Where were you the last time Dodge released a new car? I had barely started college, it was a decade ago. It’s taken Dodge what feels like an eternity to replace the ill-received Dart, so the 2023 Hornet better give Stellantis’ muscle makers a viable entry-level nameplate — for real this time.
Dodge unveiled the Hornet as part of its Speed Week celebrations in Michigan on Tuesday night. The brand considers the Alfa Romeo Tonale-based compact crossover its “gateway muscle” product, which would sound like more of a stretch if we weren’t living through an industry-wide purge of coupes and sedans.
To its credit, the Hornet is clearly aiming to be the spicy one among the myriad small SUVs on offer today. It comes only in two flavors: GT and R/T. Both have all-wheel drive standard, and the base powertrain in the GT is a turbocharged, two-liter four-cylinder producing 265 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque mated to a nine-speed transmission — segment-leading numbers, Dodge is quick to highlight. It’ll supposedly start below $30K.
Meanwhile, the range-topping R/T plug-in hybrid boosts output to 285 HP and 383 lb-ft, combining a 1.3-liter engine with a 90 kW electric motor turning the rear axle, routed through a six-speed auto. It’ll hit 60 mph from a standstill in 6.1 seconds, provided you use the car’s “PowerShot” feature — a temporary 25-HP boost activated by depressing both paddle shifters and the accelerator. The R/T can also travel on battery alone for about 30 miles.
Power’s only part of the equation here. Every Hornet benefits from fully independent front and rear suspension, dynamic torque vectoring and an electronic limited-slip differential when Sport Mode is active. Brembo four-piston front fixed calipers are standard on the R/T and optional on the GT, while driver-selectable damping is available through the Track Pack option for both trims.
As with the Charger and Challenger, Dodge is pushing factory-backed upgrades hard with the Hornet. To illustrate this, the brand brought a Hornet GLH “concept” to Speed Week, inspired by the Shelby-upgraded Omni GLH of the ’80s.
This one-off has suspension and exhaust upgrades as well as GLH graphics, all of which will be available to consumers. It’s nice that an owner could make their own GLH if they so choose, but it’s disappointing Dodge isn’t simply offering this package straight from the factory. You’d think with all those new special editions coming for the Charger and Challenger’s final run, they’d stock the GLH on dealer lots.
Like it or not, entry-level small crossovers like the Hornet and the Kona N are the modern-day hot hatches. There aren’t very many players in the segment yet though, at least on our side of the pond where we miss out on the Ford Puma ST and Cupra Formentor. It’ll be interesting to see how much muscle Dodge can stuff into a grocery-getter package — at least until we get a true SRT version. That’s something the Dart never had.