Anyone that's ever encountered a hive knows one very simple fact about hornets: They're assholes. Born angry, you'd be forgiven for thinking hornets existed for no other reason than to sting things repeatedly. The new Dodge Hornet, then, has a great deal in common with the airborne pain-in-the-butt it's named after.
For better or worse, the one thing the Hornet knows how to do is attack, and its weapons of choice are horsepower and torque. Dodge's first real rival to the likes of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 made its big debut in August 2022, and from that track-side introduction on, the automaker has buzzed about this being the most powerful and quickest vehicle to 60 in the class.
And during a day of testing in Asheville, North Carolina and on the mountain roads outside of it, Dodge hammered home the Hornet’s performance credentials. From an available Track pack with Brembo brakes and adaptive dampers to an on-demand overboost function in the plug-in-hybrid R/T, the manufacturers of the Charger and Challenger are adamant that this isn’t just another compact CUV. But will that really matter to consumers who value space, efficiency, and affordability as much as Dodge values being domestic rather than domesticated? I don’t think so.
A vehicle's ratings are relative only to its own segment and not the new-vehicle market as a whole. For more on how InsideEVs rates cars, click here.
|Quick Stats||2024 Dodge Hornet R/T Plus|
|Engine:||Turbocharged 1.3-liter I4 w/Two Electric Motors|
|Output:||288 Horsepower (combined) / 383 Pound-Feet (installed)|
|0-60 MPH:||5.6 Seconds (Powershot) / 7.1 Seconds (w/o Powershot)|
|Trim Base Price:||$41,590|
|As-Tested Price:||$51,830 (est)|
Gallery: 2024 Dodge Hornet: First Drive
While Dodge has hinted at a dedicated high-performance GLH model, the Hornet will go on sale in just two mainstream trims to start – the base GT will arrive around the time that this story is published, while the R/T will hit dealers near the end of Spring 2023 as a 2024 model. Don't get confused by the badges, though, for the main distinction between these trims is under the hood. GT, which may as well stand for “gasoline turbo” uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, while the R/T matches a turbocharged 1.3-liter four-cylinder with a pair of electric motors and a lithium-ion battery.
I spent the bulk of my time testing the Hornet by driving a loaded R/T through the Smoky Mountains. The start was positive as I left the city of nearly 100,000 on a pleasant, linear surge of torque from the two-motor arrangement and 15.5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. In front, the Hornet R/T uses a 44-horsepower integrated starter-generator, while a meatier 121-hp drive motor sits atop the back axle. The rear motor is good for 184 pound-feet of torque, while the whole affair produces 288 combined horsepower and 383 lb-ft (which Dodge weirdly listed as "total installed" rather than combined).
Like the Jeep 4xe line, the Hornet R/T has three modes to manage the gas-electric powertrain – Hybrid, Electric, and E-Save – and switching between them is as simple as pressing a button at the airbag cap's 7:30 position. There's a touch of lag before the Hornet acknowledges the mode change in the available 12.3-inch digital cluster, but once done, Electric allows “over” 30 miles of range, according to Dodge.
The all-electric drive is pleasant, emphasizing the Hornet's composed ride quality and quiet cabin, but I'll need to get the thing on more familiar roads before I can issue a solid judgment on the EV range. The R/T's battery pack does cut into the fuel tank, though, reducing it from 13.5 to 11.2 gallons. Dodge hasn’t announced fuel economy yet, but I don’t know how the R/T can come even remotely close to the Toyota RAV4 Prime’s 600-mile range when its fuel tank is down 3.3 gallons.
While the Hornet R/T's battery got me most of the way from Asheville to the mountain roads on the city's outskirts, I wish I'd just hung around town. The electric power was ample, and when in Hybrid mode, the gas-electric handoffs were predictable, with the electric motor providing just enough oomph to complement the gas engine when climbing hills and negotiating around-town conditions.
Even with my R/T wearing the optional Track package – four-piston Brembo front calipers, two-stage Koni adaptive dampers, and Michelin Pilot All-Season 4 tires on 20-inch wheels, among other things – the Hornet never came together in the corners. The combination of a high curb weight (4,140 pounds), a responsive front end with vague steering, and a brake pedal with lots of travel and a tiny, sudden bite point made judging corner entries a real challenge. Considering the uprated brakes and adaptive dampers, the Hornet's equipment is writing checks its dynamics couldn't cash.
When the road straightened out, though, the Hornet's combo of gas and electric power felt, well… fine? Dodge said the Hornet R/T is about “selling performance, not electrification,” and that seems evident with a class-leading 5.6-second sprint to 60 when using the Powershot system, which overboosts the powertrain for an extra 30 hp. But Powershot isn't a system that's always available, and when left to its own devices, the gas-electric returned a leisurely 7.1-second sprint to 60, or a half-second off the GT.
Time For A G And T
The “base” Hornet GT distances itself from the R/T by what it isn't. Its gas-only powertrain is still darn punchy, at 268 hp and 295 lb-ft, but the absence of a 276-pound lithium-ion battery and two electric motors mean it's 425 pounds lighter. And as a result, it feels less like a sibling to the R/T and more like a first cousin twice removed. That's clearest in the corners.
