ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Whether gasoline or electricity runs in your automotive-performance veins, Dodge brings both options in the new Italian-built Hornet, a midsize CUV with true sporting intentions.
The Stellantis performance brand takes a hard turn away from huge Hemi V-8s and rear-drive muscle with the Hornet, which shares its platform and basic powertrains with the ’24 Alfa Romeo Tonale. The Hornet arrives this spring, starting with the ’23 GT with a base price of $29,995, followed by the ’24 R/T in late spring.
But where the Tonale is a Euro-styled premium model, the Hornet promises the latest iteration of American muscle and Dodge attitude, albeit from a front-biased, all-wheel-drive propulsion system – with a dose of electrification thrown in.
The result is dramatic. Judging by the R/T plug-in hybrid and GT gasoline-engine models we drive here during a media event, either is worthy of consideration for anyone making the transition from a hulking Charger or Challenger and into a fuel-efficient version of muscle.
The top-level model, the R/T PHEV, employs a 175-hp 1.3L turbocharged 4-cyl. aided by a 33-kW (44-hp) belt-starter/generator hooked to a 6-speed automatic gearbox driving the front wheels, combined with a 90-kW (121-hp) electric motor on the rear axle. Total output is 288 hp and 383 lb.-ft. (519 Nm) of torque (pictured, below).
The R/T seemingly offers the best of both worlds: a 30-mile (48-km) range in Electric mode from its 15.5-kWh lithium-ion battery, along with a 0-60 mph (97 km/h) time of 5.6 seconds when employing the car’s exclusive PowerShot – an extra 30-hp jolt for up to 15 seconds from the rear motor, when conditions permit.
That phrasing is important, because a battery charge in the 70%-100% range is necessary to feel the full effect of PowerShot, Brian Del Pup, vehicle synthesis senior manager, tells Wards during a test drive. We can attest to the system’s noticeable effect on powertrain response while driving, but Del Pup says the impact is best felt at launch. We look forward to experiencing the maximum impact of PowerShot on a future test drive with a fully charged battery.
As a bonus, engaging Sport mode boosts electric regeneration, and we note the battery actually adds range over a spirited 10-mile (16-km) drive loop. On a 53-mile (85-km) drive, we observe 33 mpg (7.1 L/100 km); official EPA estimates are still forthcoming.
Charge time for the relatively small PHEV battery is 2.5 hours on a Level 2 (240V) charger, 7.5 hours on a 110V outlet.
In addition to Electric, other modes available on the R/T via a steering-wheel-mounted button: eSave, which forces the engine to run to maintain or charge the battery, and Hybrid, allowing for automatic management of the ICE and electrics to maximize efficiency.
Early in our test drive, we push the R/T to 70 mph (113 km/h) on electric propulsion alone, in the process using 8 miles (13 km) of electric range and burning 2 miles (3 km) of gasoline range to drive 13.1 miles (21 km) on city streets and 5 miles (8 km) on the expressway.
The engine startup is noticeable but offset by a pleasant exhaust note bordering on – dare we say it? – rumble.
The gasoline-only GT doesn’t offer quite as many bells and whistles, but it’s no slouch either. The GT is powered by a 268-hp, 295-lb.-ft. (400-Nm) 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl. – dubbed Hurricane4 – driving all four wheels via a 9-speed automatic, propelling the vehicle to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and to a top speed of 140 mph (225 km/h). Dodge calls it the “quickest, fastest, most-powerful utility vehicle under $30,000” and we can’t argue with that, given the specifications as advertised.
On our drive, the GT posts 24 mpg (9.8 L/100 km) during a 62-mile (100-km) drive, spot on with the EPA combined fuel economy estimate.
Propulsion systems aside, the Hornet’s balanced chassis, fully independent suspension and dynamic torque vectoring offer taut handling during our test drive through winding mountain roads here, aided by Sport mode that increases steering response, boosts effort and tightens the on-center feel. Sport mode also sharpens throttle and transmission response.
Inside, the driver-focused cockpit features a bright, 12.3-in. (31-cm) instrument cluster that features a sinister-looking start-up sequence mimicking the Hornet’s front fascia (pictured, below), headlights and red “double rombi” badge. The cluster offers three customizable zones, including three hybrid displays in the R/T.
A wide, 10.25-in. (26-cm) infotainment screen controls audio, communications, navigation, ventilation and vehicle functions and information, thankfully with HVAC backed by a row of hard buttons.
The interior feels form-fitting, with well-bolstered bucket seats and soft armrests supporting the driving position. In our R/T tester, red accents in the perforated Alcantara seating surfaces and red stitching across the dashboard, center console and door armrests brighten the otherwise black interior (pictured, below). A later test drive features an R/T with full red leather seats.
As if promoting a compact CUV form of gas and electrified Dodge muscle isn’t enough, the event includes a peek at the next level of performance: the Hornet GT GLH Concept (pictured, below), made possible through the addition of engine, suspension, exhaust and trim upgrades through Direct Connection, the company’s authorized aftermarket power-upgrade specialists. More to come on that.
Our test cars ranged in price from $36,965 for a GT Plus fitted with leather seats to $52,305 for a maxed-out R/T Plus featuring exclusive Blacktop trim, a Tech package with full-range adaptive cruise control and a Track package adding Alcantara seats, 20-in. wheels and dual-adjustable suspension.
As the industry makes the transition from gas to electric propulsion, Dodge could be seen as hedging, with the Hornet as prime evidence. But if compact CUV buyers aren’t ready for full BEVs, marketing a relatively affordable performance car with a PHEV option might be the best bet.