Auto review: The good buzz about the new 2023 Dodge Hornet
Published in Automotive News
It was the car that dominated NASCAR so completely in its early years that Paul Newman voiced it in the Pixar animated movie “Cars.” It’s the Hudson Hornet, a name inherited by American Motors Corporation (AMC), which used the nameplate on a compact car in 1969. Stellantis now owns the name, having acquired AMC in 1987, and is reviving the moniker for the 2023 Dodge Hornet, a new compact SUV that melds the Hudson Hornet’s performance and the AMC Hornet’s practicality.
OK, aside from its name, it has nothing to do with past Hornets and everything to do with the Alfa Romeo Tonale, a compact SUV about to be launched by Dodge’s Italian corporate cousin, Alfa Romeo. Look at the Tonale and Hornet side-by-side, and you’ll see they’re identical cousins, sharing much of their DNA.
Sure, Dodge has done the expected cosmetic surgery to ensure they are differentiated in the marketplace. It has a different hood, front-end clip, side cladding and rear lighting. But its overall shape is a dead-ringer for the Tonale. That said, the Alfa Romeo is sure to cost more than the Dodge. But here’s the thing: They’re manufactured on the same assembly line in Naples, Italy.
Who knew that the self-described “Brotherhood of Muscle” had an Italian accent?
And the Dodge even shares its plug-in hybrid driveline with the Alfa Romeo. But the Dodge does have an advantage that makes their trucklet the better buy. Here’s why.
Both the Alfa Romeo and the Dodge are offered as a plug-in hybrid, which marries a small 1.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine with a 90-kilowatt electric motor on the rear axle powered by a 15.5 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. Delivering power to all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, it’s rated at 288 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. But to tap it all in the Dodge, you have to employ PowerShot, which unleashes a 30-horsepower boost for 15 seconds by pulling both steering-wheel paddle shifters forward. Using PowerShot, you can run 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds. Yet this driveline does more than go fast; it also provides up to 30 miles of all-electric driving, meaning that most days, you’ll never burn gasoline.
While the plug-in is the Tonale’s sole driveline, on the Dodge, it’s offered on the upper-level Hornet R/T. The base Hornet GT, which starts some $10,000 less than the R/T, uses a far more conventional powertrain: the “Hurricane” turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder also found in the 2023 Jeep Compass. Generating 268 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, it’s strong enough to deliver a Dodge-like 0-60 mph time of 6.5 seconds. That’s a mere 0.9 second slower than the Hornet R/T plug-in hybrid.
So, is 0.9 second worth 10 grand? Before you answer that, consider this.
As you might expect, the Hornet R/T does feel a bit friskier than the GT, but the difference in performance is minimal at best. So it’s no wonder that Dodge execs expect most Hornet buyers will opt for the GT.
Having driven both back-to-back, I can say it’s a no-brainer to opt for the GT over the R/T. While the R/T technically has more power, you have to use PowerShot to enjoy it, which requires being in Sport driving mode, pulling both paddles back and stomping the throttle to employ it. Then you have to wait for a reset to use it again. Without it, performance between the two trim levels is fairly similar, as R/T weighs some 400 pounds more than the GT. And you can equip the GT with a Track Pack to upgrade its handling.
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