After spending most of my time in the R/T Track pack, I swapped into a GT Track pack and expected a similar experience. But while Dodge claims it tuned the suspension in each trim to account for the weight differences, the GT's handling is far more assertive. The steering is faster, with 13.6-to-1 ratio in the GT versus 14.5 in the R/T, and the front end feels pointier because of it.
The R/T (left) and GT (right) are visiually identical.
And while the media loves to explain that the good thing about heavy EVs is their low center of gravity, driving both versions of the Hornet back-to-back is a reminder that less weight is always better. The Hornet GT's body motions are simply more predictable and therefore inspire more confidence – I found myself accelerating earlier out of corners, because I knew how much the Michelin tires had to give. In short, the GT simply felt more fun on a mountain road. And it gave up little of the straight-line fury in the process.
This 2.0-liter, marketed as the Hurricane4 in the Hornet and Alfa Romeo Tonale, is the same basic engine as the one found in products as diverse as Jeep Wrangler, Alfa Romeo Giulia, and Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe. It's a known quantity, then, which makes the coarse note on start-up less a surprise than a modest disappointment. Still, like in other Stellantis products, the 2.0-liter's refinement grows as the engine speed climbs, and north of 3,000 rpm, it starts to sound darn nice.
The Hornet GT's body motions are simply more predictable and therefore inspire more confidence than the R/T's.
The performance, meanwhile, is excellent across the rev range. Quick to spool and with long legs, the Hornet GT's power feels accessible in just about every situation. Pay some thanks to the standard nine-speed automatic gearbox. The Hornet R/T uses a six-speed auto and pairs it with a set of column-mounted paddle shifters plucked directly and shamelessly from the Alfa Romeo parts bin, but those pieces never really come together with the gas engine or electric powertrain.
The nine-speed automatic in the Hornet GT lacks paddle shifters – Dodge blamed supply shortages, which I'm inclined to believe considering there's no good reason to fit paddles to one trim and not the other – but it feels more in tune with the 2.0-liter's beats. Shifts are quicker and downshifts happen with more predictability, although both Hornet trims are equally bad about keeping the driver informed in manual mode. The gear indicator is just a tiny number hidden in the big 12.3-inch digital cluster.
The GT’s main shortcoming isn’t apparent until a stop at the gas station. This is a thirsty car, returning just 21 miles per gallon city, 29 highway, and 24 combined. So while Dodge should rightly be proud it’s selling the most powerful car under $30,000, the Hornet GT is also among the least efficient cars in a class where consumers really, really care about fuel economy.
Settle Down You
Ignore the sporty stuff and the Hornet remains something of a mixed bag. The driver's seat on both the Track pack cars I drove wore lovely upholstery – black Alcantara with red mesh accenting (featured above) looks fresh and aggressive. But the seating position is infuriatingly tall, with the bottom of the seat sitting a good six inches above the carpet. My head was maybe an inch off the headliner all day.
Life is better in back. The door cutouts are sizable and the footwell accommodated my size 13s easily. Detailed interior measurements aren’t available yet, but my six-foot, two-inch frame was happy with the amount of head and legroom in the second row. I just wish the cushioning on the bench was a bit more ample. Both Hornets are down on cargo volume relative to the competition, though, with the RAV4 Prime (33.5/68.9 cubic feet) and Ford Escape PHEV (34.4/60.8) easily outclassing the R/T (22.9/50.5). The GT (27.0/54.7), meanwhile, fails to match the gas-only Toyota (37.6/69.8), Ford (37.5/65.4), or Honda CR-V (39.3/76.5).
Drivers south of six feet, two inches can focus on things the cabin does well. The design, which includes a high center console and interfaces that are slightly canted toward the driver, feels like an evolution of the layout found in the Charger and Challenger. Material quality is excellent and should nip at the heels of the segment's best, while the standard 10.3-inch touchscreen looks great. The software story, though, isn't all sunshine and buttercups.
I encountered quite a bit of lag, both through the touchscreen and when adjusting the available 12.3-inch cluster via the steering wheel controls. Dodge reps claimed this is a thing they’re still adjusting in the lead up to the Hornet's on-sale date, and in a world of over-the-air updates there's no reason to doubt them. Still and considering the positive reception to Uconnect 4 and 5 over the years, the Hornet's laggy interface was a disappointment.
“Disappointment” is also how I'll classify the price tag, which was $51,830 (including a $1,595 destination charge). That's $41,590 for the R/T, $4,900 for the Plus package (heated/ventilated leather seats, navigation, a panoramic sunroof, a 14-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio system, a wireless charge pad, and a power liftgate), $2,995 for the Track pack, and $2,245 for the Tech pack (level 2 active safety). But all of that same stuff is available on the Hornet GT, which costs $10,000 less to start. Nothing the R/T does, though, is $10,000 better.
But the broader issue is Dodge is aiming the Hornet at a customer I’m not sure really exists. There’s a reason Volkswagen hasn’t built a Tiguan GTI, Honda hasn’t sold a CR-V Si, and the Toyota GR RAV4 remains a figment of our fevered dreams. Driving enthusiasts are spoiled for choice outside of the CUV segment while compact crossover shoppers simply don’t value performance the same way that Dodge’s loyal muscle car shoppers do. That leaves me worried that when the Hornet goes on sale, the only one it will sting is Dodge.
Hornet R/T Competitor Reviews:
2024 Dodge Hornet R/T Plus