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Dodge is promising serious performance from its latest crossover SUV.
March 22, 2023
2023 Dodge Hornet R/T.Stellantis
Stellantis’s Dodge performance car brand is phasing out its stalwart Charger, Challenger, and Durango models, so the company has provided a peek at its future with the introduction of the 2024 Dodge Hornet, a sporty compact crossover vehicle that will carry the brand’s banner into an electrified future with a plug-in hybrid electric model.
While most plug-in hybrids are optimized for efficiency, Dodge sought to stake out a performance position for the Hornet. So while it is built on the same platform as the Alfa Romeo Tonale, and is built in the same Giambattista Vico Assembly Plant in Pomigliano d’Arco, Naples, Italy, the Dodge version turns up the power compared to the Alfa’s version of the same drivetrains.
The base GT version of the Hornet has a 268-horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder combustion engine that claims 13 more peak horsepower than the same engine in the Tonale. The Hornet R/T is the higher-performance version, using a 175-hp 1.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine bolstered by a 44-hp electric belt-alternator-starter and then paired with a 121-hp rear-axle-mounted electric motor. Total system power is 288 hp. and 383 lb.-ft. of torque.
When driving in the electric-only mode, the CATL-supplied 15.5-kWh lithium-ion battery pack drives only the rear electric motor, with a rated range of 30 miles. During my drive on the roads around Asheville, N.C., the Hornet R/T reported 29 miles of available electric range when I switched to electric mode for the remaining 24 miles of the drive. The ambient temperature at the time was about 40 degrees.
When I reached the end of the drive, it showed four miles of remaining range, even though an eight-mile portion of this drive was a 70-mph Interstate highway, so the car’s EV range estimate seems reliable. The onboard 7.4-kilowatt charger lets the Hornet fully recharge its battery pack in 2.5 hours on a Level 2 AC charging station. The non-hybrid Hornet GT is EPA-rated at 22 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, and 24 mpg in combined driving. The hybrid R/T is not yet rated.
The rear electric drivetrain also contributes to the Hornet R/T’s performance potential, thanks to Dodge’s PowerShot feature, which adds a jolt of 30 more horsepower beyond the regular rated peak power by applying maximum electric assistance for a burst of power for as long as 15 seconds. This shaves 1.5 seconds off the normal 0 to 60 mph acceleration time, cutting it to 5.6 seconds.
With either the gas-only GT or the hybrid-electric R/T, the drivetrain’s calibration leaves a lot to be desired in sporty driving through twisty mountain roads like the ones outside Asheville. In both cases, there is significant turbo lag when acceleration out of turns and the transmission is slow to downshift at the same time.
No one expects a crossover SUV to be a track-ready racer, but the Hornet is a clumsy, out-of-sync dance partner when slicing through switchbacks. The problems are exacerbated by torque steer when the power does come on and the Hornet tries to change direction due to the input of more power to the front wheels. The R/T suffers from this less obviously thanks to the assistance of the rear electric motor and the belt-alternator-starter on the engine, but it is still intrusive.
Manually shifting the Hornet mitigates these problems by letting the driver put it in the right gear on corner entry, which spins the engine up so there’s less lag when the throttle opens at corner exit. However, while the R/T has steering wheel paddles to aid this, the GT requires using the shifter on the console to change gears. At least it is a proper polystable PRNDL shifter that moves through discrete positions rather than a joystick-style monostable shifter that springs back to a center position.
It is a shame that the drivetrain lets the Hornet down in spirited driving because the chassis works well. Dodge claims “best in class” chassis rigidity, but provides no specifics. Both versions of the Hornet feature Koni FSD shock absorbers with selectable modes and they maintain superb control while cresting rises and rounding hairpin turns.
Our test R/T rolled on 20-inch Michelin performance tires that deliver 0.90 g of lateral grip according to Dodge. The electric power steering is accurate, with good feedback that lets the driver chart the intended course through a corner, and unfortunately, to also make necessary course corrections in response to torque steer.
The Hornet wears Brembo front brake calipers, and the stopping power is impressive in both GT and R/T versions. However, while the GT’s brakes respond progressively to pedal application, making it easy to blend between the brakes and the gas while slaying switchbacks, the R/T’s brake-by-wire system is touchy and applies the brakes much more forcefully than the GT’s hydraulic system does for the same amount of pedal pressure.
The Hornet is quick, pleasant to drive, and lets drivers do typical daily commutes on electric power. The annoying torque steer only presents itself when the Hornet is driven hard, but that is exactly how Dodge portrays this vehicle, so its shortcomings in such use are relevant.
In other respects, the cabin is comfortable, though it is a sea of blackness. There are available red seat covers that underscore the blackness of everything else in the car. When will we be spared the interior ambiance of Spinal Tap’s most famous album cover, the one that could not be “more black”?
And backseaters better not be spending much time backstage with the band, because if they’re even slightly careless getting in, weird protrusions from the rear doors’ window frames will smack them in the face.
If owners can duck that issue and don’t really try to cash the performance checks Dodge is writing for the Hornet, they’re likely to enjoy it. Meanwhile, maybe Dodge’s engineering team can work on the lagging delay in engine power delivery and the torque steer it creates when it does arrive.
Hornet GTs will be in dealers soon, and R/Ts should be there by “late spring,” according to Dodge.
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