends of the new Hornet line both in terms of power and price.

First, the GT. Its turbocharged gasoline-powered engine was quick to respond to prods of the throttle whilst roaming the Blue Ridge Mountains near North Carolina, avoiding the sort of thrash associated with small-displacement turbo four-bangers. It feels stronger than a turbocharged Mazda CX-5 despite the Japanese competitor having more torque, and it blows the hopelessly underpowered Honda CR-V into the weeds. Engineers in Sterling Heights have worked on programming this nine-speed gearbox; it exhibits none of the weird shift patterns experienced in other Stellantis products with this many cogs, including your author’s own three-year-old Cherokee Trailhawk.

Dodge Hornet R/T

The R/T, with its PHEV powertrain, has three driving modes: Hybrid, Electric, and E-Save. The latter prioritizes the gasoline engine to save battery juice for later, while the other two are self-explanatory. Electric mode does a good job shunning gasoline engine use until necessary – a depleted battery or call for quick acceleration can light the fires – and can be used at speeds well beyond around-town pace. With roughly 50 clicks in yer electric pocket on a full charge, it is possible some Hornet R/T owners could avoid drawing from the 42L fuel tank for extended periods.

Power delivery in the hybrid is less linear than the gasser. A detent in the accelerator pedal’s travel must be pushed through for wide-open throttle and the system never seems to deliver the entirety of its advertised 383 lb.-ft of torque. This may be down to some number fudging, since that figure is listed as “total installed” torque instead of what may be available when both the gasoline engine and electric gubbins are at their peak.

For what it’s worth, the 1.3L ICE and rear axle e-motor produce maximums of 199 and 184 lb.-ft of twist, respectively. That does indeed add up to 383 but on the road it really doesn’t feel like the totality of that sum is available all at once. Mashing the Sport button helps, permitting the R/T to hang onto gears a tad longer. Transitions between gasoline and electric propulsion in Hybrid mode are smooth, exhibiting none of the harshness felt whilst piloting a Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe, for example.

Dodge Hornet R/T

A so-called “PowerShot” overboost feature can be accessed by pulling back on both steering column mounted shift paddles to allegedly summon an extra 30 horses for fifteen seconds. It’s a neat party trick but doesn’t produce the rush of endorphins provided by, say, the N Grin Shift button from Hyundai. Perhaps Dodge could program some snarly sounds and a colourful buzzing hornet animation on the gauge cluster as a cheap way to add extra theatre.

Both the GT and R/T benefit from a well-tuned suspension, featuring Koni frequency selective dampening shock absorbers and a rear suspension geometry which can trace its design roots to Colin Chapman’s efforts at Lotus. Entertaining handling characteristics help set the Hornet apart from its competitors, most of which drive like a bowl of week-old pudding. Drivers with a sporty heart can opt for a Track Pack, bringing even better Dual Stage Valve dampers but they cost between $3,195 and $4,790 depending on trim.

Dodge Hornet GT

Every Dodge Hornet is equipped with an attractive 12.3-inch reconfigurable digital gauge cluster, dual-zone climate control bearing real buttons in the form of precise chiclets, and enough USB outlets to keep the peanut gallery at bay. Soft-touch surfaces are in all the right places, including on the instrument panel and centre console, while red stitching provides a splash of colour. The R/T’s paddle shifters are particularly nicely crafted, feeling and looking like the long and lithe blades of Worf’s bat’leth weapon.

Most people should find acceptable room in the driver’s seat, though those long of torso should consider a trim sans sunroof. Tall folks riding shotgun may also notice the Hornet’s centre console crowding their left knee, especially if their chair is moved forward – which it may be, since back seat space isn’t enormous. This 6’6” author found a lack of headroom and legroom whilst seated behind another six-footer, though people of non-NBA stature may not have this complaint.

Note well: young families packing a rear-facing child seat should bring one along on their test drive to make sure everything (and everyone) fits comfortably. While the Dodge crew are insistent the Mazda CX-5 is their benchmark, that vehicle is about two inches wider, longer, and taller. The GT has 27 cubic feet of cargo space whilst the R/T has 22.9 thanks to its PHEV battery consuming a handy underfloor cubby present on the gasoline-powered model. The Mazda? 30.7 cubes. In terms of raw measurement, the Hornet occupies a space between compact and subcompact crossovers.

Dodge Hornet GT

The Hornet, then, is not easily categorized. Shoppers left without a home after the Cherokee is canceled may find it a size small, as could people cross shopping the R/T with other PHEV crossovers like the Toyota RAV4 Prime. However, if one plunks themselves in a Hornet with the right expectation of space, they will probably find a lot to like – especially if their penchants tilt toward the Hornet’s aggressive looks and interesting paint choices. Toss in an ability to deliver entertaining handling and Dodge is likely to find, in a segment which has more than its share of dullards, its assets will be more than enough for some customers.

Dodge Hornet GT and GT Plus models will be priced at $40,090 and $46,090 including destination. Making the walk to a plug-in R/T or R/T Plus will command $52,590 and $58,090 respectively, again including destination fees. The PHEV will qualify for government largesse through the federal iZEV program, guaranteeing a $5,000 discount, plus any provincial rebates available in your region.

Dodge says they’re expecting to sell about half the volume of their Mazda CX-5 bogey, a machine which sold about 24,000 units in Canada last year. GT trims should be arriving in dealers as you read this, while R/Ts – labeled a 2024 model – are slated to appear by the beginning of this summer.

2023 Dodge Hornet GT pricing (includes freight)

GT – $40,090

GT Plus – $46,090

BODY STYLE: two-row crossover

DRIVE METHOD: front engine, all-wheel drive

POWER: 268 hp, 295 lb.-ft

CARGO VOLUME: 27.0 cu.ft (behind second row)

WEBSITE: www.dodge.ca

2023 Dodge Hornet R/T pricing (includes freight)

R/T – $52,590

R/T Plus – $58,090

BODY STYLE: two-row crossover

DRIVE METHOD: front engine, rear electric motor, all-wheel drive

POWER: 288 hp, 383 lb.-ft

CARGO VOLUME: 22.9 cu.ft (behind second row)






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