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2023 Dodge Hornet Hands-On Preview: Five Reasons We’re Buzzed About the New Small SUV

Dodge is getting back into the small SUV game with this, the 2023 Hornet.

It’s been a long time coming. Ever since Dodge finally axed the unloved Journey a few years ago, there’s been a gaping hole in the brand’s lineup. The American company willingly left the most popular non-pickup segment in North America. “Oopsies” doesn’t begin to cover it. Now, it sees an opportunity, not in the old space, but in the burgeoning category below. The 2023 Dodge Hornet is just the sort of cute-ute you’d expect from the brand known for performance, with a pair of muscular powertrains that should put it near the front of the pack when it arrives in dealerships.

At the recent Detroit Auto Show, we were able to spend some hands-on time with the newest, smallest member of the Dodge family. Here’s what we were able to glean ahead of the SUV’s early 2023 launch.

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Lots of power, both PHEV and pure gas

SEE ALSO: Dodge Hornet is Back with Electrified R/T and new PowerShot Feature

Currently there are zero plug-in hybrids available in this size. That alone gives the Hornet R/T a unique selling point. The R/T will utilize a tiny 1.3-liter gas engine and electric motor to produce an estimated combined 285 horsepower. Torque? Try 383 pound-feet, nearly the same figure you’ll find from the 5.7-liter V8 under the Durango’s hood. Want an extra bit of boost? The R/T comes with what Dodge is calling PowerShot, a 15-second, 25-horsepower boost drivers can access by pulling both shift paddles.

Slow down and the R/T will be capable of up to 30 miles (48 kilometers) on electric power alone.

Don’t want or need a plug-in hybrid? How does a 2.0-liter turbo sound? Dodge is doing what it does best here and leaning on the performance angle—more on that later—and that means a chunky 265 hp and 295 lb-ft going to all four wheels via a nine-speed auto. That’s in a vehicle that, at 178.0 inches (4,521 millimeters) from nose to tail, is right between the Toyota Corolla Cross and Honda HR-V in size. It’s no pint-sized Hellcat, sure, but the Hornet should still scoot.

Dodge has also shown off a Hornet GLH (“Goes Like Hell”) which further turns up the performance of the 2.0-liter Hurricane engine. We expect nearly 300 hp and around 350 lb-ft of torque from this one.

Smart cabin design

The Hornet pretty clearly shares a lot of DNA with the Alfa Romeo Tonale. It’s a few badges and a bumper redesign away on the outside, and there’s even less differentiation in the cabin.

Good, we say. A little Italian flair is hardly unwelcome in a segment that often prioritizes pragmatism. The dashboard design keeps things simple, with a filet of soft-touch, contrast-stitched Alcantara breaking up the upper and lower volumes. A row of physical buttons keep climate controls nice and easy, and there’s a sizeable cubby ahead of the shifter, which includes a wireless charger. 

The seating position in the Hornet is solid, not too high nor low, with a clear view out over the short hood. The flat-bottomed steering wheel feels good, and the standard digital instrument display is easy to read.

Good infotainment is rare in this class

SEE MORE: Ford Bronco Sport vs Subaru Outback Wilderness Comparison

Look, if the sub-compact SUV segment is one of the fastest-growing in the industry, buyers deserve some of the best features. Real talk: right now there’s not a lot of infotainment greatness on offer. Stellantis has consistently delivered an excellent user experience, and the Hornet should bring that same quality to a neglected portion of the market.

Every 2023 Hornet will run a version of Dodge’s Uconnect 5 infotainment system. It’s a snappy system, with support for multiple user profiles and plenty of customization potential. There’s also wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus Amazon Alexa. Throw in an available Wi-Fi hotspot and the Hornet boasts one of the most robust infotainment bundles in the class. For tech-forward young buyers, that’s a key advantage.

Greater focus on driving enjoyment

SEE ALSO: Mazda CX-30 vs Mazda CX-50 Comparison: The Inbetweeners

Stay with us on this one. The sub-compact SUV class doesn’t have a lot of offerings for those who prize driving dynamics. It’s basically the Mazda CX-30 and … yeah, that. Largely, that’s fine: most people buying something this size are likely placing greater importance on things like space, comfort, and practicality. But not all of them.

Dodge has a reputation for performance, so the Hornet’s enthusiast bent is in-line with the brand. Whether it delivers or this is just clever marketing is something we’ll need to determine on our first drive, but at least in theory, the Hornet should be a more entertaining drive than most others in this small-SUV segment.

That’s not to say the Hornet sacrifices practicality in the same way as its Japanese competitor, either. We poked around the back seat and found it acceptable for our 5’10” frame. Adults shouldn’t have too much of an issue slotting in back there, though the rising window line does make for a dark space. 

Dodge needs it to be good

This is what it boils down to: the Hornet simply has to be a hit for Dodge. The money-spinning Charger and Challenger are soon off to lay rubber stripes down the big drag strip in the sky. The Durango is living on borrowed time. Dodge is about to give up a significant portion of its yearly sales figures, but it will be muscling into the fastest-growing segment in the industry. There’s room to make up the gap.

A major factor is price. Dodge hasn’t revealed any concrete figures yet, but has confirmed the Hornet will start under $30,000 in the US (around $40,000 CAD at current exchange rates). The brand promises this will be the “quickest, fastest, most powerful compact utility vehicle” at that price point, and that claim should even apply under $40,000. Speaking of that figure, that’s around where we expect the plug-in R/T to sit.

Dodge has done a tremendous job tailoring the Challenger to its target audience, and the result has been consistently topping both the Mustang and Camaro on the end-of-year sales charts. If it can place its new insectoid SUV just as smartly, differentiating it from the pack via a focus on powerful powertrains and smart, user-friendly tech, the Hornet could quickly swarm the competition.

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7 Comments

V.R. Hall says:

But will it be any more reliable than a lot of Chrysler/Dodge products?

Poor Boy says:

Finally, a compact SUV that can merge into hi-way traffic without slowing traffic to a crawl in the right-hand lane and doing so while looking damn good. Thank you Dodge.

Andrew Walters says:

My experiences as a mechanic with Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge products is pretty negative. The build quality is pretty low, and this leads to numerous problems after only a short period of ownership. I’ve had people bring me vehicles still under warranty because they were just completely fed up with the failure of the dealerships to repair problems. My advice: Steer clear unless you want a lot of frustration. The only caveat on this is the RWD Dodge Challenger/Charger, which seem to be at least average in quality, and tend to hold their value better.

BengalsFan says:

Have you even test drove a Hyundai Kona with the 1.6t engine? It can easily get going on the highway.

As for performance in this category the top dog at the moment is the Kona N. Yeah it isn’t AWD but who cares, it can move and take on the corners.

Rob says:

I’d wager a lot of people care about AWD

Stephen Colmar says:

Very smart to line Dodge up with Alfa. Lutz wanted to pair Pontiac and Cadillac in a similar way.
Alfa’s quality has been good so, hopefully, same will be true of this Dodge. Remember: this car’s late development was done by PSA, um Stellantis, so we should expect Peugeot like quality.
Can’t figure out why Opel Mokka, Top Gear Car of the Year, isn’t being rebadged as a Chrysler PT Cruiser? Perfect fit & great car!

Faz says:

Beautiful SUV from every direction. If it establishes a reputation for reliability over time, then it’s a winner. Much better looking than any new German SUVs that look almost cartoonish, Great Job Dodge!