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2023 Dodge Hornet SUV: Too Little, Too Late?
It’s been a very long time since rumors of the Hornet suggested a revival of this legendary nameplate. Offered by AMC between the 1970 and 1977 model years, the Hornet was a compact car offered in four body styles and with a plethora of powertrain choices. The most exciting of the bunch was the SC/360, named after the 360-ci V8 mill hiding under the hood.

2023 Dodge Hornet SUV: Too Little, Too Late?

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Resurrected by the Chrysler group’s Dodge brand on Tuesday, the Hornet comes in the guise of a compact SUV that promises to bring the buzz to the CUV segment by delivering best-in-class performance. Exclusively offered with all-wheel drive, the Alfa Romeo Tonale’s dumbed-down twin is “the industry’s quickest, fastest, most powerful utility vehicle under $30,000.”

The Hornet is manufactured at the Italian plant of Giambattista Vico in Pomigliano d’Arco, otherwise known as the Alfa Romeo Pomigliano d'Arco plant. The internal combustion-engined GT opened for orders on Wednesday, and U.S. dealers will get it in late 2022. The R/T is a plug-in hybrid that’s expected to arrive at U.S. retailers in the spring of 2023.

Given its Alfa Romeo Tonale connection, the Hornet is based on the Small Wide platform of the Jeep Compass. Tipping the scales at 3,715 pounds (1,600 kilograms) and 4,140 pounds (1,875 kilograms) depending on the choice of powertrain, the compact utility vehicle is capable of towing 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms) as per the product specification sheet. Prospective customers are treated to 2.0- and 1.3-liter turbo mills, although the latter is augmented by a belt-starter generator and a rear-mounted electric motor.

The combustion-only GT is rated at 268 horsepower and 295 pound-foot (400 Nm) on premium fuel, channeled to all four wheels by a nine-speed automatic transmission from ZF Friedrichshafen. The plug-in R/T levels up to 288 horsepower and 383 pound-feet (519 Nm) combined, split between 199 lb-ft (270 Nm) for the engine and 184 lb-ft (249 Nm) for the motor.

Rather than a nine-speed unit, the fuel-sipping R/T uses a six-speed box. Its 15.5-kWh battery pack is good for more than 30 miles (48 kilometers) of all-electric range, and the R/T further sweetens the deal with PowerShot. Wait, power what now? PowerShot is an overboost mode that “provides a boost of 25 horsepower and delivers instant torque.” Excuse my French, but aren’t electric motors supposed to deliver torque instantly? In any case, the Hornet R/T in PowerShot mode shaves a second off the zero-to-60 time.

Instead of MacPherson struts, the Hornet uses Chapman struts for the rear end, named after Lotus founder Colin Chapman. Although MacPherson and Chapman designs employ a near-vertical upper strut, the MacPherson system requires a lower track control arm. The Chapman can only be used for the rear axle because it requires a drive shaft and a light radius rod.

Equipped with a standard 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a standard 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system, the Hornet is rocking Level 2 autonomous driving features as long as you pay extra for the Tech Pack. At launch, Dodge will offer a grand total of seven exterior colors: Hot Tamale, Gray Cray, Blue Steele, Blu Bayou, Acapulco Gold, Q Ball, and 8 Ball.

The R/T is equipped with 18-inch alloys finished in Abyss, gloss-black badging, and gloss-black mirror caps. The GT makes do with 17-inch alloys in Silver. Both versions can be spruced up with the Track Pack, which adds 20s and various other desirable goodies such as dual-stage-valve suspension and the Dodge brand’s Rhombi logo embroidered on the Alcantara seats.

Dodge further makes a case for best-in-class lateral G-force numbers of 0.90 for the R/T and 0.87 for the GT. Four-piston front brake calipers, the only front fixed calipers in the segment, are standard on the R/T and optionally available on the GT. Also worthy of note, the plug-in hybrid variant uses a brake-by-wire Intelligent Braking System rather than hydraulics.

“The Dodge Hornet is poised to jolt the mainstream CUV segment with looks, feel, and performance that are unmistakably Dodge,” said brand head Tim Kuniskis about the rebadged Alfa Romeo Tonale. “Hornet shakes up the status quo with aggressive Dodge styling, the most power in the segment from our multi-energy lineup, the best driving dynamics, a full lineup of segment-exclusive performance features, the best standard technology, as well available Direct Connection factory-backed performance upgrades.”

On that note, don’t you get the feeling that Dodge did too little? The Hornet is the first electrified production vehicle from Dodge, that’s for certain, but it’s also underwhelming if you remember that Toyota’s RAV4 Prime offers more range and Camry TRD-rivaling acceleration to 60 mph (97 kph).

As for the “too late” part in the headline, what did you expect? Waxing lyrical about being among the last automakers to arrive at the plug-in hybrid party would be very distasteful from a journalistic standpoint, let alone from the point of view of a car lover with a passion for all things Dodge.

 Download attachment: 2023 Dodge Hornet spec sheet (PDF)

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